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Monastery of Old Valamo

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The monastery of old Valamo, known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ, was founded in the 12th century by Saints Sergei and Herman. Before the beginning of the Christian era, the island of Valamo had the name of a pagan god, Baal. About 1150 Saint Sergei, a Greek monk, arrived in Karelia to convert the local people. He lived in a cave on an island in Lake Ladoga. It was on this island, Valamo, that he and Saint Herman founded a monastery which became the center of Christianity in Karelia.

The monastery of Valamo has been built and rebuilt several times. It was rebuilt in the 1590’s after a war between Sweden and Russia. It was rebuilt in the 1790’s after a fire. And today, in the 1990’s, the monastery is again being converted, after years of neglect by the Soviets.

In 1940 the monks of Valamo evacuated the monastery and resettled at Heinävesi. It was a cold winter and the monks had to carry the precious relics and icons across the thick ice of Lake Ladoga. After the war they founded the monastery of New Valamo.

The monks took a long time to find a new home in Finland. They were offered a manor house in Heinävesi and when they inspected it, they found icons of Saints Sergei and Herman in the attic of the cow shed. They saw this as a sign and founded the New Valamo monastery here. It is the only Orthodox monastery in Scandinavia.

Northern Karelia has been Christian for over 700 years. On the other hand, pagan traditions have survived here longer than elsewhere in Finland. The parish at Ilomantsi, in the easternmost corner of Finland, is the oldest orthodox area in Finland. The first orthodox monks and preachers came here starting in the 13th century, and the parish was founded in the 1400’s. One of Finland’s most beautiful wooden churches, dedicated to the prophet Elijah is here, built in 1891.

From a Finnair brochure “Monastery – orthodox-cultural tours”


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