Kamenny Monastery is situated on a small eponymous island in the very centre of the Kubensky Lake. It is distinguished as the first stone monastery of the Russian North. Kamenny Island (literally, 'Stony Island') is very small, measuring just 120 metres by 70 metres. It is so named after stony ramparts set up by the monks around the island's perimeter in order to preclude its erosion. The lake is known for its inclement weather and frequent storms. It is believed that during one of such storms in 1269 Duke Gleb of Beloozero was cast ashore, where he found a small monastic community. The legends of the monks attribute the construction of the first timber cathedral on the isle to the funds subsequently provided by that monarch.
Under Dmitry Donskoy, the Kamenny Monastery was run by Dionisius, a Greek monk who introduced the coenobian rule of Mount Athos, whereby the brethren were closed alike, took their meals (usually limited to bread and scarce vegetables) in the refectory and were bound to possess no private property. Female animals were banned from the isle to avoid any impure thought on the part of the monks.
The monastery was quite rich, owning seven larger villages (selo), four average villages (seltso) and 98 small villages, in addition to two salt pans in Totma and two branches in Vologda. The monastic community reached its peak under Paisiy Yaroslavov, a former hegumen of the Trinity Lavra and one of the most influential clerics of the time. This starets authored The Tale of the Kamenny Monastery whose main themes are the history of this monastery and the struggle of its monks against paganism in the area.
In 1476 the monastery burnt down. Ivan III's brother Andrey Menshoy, who was the ruler of Vologda, commissioned a stone four-pillared cathedral to be built on the island. The two-storey two-domed edifice was constructed in 1481 by a team of masters from Rostov, who proceeded to erect very similar cathedrals in the Ferapontov Monastery (1490) and Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (1497). Paisiy Yaroslavov mentions that he engaged the great artist Dionisius to paint a deesis for the cathedral. It is believed that Dionisius's works perished 185 years later, during a great fire, which resulted in the collapse of the domes.
In the 16th century, the Kamenny Monastery did not develop as quickly as the two last-mentioned abbeys, because of the limited territory that the tiny and remote island could afford. In the 1540s, the monks constructed a church-belltower of curious architecture and a refectory, after which the monastery gradually declined to obscurity. It was remembered in Moscow primarily as a place of exile, where the famous Old Believer, Ivan Neronov, was deported. On 24 July 1774 one of the exiles set the monastery on fire, whereupon the monks were transferred for 26 years to Vologda. When they finally returned to the island in 1801, the cathedral was restored with five domes instead of one. The only post-medieval buildings on the island were an inn and two lighthouses, built for the needs of the monastery in the 1870s.
The Soviet government closed down the Kamenny Monastery in 1925 and had its brethren evacuated from the island. The buildings were adapted to house a penal colony for minor delinquents. This establishment proved a failure and by 1937 the island had been deserted. The regional administration profited from the situation to blow up the oldest building of the Russian North in order to obtain brick required for construction of the local 'palace of culture', which eventually failed to materialise.
As of 2005, the only building marking the spot of the historic monastery is the church belltower from the 1540s, which is now being repaired by a team of enthusiasts from Vologda and Moscow. As the team is out of funds, the future of this medieval compound looks bleak.References:
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.