After passing through the Kazan Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower, look to the left. It is amazing how deserted the southwestern part of the fortress looks! Yet in 1556, Archimandrite Varsonofy founded the Transfiguration Monastery here, the second largest in the region after the Dormition Monastery in Sviyazhsk. Its mission was to preserve and develop Orthodox traditions in the Kazan region.
The Saviour’s Transfiguration Monastery, measuring 83 by 97 meters, was not large, less than a hectare. The tight quarters of the Kremlin prevented the monastery from expanding, so the available area was densely built up. The monastery was rebuilt several times. Initially there were two wooden churches, Transfiguration Church and the Church of Nikola Ratny, the latter of which was rebuilt with stone. The great Orthodox missionary and first Kazan Archbishop Gurius was tonsured to Great Schema in Transfiguration Church. He was later the first to be buried in the graveyard of the monastery, which became the final resting place of many famous Kazan residents. Some of the tombstones have survived to the present day.
After a fire in 1579 in which Transfiguration Church burned down, construction on a stone, five-domed Cathedral of the Transfiguration began in 1586. In many ways it was similar to the lower church of Annunciation Cathedral, as it preserved the sanctuary icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin, with images of Gurius and Varsonofy on the back side.
The monastery survived several fires and a reduction of monks after Catherine the Great’s church reforms, but it never lost its beauty and grandeur. For example, in the 18th century, galleries were added to the north and south sides of the cathedral, its walls were raised, and the church itself was covered with iron. In the 19th century, next to Spasskaya Tower, a new four-tiered bell tower of the Holy Gates of Barbara Church was erected, which produced a magnificent visual effect alongside the five domes of the monastery.
In the 20th century, the Bolsheviks used the Saviour’s Transfiguration Monastery for secular purposes, and a military unit was housed within the monastery walls. The cathedral was blown up in the mid-1930s, as well as the neighboring church of Saints Cyprian and Justina.
Although the cathedral of the Saviour’s Transfiguration Monastery was lost, in the 1990s restoration work began on surrounding buildings. The Church of Nikola Ratny was reconstructed, as well as the house of the archimandrite. The monastery’s Fraternal Building was also restored. Both the religious and cultural traditions interrupted during the Soviet era slowly began to recover.
Only the white stone vaulted cellars from the very first cathedral were preserved, as well as a “cave” for relics, a stone vault in which Kazan relics were buried beginning in 1596.
In 1995, the lost relics of Iona and Nektarios of Kazan were found here alongside those of Saint Ephrem, who is famous for having crowned Tsar Mikhail Romanov, the first of the Romanov dynasty.
These structures are part of the Museum of Archeology of the Republic of Tatarstan’s complex, which is being prepared for opening.