The Near Caves is a complex of underground caves where the relics of the Pechery Saints are located. The monastery was named Kiev-Pechersk Lavra precisely because the first monastic cells were dug in caves on the hillside (cave in Russian means “pechery”).
The Kievo-Pechersk monastery was founded in 1051 by Saint Anthony and his disciple Saint Theodosius. Prince Svyatoslav II Yaroslavovich gave the monks a place on the top of a hill above the Dnieper. However, Anthony appointed Saint Barlaam the first Abbot of the monastery, and he retired to the caves at the foot of the hill. He was later buried here. The caves where his cell was located are now called Antoniev Caves or Near Caves, since they are located near the stone temples of the Lavra.
In 1240, Kiev was captured and destroyed by the army of Batu Khan. The buildings of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra were also destroyed, and the monks again began to live in caves. Many defenders of Kiev who died during the storming of the city were also buried here.
The length of the passages in the Near caves reaches 400 meters. Here are the relics of 73 canonized saints. They can be seen in niches that are hollowed out along the aisles. The relics of many saints remain incorruptible for more than a thousand years, although the caves have very high humidity and temperatures of about 7-8°.
There are three underground churches in the caves: the Church of the Introduction of the Holy Mother of God, the Church of St. Anthony of the Pechersk, and the Church of St. Barlaam the Abbot of the Pechersk. Near the Church of the Introduction are the relics of Ilya Muromets, a Russian epic hero who later became a monk of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra
In 1638, a wooden Church of the Holy Cross was built at the entrance to the Antoniev caves, and in 1700 a stone Church of the Holy cross was built in its place, which has been preserved to this day. In 1749, a gallery was added to it, which became the main entrance to the Near caves for pilgrims.