Torokan undergrounds see the light

The village of Imenin in the Drogichin District is from the first sight a normal farming town. Many centuries ago, Imenin was called Torokan. Recently, regional ethnographers dug out one of the entries into the 200-metre monastic underground which was known as the Torokan Monastery.

The village of Imenin in the Drogichin District is from the first sight a normal farming town. Many centuries ago, Imenin was called Torokan. Recently, regional ethnographers dug out one of the entries into the Torokan Monastery.
By Valentina Pozlova

The village of Imenin in the Drogichin District is from the first sight a normal farming town with 700 homesteads, well-groomed houses, flower gardens, post office, a recreation centre, a village shop and a church. The intrigue about this place is that, many centuries ago, Imenin was called Torokan and even now, local residents consider themselves to be Torokan residents. Recently, regional ethnographers dug out one of the entries into the 200-metre monastic underground which was known as the Torokan Monastery.

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Sergey Granik, near the remains of Queen Bona’s column


Local legends connect Torokan with the Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania, Bona Sforza who owned Kobrin and Motol in the 16th century. In the legend, during a trip (Imenin is located between these settlements) the Italian lost her way in the woods.

“She began to panic,” the Director of the Military and Historical Museum of Drogichin, Sergey Granik assumes. “It was necessary to spend the night in the carriage, deep in the forest. While Queen Bona slept an unknown woman, possibly the Virgin Mary, told her to stay calm saying, supposedly, that she will survive. And it came true. Two days later she was found and was escorted from the marshland. After that, Bona constructed a brick column in that forest, near an oak. It stood there until the 1960s. During construction of the road, the column was torn down. Some people, who were sure of the miracle force of the column, ground down some bricks into powder and gave it to ill people. It is said that it had medicinal powers...”

Monastic-cells.pngIn the 16th century, the Orthodox Torokan Monastery was constructed near the column (in 1613 it became Uniate and in 1710 it was transferred to Basilian monks). Then a village appeared nearby. In the 18th century, there was time of blossoming for the monastery and an icon-painting school worked under it. Mr. Granik retells a story that he once heard from old residents, “The monastic masters not only painted icons on wood, canvas and on metal, but also made rings from elk bone. On Kupalie night, they were washed in the Yaselda River. It was considered that these decorations possessed extraordinary force.”

Paganism, Orthodoxy, Uniate religion and Catholicism — all were intertwined in the life of the Torokan Monastery. In the summer of 1938, the future Pope, Pius XII, visited Torokan and was treated with biscuit pie with white sunflower seeds.

However, the monastery died away. A Polish agricultural school was located in the monastery before the Great Patriotic War. While during the war, the Germans were searching for something in the monastery — they unsealed walls in different buildings. The rest was plundered by Soviet activists. Books were thrown away and the Church of the Epiphany was blown up.

One of the old residents, 86-year-old Nina Pavlyuchik, recollects, rubbing her tears away, “I remember zadushki — praying day. Divine services were held in the cemetery chapel. We went out and saw it happen. Suddenly, the church soared upwards and then fell down. Around us was dust.” That was in 1959, on the day of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

torokan.pngAll that visibly remains of the monastery are the cells which are covered by slate. The Imenin agricultural co-operative society stores grain here. Recently, Sergey Granik and regional ethnographer, Sergey Litvinko, with permission of the chairman of the rural council, cut out the bushes and dug out one of entrances into the monastic underground — a 5 metre wide, 2.7 metre deep hole. But real archaeologists are needed here, not amateurs. The undergrounds, which are 200 metres in length, are blocked by the brickwork of the blown up Church of the Epiphany.

Torokan residents nevertheless managed to rescue some of the things which were in it. A sarcophagus and six Uniate icons painted in Torokan, are now in the new, Church of the Epiphany, constructed in 2004. Present chairman of the Imenin agricultural production co-operative, Vladimir Sukharevich, is a creator. At the farm’s expense, he established an arch and a stone on the place where once was a church. He constructed a new church. For that he was awarded the Order of Venerable Sergius of Radonezh and the merit certificate of the Patriarch. Torokan residents have a hope that he will be able to financially organise excavations of the undergrounds. While for now, the rest of the majestic Torokan Monastery is not even included in the regional list of historical and cultural valuables.

Last from Uniates

Imenin does not have a Monastic Street, or a Donat Novitsky street — the name belonging to the last priest of the Church of the Epiphany. But a house remains where he lived with his family. Gratitude is in the people’s memory. On the site of the museum, Sergey Granik placed a lot of interesting information on the priest. After all he is a person of unusual destiny. According to his first education he was an officer, came through the Solovki prison camp. In 1932, he was released after an exchange of prisoners between the USSR and Poland. In the same year, he served in the Greek-Catholic parish in Torokan. In 1939, he moved to Zelenka near Warsaw. In memory of the residents of Torokan, the priest remained as a teacher and patron. It gave a life direction to many young people from the villages surrounding the Torokan Monastery. At his own expense, he sent peasants’ children to study in Polish cities. Yevgeniya Marushko remembers, how Father Donat, on a bicycle and in his cassock, came to her father, Alexey Sokolovsky, “The back wheel was tied round so that his cassock did not get tangled. The brother untangled the wheel, and we cycled. Father Donat was not angry. My father finished the Kaluga theological seminary, worked as a headmaster. They listened to the radio as the fascists came to power, and my father and others reasoned how it would change the world.”

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