There is no unequivocal answer to the question of the time of Valaam Monastery foundation in the church and historical science. The most important source of dating, the saint Sergius and Herman's old hagiography is missing. Archival investigations in the 19-20th centuries were based on indirect data, records of some events of the Monastery life in various memorials of Russian literature.
In a number of contemporary publications (guidebooks, encyclopedias etc.), conflicting data on the time of foundation of Valaam Monastery are often indicated. The cloister origin has sometimes been referred to the 14th century, sometimes to the first centuries of Christianity propagation in Russia in the 10-11th centuries. Time and again, during enemies’ invasions (12th, 17th centuries), the monastery endured devastation; monastic life was interrupted for long decades. During invasions the Church memorials, monastery relics were destroyed, the richest monastery libraries and manuscript depositories were burned down and plundered; the hagiography of saint Sergius and Herman was lost in this way.
Without going into scientific dispute, let us consider two major currently existing concepts of the monastery origin.
The first of them attributes the monastery foundation to the 12-14th centuries. Church historians of the 19th century backed up this dating in their research: Bishop Amvrosiy (Ornatsky), Bishop Philaret (Gumilevsky), E.E. Golubinsky. Currently, a number of contemporary scientists adhere to this version: N.A. Okhotina-Lind, G.Lind, A.Nakadzava. These researches base their concept on the 16th century manuscript "Valaam Monastery tale" (published by N.A.Okhotina-Lind). Other contemporary scientists (H. Kirkinen, S.N.Azbelev), pointing to this manuscript as to "a new research material among other origin sources pertinent to the early history of the Valaam Monastery", believe that the "Publishers of the newly found text along with those, who presented this source treated it too trustfully from the point, of view of critical research. Carried away by their enthusiasm, … they have not thoroughly carried out a source study of the original source". It should be noted that other sources have not been found so far, where the data of "The Valaam Monastery tale" would be confirmed, particularly the statement that the monastery founder was not saint Sergius of Valaam, as is commonly believed on the basis of the centuries-old church tradition reflected in the service books, but saint Efrem of Perecom.
The second version attributes the foundation of the monastery to the 10-11th centuries. It is based on one of the versions of saint Avraamy of Rostov's life including a record of the saint's is stay on Valaam in the 10th century, as well as on a number of annalistic records of saint Sergius and Herman's relics' transfer from Valaam to Novgorod in 1163. It should be noted that historians of the 19th century (N.P.Payalin, I.Ya.Chistovich) only knew of one of the records from the Uvarov Chronicle of the relics transfer. Recent archival investigations have enabled to find out also other similar records: in the collection of the Russian National Library and in the Institute of History of Material Culture. In total there are eight such records. The most interesting record, as the most informative, is one from the Likhachev’s collection (ph.238, list 1, #243): "holy Great Novgorod bishops and archbishops, and Reverend wonderworkers", 18th century. The manuscript mentions saint Sergius and Herman's memory, points to the contemporary (17th century) devastation of the cloister, refers to the old cathedral Chronicler, where the dates of relics finding (1163) and return (1182) to Valaam are indicated.
It seems possible to reconcile both opinions about the cloister foundation time: the old monastic life on Valaam after the 11th century could be interrupted, and then recommence on the edge of the 14-15th centuries. Perhaps, in future scientists will find new historical sources throwing more light upon the old history of the Valaam monastery.
To avoid continuous ambiguity in reference publications on the matter of the Valaam Monastery foundation time we would offer in short to the readers and publishers the monastery tradition on the old cloister history.
According to the Valaam monastery tradition, in old times heathens lived on Valaam worshiping Baal (Beles) deity. The first of the disciples of Christ, the holy apostle Andrew, the First-called, enlightening Scythian and Slavic lands left Novgorod for Valaam, where he destroyed pagan temples and raised a stone cross. It was the Holy Apostle who predicted a great future to Valaam that came to pass with the foundation and blossom of the monastery.
The founders of the Holy-Transfiguration Valaam Monastery, saint Sergius and Herman, according to Church tradition, were Greek priest monks that came to the Great Novgorod lands in the 10th century along with the first Orthodox missionaries. The historical details about the Valaam monastery founders are scanty. During enemy invasions all written memorials containing reliable information about the cloister history were destroyed. So saint Sergius and Herman's life also perished. By the 16th century, the time of the Swedish invasion, many historical documents had been already lost, an old synodic of the Valaam Monastery that was kept in the Old-Ladoga Vasiliev Monastery after the cloister devastation in 1611 shows evidence of that. This synodic is the only historical document written on Valaam. Saint Sergius and Herman are recorded in the synodic, among the father superiors list (saint Ephrem is not).
Memory of the monastic deeds of the Saints has been kept in the church tradition and chronicles. They give an indirect evidence of saint Sergius and Herman’s selfless activity: enlightening heathen Karelian tribes with the light of the Christian faith, strengthening Orthodoxy in the North of Russia, foundation of a monastic cloister that became a stronghold of Orthodoxy in the early centuries of Christian enlightenment. Old Novgorod chronicles speak of finding saint Sergius and Herman's relics and transferring them to Novgorod during the Swedish invasion in 1163-1164. "In the year 1163. Under Archbishop John. Archbishop John the First was appointed to Great Novgorod, but before there were bishops. In the same year, the relics of our holy Valaam Fathers Sergius and Herman, Novgorod wonder-workers were found and transferred at the time of Novgorod Archbishop John …" It was that time when the local glorification of the Valaam Monastery founders took place and the church worship of saint Sergius and Herman within the Novgorod diocese was initiated. In 1182, when the danger was past, the monks brought, the holy relics of their heavenly protectors back to Valaam. Fearing the relics might be desacrated they dugout a tomb deep in the rock and hid the sacred saint relics there, where they have been until now "under a bushel". In memory of that last return of the sacred relics to the Valaam cloister a Church celebration is conducted annually on September 11/24.
Numerous miracles from the Saints' relics were recorded in the Monastery chronicles until the cloister closing. Through prayerful intercession the Saints helped men drowning and freezing on Ladoga, cured mental and bodily diseases, drunkenness ailment, petitioned for the needy and suffering. Since 1819 All-Russian worship of saint Sergius and Herman, Valaam wonder-workers, began, a service was made up, icons with the Saints' images were painted. And now, when the cloister is rising after another devastation, prayers are once more offered up to the Holy Monastery founders in front of the shrine over their sacred relics.
With the restoration of the Valaam Monastery interest is reviving in its history, its deep study in the context of the richest heritage of scientific historical thought, memorials of old Russian literature, church tradition and divine worship texts. Only such a comprehensive cover of all the sources that include historical data about the monastery will allow to fill up the absence of documents and witnesses annihilated during dramatic periods of the ancient monastery life