Музей-заповедник «Дивногорье»

Divnogorsky Uspensky Cave-Monastery

Useful Information

Location: 397965 Russia, Voronezh region, Liskinsky district, village Selyavnoe-1.
(50.9797419, 39.3185294)
Open: All year daily.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=351 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Holy Dormition Divnogorsk Diocesan Monastery, 397965 Russia, Voronezh region, Liskinsky district, village Selyavnoe-1, Tel: +7-920-436-32-57. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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17th century cave monastery founded.
1653 first written mention.
1831 Big Diva Caves first mentioned, when the Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God was found here.
1858-1860 Schemamonk Marcelius digs a crypt for himself where he was later buried.
1924 monastery closed by the Soviet government.
1658 church on the site built and dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.
1988 territory becomes a museum and the caves are restored.
1997 monastery returned to the Orthodox Church and re-consecrated, followed by restoration work.


Музей-заповедник «Дивногорье» (Divnogorye, Divnogorsk Holy Dormition Monastery) is a monastery complex located in the chalk escarpment along the Don river and its tributary Reka Tikhaya Sosna. The monastery of today was built in a small valley, and as the railroad runs between the river and the escarpment, it has its own station and is easy to reach by public transport. It's a little more challenging by car, the parking lot is on the plateau above, about 600 m walk from the monastery. There is a modern monastery, which was renovated since the perestroika allowed religion again. It is one of the most popular destinations in the area, both for believers and for tourists.

But the actual treasure is hidden in caves in the escarment behind the monastery which is called Малые Дивы (Malye Divy, Little Divas). The chalk contains a cave complex, which is said to be 350 m long, but it is partly collapsed and only a part is accessible. It contains the cave church of the Nativity of John the Baptist, a bypass gallery with two chapels and monk cells. There is a section which is called Golgotha, because the image of the mountain is emphasized by ascending and descending steps. It symbolizes the place of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

One of the picturesque chalk pillars of Malye Divy is called belfry or bell tower. It was named after its shape, it is not actually a belfry. But it has a doorway which was once reached by wooden ladder, and is called the "arch of the bell". Actually it was the entrance to a monk cell with two small rooms, and a lower tier. The fact that the cell is only accessible by a ladder, which could easily be removed, is interpreted that it wasd also a hideout in case of an attack. However, the mock cell has partly collapsed, forming the tower. It is not accessible any more.

There are actually six separate cult caves and cave complexes known in Divnogorye. They are spread along the escarpment, from the village of Selyavnoe southwest for about 5 km.

The Пещерный комплекс в Больших Дивах (cave complex of the Big Divas) is located at the southern end of the escarpment near Diwnogorje. The main sight is the церковью Сицилийской иконы Божией Матери (Church of the Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God). That's actually an accurate description the main sight of the church is an icon which, according to legend, originates from Sicily. The cave complex has two levels which are connected by a staircase. The church is on the lower level, also a gallery with eight side chambers. Their use is actually not known, probably they were burial chambers, but today they are used to store icon cases. The cave originally had frescoes, but the humidity in the caves destroyed them. According to monastic tradition, the cave church was created by the founders of the monastery, Xenophon and Joasaph. According to another version, a group of monks arrived at the cave complex known as Malye Divy in 1653. They brought a regiment of Cossacks and established the monastery as part of an outpost on the Belgorod Abatis Border. In 1831 the Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God was found here which resulted in the first written mention of the cave church. From 1856, the complex was under the jurisdiction of the monastery. It was quite popular and visited by thousands of pilgrims for the Feast of the Assumption. The 300 m long cave was severely destroyed, and is now a museum reserve, and restauration is ongoing. The cave can be visited on guided tours.

During the Soviet rule religion was more or less forbidden, the monastery was closed in 1924. According to one source, the monks were drowned in the Don river or executed, and the library thrown into the river. This is the reason why the history of the monastery is mostly unknown. The buildings were used as a sanatorium and then a German military hospital during World War II. Then they fell in disrepair, but already in 1988, by the Soviet government, the whole area became a museum and was restored.

The Sicilian icon of the Mother of God was brought to Divnogorye by the monks Xenophon and Joasaph. It ascended to the chalk pillar-diva, indicating that it would protect this holy place. In 1831, when a cholera epidemic broke out in the surrounding villages, the Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God appeared over the entrance to the cave. It was taken around the cities, and during one of the trips it was lost. In 2009, the icon returned to the temple after restoration. It is now placed in a window above the entrance door. It is believed that the Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God saves people from illnesses and natural disasters.

The Селявнинский пещерный комплекс (Selyavninsky cave complex), also called Дивногорский-3 (Divnogorsky-3) is located 1,180 m northeast of the Divnogorsky monastery and 800 m west of the village of Selyavnoye. The caves were originally dug by local peasants, but soon they were taken ove by the monastery. The entrance is difficult to access, but the cave is well-preserved. It contains a cave church and some galleries and chambers on unknown purpose, hasd a total length of 202 m. This cave is not guided.

Nearby is Пещера Ульяны (Ulyana Cave), also called Дивногорский-4 (Divnogorsky-4) or Casemate. The cave is only 29 m long, and probably there was a plan to connect it to Divnogorsky-3, but this was never completed. According to local legend, the cave was created by the monks in 1870 for Blessed Ulyana. But the true purpose of the cave is unknown, most likely it was the cell of a hermit. This cave is not restored yet and is not guided.

The chalk hill Гора Шатрище (Mount Shatrishche) is located 8 km to the east of the monastery, at the southern shore of Don river. The unique tent-shaped chalk hill was separated from the escarblent by a meander of the Don River. Шатрищегорская пещера (Shatrishchegorsk Cave) with a length of 325 m is a remain of a second monastery. The Шатрищегорского Спасо-Преображенского монастыря (Shatrishchegorsk Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery) was founded in the mid-17th century and operated intermittently until 1764. In 1854, the complex was assigned to the Divnogorsk Monastery. Only 280 m of the cave survived the damages during Soviet times. The gallery inside the mountain spirals down, almost to the level of the river of the mountain, some 30 m below the entrance. Малая Шатрищегорская пещера (Malaya Shatrishchegorsk Cave) is locate 40 m further east, and located in the escarpment of the next plateau. It was obviously connected to the same monastery, but the origin and use of the small cave with a length of 27 m is unknown.

The chalk is very soft, and so it was easy to dig caves into the rock, which were more or less stable. That's the reason why the monks built their cells and churches into the chalk escarpment. On the other hand, chalk erodes pretty fast, and so many structures were destroyed by collapses. For obvious reasons, it's forbidden to leave the trails and climb the chalk. It may not only cause damage, it is also dangerous.

The monastery was founded in the middle of the 17th century by immigrants from Ukraine, led by Abbot Gury. The heyday of the monastery was during the 19th century, and again today, as it has become the most popular tourist destination in the Oblast. During Soviet times, the monastery was abandoned, and the buildings first used as a holiday resort and later a tuberculosis sanatorium. At this time, access to the caves was not restricted and the walls were vandalized with graffiti. The caves are partly restored, and the restored part may be visited on guided tours organized by the brethren of Divnogorsky Monastery. The churches are open daily and free, as they are churches. Please behave accordingly, and give a donation. The tours are offered, but there is no schedule published and no fees. We guess they are available daily, just talk to the monks.