There is a bizarre similarity in the names of the Romanov dynasty’s start and end points. The last tzar’s family was executed in engineer Ipatyev’s house in Yekaterinburg, while St Ipaty Monastery in Kostroma – standing at the confluence of the Volga and the smaller Kostroma River – is where a large delegation of citizens came in 1613 to insist that the young Mikhail Romanov accept the Russian throne, thus ending the Time of Troubles and Polish intervention.
The 18-year-old tsar-to-be had spent 13 years in exile, his family being chief rivals of Tsar Boris Godunov. Interestingly, the monastery is believed to have been founded by an ancient ancestor of the latter, the semilegendary Tatar Prince Chet who saw a vision of St Ipaty on the spot and decided to convert.
In 1590, the Godunovs built the monastery’s Trinity Cathedral (Троицкий собор), which contains more than 80 old frescoes by a school of 17th-century Kostroma painters, headed by Gury Nikitin, as well as some 20th-century additions. The fresco in the southern part of the sanctuary depicts Chet’s baptism by St Ipaty.
In the Romanov era, all successive tsars came here to visit the monastery’s red Romanov Chambers , opposite the cathedral, which contain a dull historic exhibition. Much more exciting is the Refectory , which displays church treasures and old icons. Footage of Tsar Nicholas II and his family visiting Kostroma in 1913 for the 300-year jubilee of the Romanov House is shown nonstop on a large screen at the entrance. The 400-year jubilee in 2013 turned out to be a fairly low-key event.
The monastery is 2.5km west of the town centre. Take bus 14 from the central Susaninskaya pl and get off once you cross the river.