The Spaso-Kamenny Monastery is located in a small island in the middle of Kubensky Lake, in Ust-Kubinsky District of Vologda Oblast, about 500 kilometers north of Moscow. It is distinguished as the first stone monastery of the Russian North.
Kamenny Island is very small measuring just 120 meters by 70 meters, and the lake in which it is situated is known for its inclement weather and frequent storms. When the monastery was built, the monks reinforced the island by setting up a stony rampart around the island’s perimeter in order to prevent erosion. That’s how the monastery got its name: Spaso-Kamenny is literally “Savior on Stone”, so called in honor of the main temple of Transfiguration of Our Savior.
Legend has it that in 1269 Duke Gleb Vasilkovich, Prince of Belozersk, was caught in a severe storm and was cast ashore on this island where he found a small community of hermits living there. When he learned that the hermits couldn’t afford to have a church, he ordered the construction of a wooden cathedral. But it wasn’t until two hundred years later that a four-pillared stone cathedral was erected on the island.
Although the monastery did survive, it couldn’t grow because of limited territory that the tiny and remote island could afford. By the 16th century, the monastery had declined to obscurity. It was remembered in Moscow primarily as a place of exile, where the famous Old Believer, Ivan Neronov, was deported.
In 1774 one of the exiles set the monastery on fire, and 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.
In 1925, the Soviet government closed down the monastery, and the island once again became a penal colony for minor delinquents. In 1937, the colony was shut down and the island has been deserted ever since.
Since the last few years, a team of volunteers are trying restore the cathedral, but progress has been slow because of lack of funds.
An early 20th century photograph of Spaso-Kamenny Monastery.