Recently St. Michael’s golden domed monastery in the old city of Kyiv, Ukraine celebrated the nine hundredth year anniversary of its founding. That’s pretty darn old! So you’d forgive me if I made the mistake of planning this beautiful cathedral and the ancient complex surrounding it as a setting in my new novel, From the Rooftops that takes place in 1997. Well, you might be surprised to learn, as I was, that the cathedral, the blue bell tower and the golden domes weren’t there in 1997 to be able to take part in my story.
On my recent research trip to Kyiv in May this year I stood on the street corner across the street from this beautiful church, scratching my head because I couldn’t remember it being there the last time I stood on the same street corner in 1993. After looking up and down the street, behind me and around me, finding St. Sophia’s cathedral to be in the right place at the head of the street, I accepted the most likely conclusion; there were holes in my memory.
I was so impressed with the reverent and serene atmosphere inside the walls of this complex that I immediately knew that I wanted to include this as a setting in the story I was creating in my head. We attended nine o’clock mass and were deeply impressed by the deep piercing chords of the singing priests and the stunning beauty of the iconostasis and the pageantry of the ceremony.
While we stood and watched the service, I saw in my mind’s eye Elena Enescu, after witnessing a brutal murder on the street nearby, running into the chapel for refuge. I imagined the stir she would create, stumbling into the church covered in blood, hysterical, fearing for own life and collapsing at the foot of gold encrusted icon, seeking God’s protection. That same evening I wrote the scene while resting on a bench under shady trees in Marinsky Park.
For the rest of my visit in Kyiv I found that my memory of the city, its landmarks, its metro and bus routes was impeccable. I found my old apartment and those of my friends in the old neighborhood without any missteps or wrong turns. With restored faith my memory, I turned to Wikipedia to solve the question of St. Michael’s magically disappearing monastery. To my relief, and dismay, I learned that the church and its brilliantly frescoed walls in fact had not been there in 1993!
In the late 1930’s the bell tower, cathedral and walls of the whole complex had been pulled down, pulverized and buried by the Soviet authorities after they were able to expand their brutal influence to Kyiv after the 1918 Communist revolution. Only in the mid 1990’s, after independence from the Soviet Union, did the restoration work begin in earnest to rebuild what had been destroyed.
By the summer of 1997, just when I needed the church to be blue, brilliant and golden in order to star in my novel, the domes had yet to be hoisted and installed on the building.
I was forced to rewrite the entire chapter.