Svoboda (Russian: Свобода) is a very small town in Kursk Oblast, 30 km northeast of the provincial capital, Kursk. A highlight of the region is the Kursk Root Hermitage, or "Korennaya Hermitage" (Коренная пустынь, korennaya pustyn), one of the most famous monasteries of the Black Earth region.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Kursk Korenskaya Fair was held at the monastery walls, once the third largest market in terms of trade in the Russian Empire.
Legend has it that during the Tatar-Mongol invasion, hunters from Rylsk found the icon of Theotokos of Kursk, also known as the Kursk Root Icon, in the roots of a tree deep in the woods. A sacred, healing spring gushed up from the spot where they found the icon, and the hunters built upon it the first wooden chapel in 1295. The Kursk Root Monastery was founded on the same spot 300 years later, in 1597, by order of Tsar Feodor I. The original chapel was replaced with a stone church, through which the spring still flows. The hermitage was largely destroyed during the Time of Troubles and was despoiled by the Crimean Tatars. Only at the end of the 18th century did the monastery received its structural layout.
From 1708, the Kursk Korenskaya Fair (literally, Root Fair) was regularly held at the monastery’s walls, which by 1824 became the third largest in the Russian Empire after the Makaryevskaya (Nizhny Novgorod) and Irbitskaya fairs. Traditionally, the Korenskaya Fair began after the annual procession of the Kursk Root Icon, from which it acquired the power to do miracles. The procession of the icon from Kursk to Hermitage of the Root attracted thousands of pilgrims, and it is depicted in one of the most famous 19th century Russian paintings: "The procession in the Kursk province" by Ilya Repin, now prominently displayed at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
In the 18th century, a small village grew around the monastery, which became an official settlement in 1886, when the Korennaya Pustyn rail station opened up on the Moscow-Kursk railway. After the Russian Revolution, both the station and the village were renamed Svoboda — literally: "freedom." During the Battle of Kursk in 1943, the headquarters of the Central Front of the Red Army was set up here under the command of K.K. Rokossovsky.
In modern days, Svoboda has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Kursk Oblast, and there is high quality tourist infrastructure for pilgrims here. It’s worth coming to the village to see the beautiful monastery, perfectly set against the backdrop of the forest-steppe landscape of the Chernozemye, to drink water from the numerous local springs, to just relax in nature, and in the summer to also take a dip in one of those cold-water wellsprings. On weekends and especially on religious holidays, the monastery is crowded, and it is better to come before noon.
The Kursk Root Icon
The icon itself has a very storied history! After first appearing in the roots in 1295, it was credited with many miracles. Hearing of the healing waters of the spring, supplicants from Rylsk began coming to the chapel to pray. Prince Shemyaka of Rylsk ordered that the icon be brought from the chapel to the city, but went blind after not deigning to attend the celebration. After repenting and going to venerate the icon, his sight was restored, and he then had a church commissioned to house it in Rylsk. The icon, however, apparently had other plans and mysteriously vanished and reappeared at the chapel over the spring. The Rylskians tried bringing it back again, but were thwarted by continued disappearances and reappearances at the spring, leading them to relent and be satisfied with regular pilgrimages there, as well as a famous annual procession by foot of the icon between first Rylsk and the chapel, later between Kursk and the monastery.
In 1383, the Kursk region was again invaded by Crimean Tatars, who set fire to the chapel, but legend has it that the wooden chapel would not burn. Enraged, they entered the church and slashed the icon in half, but it miraculously grew whole when the priest later brought the two halves back into contact with each other. At this point, a new and sturdier chapel was built upon the wellspring.
In 1898, the icon faced a more modernist threat when anarchists conspired to undermine faith in the church by blowing it up with a time bomb. The bomb exploded with terrific force, shattering all windows, blowing the iron door right off the hinges, splitting the marble altar, but the icon itself - even its glass enclosure - was left completely untouched. The anarchist plot backfired, resulting in more widespread veneration of the icon.
The icon along with the White Russian Army escaped the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and was temporarily housed in Belgrade before moving further west through Europe away from Soviet advances in WWII. It found a new long-term home at the Hermitage of Our Lady of Kursk in Mahopac, New York, but today is kept at the Cathedral of the Theotokos of the Sign in Manhattan's Upper East Side, from which it frequently travels the world, including trips back to Mahopac and even to Svoboda itself for its patronal feast, the Nativity of the Theokotos.
The nearest airport is in Kursk, 33 km from Svoboda, which has multiple flights per day from Moscow. From Kursk-Vostochny airport by taxi, the journey will take half an hour and will cost 600-700 руб. Another option would be to use fixed-route, minibus taxis, but then you will need a transfer at the "Railway Hospital" stop, where you can get from the airport by minibuses 81, 84 and 89.
Trains from Moscow run to Kursk frequently. From Kursk's train station, you will need to get to the "Railway Hospital" stop («Железнодорожная больница») by minibus or on foot (just 1.3 km). From there, there are minibuses to Svoboda every half hour.
Lastochka trains (electric commuter trains) to Kursk and Belgorod make a stop at the Zolotukhino rail station, from which it is 17 km to Svoboda, and minibuses run every half hour.
1 Svoboda Station. The only trains stopping here are "elektrichki" trains from Kursk and Oryol. From Kursk it takes half an hour, from Orel, 2.5 hours. But the Freedom station is in fact located in the village of Budanovka, from which it is still 5 km to Svoboda. Minibuses from Svoboda Station to the actual town run infrequently, usually about every two hours, but you can still get into town in a pinch by walking or hitchhiking.
From Kursk, minibuses to Svoboda leave from Severny Station from stop Ulitsa Dubrovinskovo (Ул. Дубровинского), and all of these also stop at the "Railway Hospital" stop («Железнодорожная больница» Zheleznodorozhnaya bolnitsa). From the Railway Hospital stop, minibuses go to Svoboda every half hour from 06:20 to 19:30. If you want to return to Kursk on the same day, be vigilant — the last minibus back leaves Svoboda rather early, at 19:00.
2 Bus stop, ул. Гагарина, 16, ☏ . Nothing more than a small cashier's booth, in the same building as the Pyaterochka (Пятерочка) supermarket.
A car is the most convenient way to get to Svoboda, especially since the majority of visitors to the Hermitage of the Roots try to bring spring water from the monastery back with them. From Moscow, take the M2 highway. Immediately after the Fatezh bypass, there will be a left turn signed to Zolotukhino and Korennaya pustyn (Коренная пустынь). From the turn to the monastery itself is a little more than 40 km. The roads are of excellent quality, so you can easily finish the 530 km trip from the Moscow Ring Road in six hours.
From Kursk to Svoboda, take the road to Zolotukhino and on to Ponyri (Поныри). This 30 km route is also along a good quality road.
From other regions, you can get here either from the M2 highway, or from Kursk. From southeastern Oryol Oblast, you could try to get there without detouring to the M2 by going through Shchigry on the road to Ponyri. But much of the Ponyri-Maloarkhangelsk section is a dirt road, which, after rains and without knowing where to turn, is best avoided. GPS is unlikely to be useful.
The main parking lot is right at the gates of the monastery, but on weekends and church holidays, it can be hard to find a spot even on the neighboring streets. An alternative would be to drive a little towards the Svoboda Rail Station and turn onto the dirt road immediately after the bridge over the Tuskar River. You can park there close to the left bank of the river and then walk to the monastery via a pedestrian bridge.
There is no transit system in Svoboda, nor is there any reason for one. The greatest possible distance between two points here would be less than 2 km, and it's all of 1 km to the bus stop coming from Kursk or Zolotukhino.
1 Kursk Root Hermitage (Korennaya Hermitage Коренная пустынь). 06:00–23:00 daily. The monastery was founded in 1597 by Tsar Feodor I at the site of the appearance of the miraculous Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign. The icon was found in the roots of the tree. Starting in 1618, it was moved to the Znamensky Cathedral in Kursk, and on the ninth Friday after Easter brought in solemn procession to the Kursk Root Hermitage for the summer. You won't find the original the original here today. In October 1919, White Russian troops whisked it out of Russia to safeguard it from the communists, eventually storing the icon in New York. ; In its early days, the monastery burned several times at the hands of Crimean Tatar raiders. It reached its peak at the end of the 19th century, facilitated by the growth in the number of pilgrims and the large Kursk Korenskaya Fair, which was held near the walls of the monastery. In 1924, the monastery was closed, the Nativity Cathedral was blown up, and on the dismantled upper tier the belfries were made into an observation deck for holidaymakers staying nearby. In 1989, the monastery was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, and in the early 2000s it was mostly rebuilt. Now the blue-turquoise ensemble on the high right bank of the Tuskar River looks spectacular. The monastery grounds stretch from the center of the settlement to the river, and the descent from the gates of the monastery to churches and wellsprings passes along steep stairs.
- 2 Sacred gates with Bell tower. From the monastery entrance you can descend a wide stone staircase to go down to the Holy Gate, erected in 1708. Restored frescoes depict biblical themes. The bell tower above was built in the second half of the 19th century, of which only the lower tier survived the Soviet era - the upper tier was destroyed and then rebuilt in the early 2000s.
- 3 Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Собор Рождества Пресвятой Богородицы). The main cathedral of the monastery is located just below the bell tower on the monastery square, which is centered on the "Reunion" monument. The current form of the cathedral, with its crossed-dome plan, was erected in 1860 on the site of the wooden chapel erected by hunters in 1295, right where the spring emerged after they removed the icon from the roots. It was destroyed by the Bolsheviks - the church you see today was built on the remaining foundation. A little past the cathedral is a monument to Saint Seraphim of Sarov as well as an observation deck, which offers a picturesque view of the Tuskar river valley and the lower buildings of the monastery.
- 4 Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Храм Рождества Пресвятой Богородицы). On the main square to the left of the cathedral, this church was erected in 1819, originally as the All Saints Church, which was used as the main winter church. A long refectory for the brethren of the monastery is built into the building.
- 5 Church of the Life-Giving Spring (Церковь Живоносного источника). On the lower tier of the monastery, closest to the river, is the Church of the Life-Giving Spring, built on the site of the spring with healing waters, found under the icon. It was built in 1713 at the expense of Field War Marshal Boris Petrovich Sheremetyev, a hero of the Northern War, commemorating the victories of the Russian army. The church is located right at water itself and stays cool in the summer. Don't miss its unique altar, made of materials resistant to cold and moisture - faience and porcelain. In 1835, the church was connected to the monastery square via a gallery-passage, which with its steep stone vaults of eight stone ledges resembles the descent into the caves of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra and the gallery of the Athos monasteries. A steep iron staircase (with benches for breaks) leads from the monastery square to the lower tier.
- 6 Main wellspring (Главный источник). The main source of the spring is decorated in the style of elm roots. Next to it are well-maintained baths, and a little to the right there is an open spot for swimming. It will save you from the queue at the pool, and at the same time will allow you to take in the waters from all sources that flow directly into the river. The course of the water here is quite fast, but the river itself is shallow, about to the waist. The clean and cool water is quite refreshingǃ Away from the main source, along the riverbank, there are several smaller wellsprings with wooden chapels: the Kazan Icon, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Panteleimon the Healer and the farthest - Seraphim of Sarov. Another wellspring is located near the source of St. Nicholas. It usually has few people, but it can be closed. All these sources are located along a windbreak, and a path leads to them from the church. If you do not have containers for bringing water home, you can buy it at a kiosk at the Church of the Life-Giving Spring or at the gates of the monastery.
Sculptures and memorials
- 7 Monument to the 1295 discovery of the Kursk Root Icon. This fountain sculpture by Vyacheslav Klykov was installed in 2003 on Znamenskaya Square opposite the main entrance to the monastery. The sculpture is a bronze and copper composition depicting the moment the icon was found at the roots of the elm. The marble pedestal includes cast-stamped medallions dedicated to the history of the icon. There are souvenir shops around the monument.
- 8 Monument to Saint Seraphim of Sarov. The monument to Seraphim Sarovsky, born in Kursk, was unveiled in 1998 near the walls of the Cathedral of the Nativity (at that time, not yet restored). The author of the sculpture is the same Vyacheslav Klykov. Eight years earlier, a similar sculpture by the same author was installed in Sarov. According to legend, nine-year-old Prokhor Moshnin (future Seraphim of Sarov) was cured by kissing the Kursk Root Icon during the procession. Later, Seraphim repeatedly visited the monastery, and in memory of this a chapel was built over one of the wellsprings. Near the monument is an observation deck with the best views of the surrounding landscapes in the monastery.
- 9 "Reunion" Monument (Памятник «Воссоединение») (на территории монастыря). Erected in 2015 on the monastery square in honor of overcoming the split of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2007, which had developed during the years of the Russian Revolution. The bronze sculpture depicts Alexey II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and the Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, holding in their hands the Kursk Root Icon. Alexey II called the Kursk Root Hermitage the third spiritual center of Russia after the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiev Posad and the Diveyevo Convent in Diveyevo. In December 2015, a similar sculpture was commemorated in the U.S., in the state of New Jersey.
- 1 Kursk Root Monastery Historical and Cultural Center (Историко-культурный центр «Коренная пустынь»), ул. Советская, 57 (opposite the main entrance to the monastery), ☏ , . Tu-Su 10ː00-18ː00. This branch of the Kursk Regional Museum of Local Lore has interesting facts about the monastery, the Kursk Root Icon and the Korenskaya Fair. You can also book monastery tours here.
- 2 Historical and Memorial Museum to the Command post of the Central Front (Историко-мемориальный музей «Командный пункт Центрального фронта»), ул. Советская, 32. Sa-Th 10ː30-17ː30, closed last Thursday every month. In 1943, during the Battle of Kursk, the headquarters of the Central Front of the Soviet Army was based here. This museum has a reconstruction of front commander K.K. Rokossovsky's foxhole as well as a bust, a sculpture showing the Central Front's "combat composition," examples of military equipment, and a sculpture of the "soldier-liberator." Among the exhibits of the museum are personal items of Marshal Rokossovsky and other Soviet military leaders.
- 3 Kursk Korenskaya Market (Курская Коренская ярмарка), ул. Коммунистическая, 20. The Kursk Korenskaya Fair (Kursk Root Fair) was revived in 2001, which traditionally coincided in time with the Religious procession of the Kursk Root Icon to the monastery from Znamensky Cathedral in Kursk. It lasts several days and ends with a concert/performance. For tourists, the fair is interesting for shows and master classes, the opportunity to try local dishes, as well as to shop for handicrafts. The central part of the fair takes place in the Main Exhibition Pavilion near the monastery. The fair's guesthouse was designed by the famous architect Giacomo Quarenghi. The remaining pavilions are on the central streets of Svoboda. The upcoming fair will be held June 18-21, 2020.
Those who wish can also participate in the large-scale "procession," which is held annually on the 9th Friday after Easter, in 2020, falling on June 19. The procession route is about 30 km.
On the opposite bank of the Tuskar River, they often have shashlyk picnics. This is a lot of fun and offers a great view of the monastery.
- 1 Street market, Znamenskaya Square. 09ː00-17ː00 daily (individual tents may close earlier). Before entering the monastery around the Monument to the Discovery of the Icon there is a shopping arcade. Here you can buy souvenirs for every taste: not only magnets and matryoshka dolls, but also painted plates, beaded icons, homespun clothes, bast shoes and other handicrafts.
- 2 "Magnit" Supermarket (Супермаркет «Магнит»), ул. Коммунистическая, 5. 08ː00-22ː00.
- 3 "Pyatyorkochka Supermarket (Супермаркет «Пятёрочка»), ул. Гагарина, 16 (рядом с автостанцией). 07ː00-23ː00.
They sell high quality honey in the monastery itself towards the end of summer and through the beginning of autumn. Along with religious-themed utensils and souvenirs, you can also buy kvass, pirozhki, pizza, etc. The prices, unlike many Moscow-area monasteries, are very reasonable.
There are no standalone restaurants in Svoboda: you can either eat modestly at the monastery or more lavishly at the restaurant of the "GRINN" Inn.
- 1 Monastery Refectory (Монастырская трапезная). 12ː00-14:00 (roughly). Located on the right in front of the bell tower gate. They serve simple food on long common tables at low prices. Also, you can buy pirozhki, pizza, and kvass in the tents between the bell tower and the monastery square.
Kursk, 30 km away, offers plenty of opportunities to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery. Svoboda is a spiritual center, so opening nightclubs and bars here would be an insult to the faithful. At night it is better to admire the monastery's beauty, all lit up, and to listen to the Kursk nightingale's song.
- 1 Monastery Hotel (Монастырская гостиница) (To the right when leaving the monastery gates), ☏ . The cheapest option, best suited to pilgrims. 200 руб for a dormitory-style bed or 400 руб for private quarters..
- 2 Monastery Pilgrimage Center (Паломнический центр «Коренная пустынь»), ул. Гагарина, 14 (Close to the bus stop), ☏ . The largest hotel, with 174 rooms: single, double, triple, and VIP. For foreigners, prices are slightly higher. There is a three-story banquet room, secure parking, and event space. The best option in terms of price and quality, located about 1 km from the monastery. From 650 руб for a private room to 4,500 руб for an upgraded suite..
- 3 "GRINN" Inn (Постоялый двор «ГРИНН»), ул. Коммунистическая, 16, ☏ , . A two-story hotel with attic and ground floors, secure parking, and a nice, green, landscaped area for relaxing. Breakfast included. This is the most convenient accommodation option, being almost next to the entrance to the monastery. There is a nice restaurant, sauna, and billiards. The restaurant serves Russian cuisine. It sometimes is reserved for guests-only. From 1,300 руб for a standard room without windows to 5,300 руб for the presidential suite..
The iron staircase leading from the monastery square is steep, long, and lacks ramps. Climbing it can be quite difficult, especially for elderly people and people with disabilities. There are, however, benches between the spans to take a rest. You can go down to the wellsprings without having to do more stairs, along an asphalt path (though this route bypasses the monastery churches), by turning left immediately after the entrance.
Inexplicably, in the monastery often there are problems with photographic equipment - the shutter locks, fully charged batteries suddenly die, and phones seem to want to jump out of your hands and break, so proceed with cautionǃ
At the entrance to the monastery and in the parking lot there are sometimes problems with gypsies begging rather aggressively.
- 1 A. A. Fet Estate (Музей-усадьба А.А. Фета), дер. 1-я Воробьевка, 81а, ☏ , . Tu-Su 10ː00-17ː00. A. A. Fet, widely regarded as the greatest lyric poet of Russia, bought the Vorobyovka Estate on the banks of the Tuskar River in 1877. The two-story manor is relatively modest, but surrounded by a nice park with centuries-old oaks. The original furniture and personal belongings of the poet were not preserved, so the interior is reconstructed from photos. The estate is a branch of the Kursk Museum of Local Lore. Every year, in the last ten days of May, the Nightingale Night Festival (Соловьиная ночь) features poetry readings and musical performance. The Fet Readings (Фетовские чтения) literary and musical festival is held on the first Sunday of July.
- 2 Church of Ioakim and Anna (Церковь Иоакима и Анны), с. Долгое (2 km towards Kursk). This five-domed brick church in the Russian-Byzantine style was built in 1864 according to a plan by famous architect K.A. Tona. It is tied to the legend of Kursk Root Icon. In 1383, the Crimean Tatars sacked the Kursk Root Hermitage, cut the icon in two, and took the local priest prisoner. But when the priest returned, he folded the two cut halves, and the icon miraculously became whole. The Church of Ioakim and Anna was later built at the scene of the miracle.
- 3 Church of Our Lady of the Sign in Tazovo (Знаменская церковь в селе Тазово), ул. Мирная, 60 (6 km towards Kursk). Built in 1850 according to the standard plan by the same K.A. Tona as above. An unusual fresco, Leo Tolstoy in Hell, was painted inside the church in 1883, depicting the great writer sitting in the hands of the devil. It now is on display in the Museum of the History of Religion in Saint Petersburg. It is easy to see the church from the road to Kursk.
- 4 Church of St. George the Victorious in Ukolovo (Церковь Георгия Победоносца в селе Уколово). A wooden church, built in 1884 in the form of a ship. One of the famous visitors here the composer Tchaikovsky, who was visiting his brother, whose estate was nearby. The church stands in a picturesque place at the edge of the forest, with the Tuskar River flowing nearby. This church was never closed or destroyed during Soviet times.
- 5 Matveyevsky Waterfall (Kursk or Baranovsky Waterfall). There is a 7-meter waterfall between the villages of Matveyevka and Chaplygino. In actuality, this is a hydraulic construction made of stone slabs, built to discharge water from an irrigation pond. The dam was commissioned in 1983, and its length is more than 250 m. The waterfall looks spectacular, and is a good spot for a swim or photos. You'll need to get here by car via dirt road, preferably in dry weather.
- 6 Zolotukhino (Золотухино). An unremarkable district center, noteworthy mostly for its railway station. Here you can see a convent, built from scratch in the 2000s, and some war memorials. It 17 km from Svoboda, minibuses go every half hour.
- 7 Alekseyevsky Convent (Алексеевский женский монастырь), Золотухино, ул. Садовая, 10. Founded in 1997, before which there was never a single church in Zolotukhino. The churches were opened and consecrated in 2008. Some of the nuns came here from the all-male Kursk Root Hermitage, where they performed auxiliary work. The grounds are nicely landscaped, and there is a wellspring and baths.