The Late Medieval monasteries of Central Russia with their inimitable silhouettes, incorporating churches, towers, halls and belfries, are well-known and proud landmarks in the history of Russian culture. Yet their forerunners have hardly been studied at all. The only records that have come down to us are fragmentary pieces of information gleaned from chronicles and legal documents. The monasteries themselves have also come down to us in a fragmentary state, as for example, in the case of the “solitary” Yuriev Monastery in Novgorod or the cathedral of the Mirozh Monastery in Pskov, which is equally “solitary” within an architectural ensemble of a later period.
Filling this gap, after obtaining information about early buildings, burials, cultural deposits and the micro-topography of the monasteries of the 12th–14th centuries, was the aim of the excavations undertaken, which have already been going on for over seven years in two monasteries situated near each other at the southern edge of Novgorod the Great — the Monastery of the Annunciation at Myachino and the St. Panteleimon Monastery. In the Monastery of the Annunciation excavations have been going on since 2004. Near the 12th-century cathedral, burials have been found dating from the 12th–18th centuries, both those of the ordinary inhabitants in wooden coffins and those of more exclusive individuals in stone sarcophagi of two types: composite ones consisting of six slabs (12th–13th centuries) and “boat-shaped” ones made from hollowed-out stones and with a lid (14th–15th centuries). In an entrance hall of the same date as the Cathedral of the Annunciation, of which nothing had been known prior to the excavations, two burials have been cleared in sarcophagi made of thin brick of the Byzantine type — a rarity in Novgorod. It can be assumed that there had been a necropolis for a privileged élite around the cathedral and in its porch, which would have contained burials of both monks from boyar families and also representatives of the latter — most probably churchwardens of the monastery from the boyar families of Novgorod’s “Lyudin End” (one of the five principal quarters
of the city).
The whole area inside the Cathedral has been cleared by the excavation team. On the intermediate filler layer under the late floor, the preliminary layer under the original early floor was discovered, which was made of limestone. In the western part of the cathedral a pair of tombs made of thin brick was found, probably made for the founders of the monastery — Brothers Ilya and Gavriil, who became archbishops of Novgorod and were buried in Novgorod’s St. Sophia Cathedral. The sarcophagi left empty were probably used for burying Fathers Superior of the monastery in the 13th century. A lead seal dating from the end of the 13th or early-14th century was found in the in-fill.
Forty metres north of the Cathedral of the Annunciation a stone church built above a gateway and dedicated to the Epiphany (1180–1182) was discovered, which had been mentioned in a chronicle. All that had survived of this unique monument of Novgorod’s pre-Mongol architecture was the base of the gate-tower, on which the church had been erected and some slabs from the paving of the approach road passing through it. Based on the walls of the 12th-century building, a new one had been erected in 1447, using the same basic measurements of the earlier one but shifted 50 cm further north. During the excavations, fragments of frescoes were found which testify to the fact that the Cathedral contained painted decoration both in the 12th as well as the 15th century. Next to the building half a silver grivna was found, which was of a 14th-century Novgorod type.
In the St. Panteleimon Monastery excavations have revealed the foundations of the monastery’s cathedral (1207) and several burials.