The Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery located in the village of Priluki which has since been incorporated into the city of Vologda is one of the finest surviving examples of a fortified monastery. The monastery was founded in 1371 by the monk Dmitry, a disciple of St Sergius of Radonezh, who left his monastery in Pereslavl-Zalessky to found a new one in a more remote location with the support of Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy. Dmitry has since been canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church as St Demetrius (Dmitry) of Priluki.
Since its founding the monastery was supported by the princes and later tsars of Moscow who on occasion visited it on pilgrimage but also took advantage of the monastery's defences and strategic position for trade and as a site for exile. In 1493 the two young sons of Prince Andrey the Elder of Uglich were exiled here and both ended their days here in prison.
During the time of Troubles the monastery was sacked several times but the monastery quickly recovered becoming one of the richest monasteries of the Russian North in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Napoleonic War many treasures of monasteries located in Napoleon's path were evacuated here for safekeeping.
In 1926 the monastery was closed by the Bolsheviks and in the 1930s it was used as a transit prison, primarily for so-called kulaks before being sent on to northern camps of the Gulag. Later it was used a military store, a cinema and a home for disabled people. It was eventually restored in the 1950s and 1970s and became a branch of the Vologda Museum Reserve in 1979. It was finally returned to the Orthodox Church in 1990 and subsequently restored and reopened.
The monastery is now one of the highlights of a trip to Vologda and should not be missed. It is located in Priluki in the north-west of the city on the banks of the River Vologda. Priluki itself is situated at the very end of Ulitsa Chernyshevskogo about five kilometres from the start of the street on Oktyabrsky Bridge. Buses No. 22 and 28 and minibus No. 88 run to Priluki along Ulitsa Chernyshevskogo. Alternatively the Rybkino station is located nearby and so can therefore be reached by suburban train.
One of the most instantly striking features of the Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery are the fortified walls with towers decorated with white, peach and yellow stripes. The walls date from the 17th century and include four round corner towers and one set of gates facing the River Vologda and the Holy Gates on the western wall which house the Ascension Gate-Church.
The monastery's main church is the Saviour Cathedral which stands in the very centre of the monastery. It was built between 1537 and 1542 on the site of an older wooden church. The brick church is a traditional four-pillar structure with five domes. It is surrounded by a closed gallery and built onto the front is a porch.
It is also attached to what were once the abbot's chambers and the monastery's refectory which in turn is attached to the simple Presentation of Virgin Mary Church which also dates from the mid-16th century. Finally on the back of the cathedral is a bell tower which was added in the first half of the 18th century.
In the northern corner of the monastery is the All-Saints Church which was built in 1721 but substantially rebuilt in 1841 after a fire. The church is attached to the monastery's hospital ward and quarters for the monks.
In addition to the stone churches, the monastery is also home to one of the oldest surviving wooden tent domes in Russia - the Dormition Church. Originally the church was built in the first half of the 17th century in the Aleksandro-Kushtsky Monastery on Lake Kubenskoe in the Vologda Region. The monastery was dissolved in 1764 and in 1962 the surviving Dormition Church was transferred to the Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery for preservation.