Goritsy is a tiny settlement near White Lake. Once the cruise ship docks here, you will temporarily forget reality and dive into the medieval atmosphere of this extraordinarily picturesque town. The famous Russian writer Andrey Muraviov called Goritsy the "Russian Northern Thebais," an analogy for the Egyptian desert where early Christian hermits made their cells. This poetic comparison reflects Goritsy's numerous monasteries and the deep spiritual life of monks even today. Even on a short visit, Goritsy's atmosphere has a powerful effect.
Two of Goritsy's monasteries are especially famous: the Kirillo-Belozerskiy monastery and the Goritsy Nunnery. The Kirillo-Belozerskiy monastery is slightly more well-known, playing a role in the beginning and end of Ivan the Terrible's life. Before he was born, his parents prayed here for God to give them an heir. When Ivan was old and sick he begged the monks to pray for God to forgive his bloody deeds. The monks believed that the terrible Tsar had transformed and hoped to see him prove his salvation by becoming a monk. This, of course, never happened.
The Kirillo-Belozerskiy monastery dates back to 1397 when a monk named Reverend Kirill left his privileged life to seek a remote place to become closer to God. His monastery prospered and became a refuge for many nobles during the Time of Troubles. It soon turned into a fortress which resisted the attacks of the Poles and Lithuanians for many years. It could not, however, resist the Bolsheviks. The monks were shot or sent to labor camps, though it was one of the few monasteries not turned into a concentration camp. Despite this, the ornate building has managed to preserve much of its historic grandeur and was recently named the winner of a competition to become one of "The New Seven Wonders of Russia."
Although less grand, the setting of Goritsy Nunnery on the banks of the broad Skeksna River is stunningly beautiful. This ghostly building with pure white walls can be glimpsed through the forest, making it look like a vision out of a fairy tale. It was founded in 1554 by Princess Efrosiniya, the wife of one of Ivan the Terrible's sons. She became one of Ivan's numerous victims when Ivan began to suspect her and her son of treason, and the tsar had her cruelly drowned in the river Shekna. More horrible still, Ivan then turned the monastery into his own personal harem for wives and abducted Russian beauties. During the Time of Troubles the nunnery fell to foul Lithuanian attacks and was only saved from complete destruction by the rebels Minin and Pozharsky. During the Revolution, legend has it that the Mother Superior Kaleria’s second sight forewarned her of the impending Bolshevik attack.