The Trinity St Sergius Lavra Monastery
The Trinity St Sergius Lavra Monastery is the largest monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church, with a history that dates back for hundreds of years. The monastery is located in the town of Sergiev Posad, which is around 70 kilometres to the north-east of Moscow. The monastery comprises over fifty different buildings, located within ancient defensive walls. Today, the monastery is listed as Unesco Site of World Heritage.
- Only two monasteries in modern Russia hold the honorific status of ‘lavra’ - this monastery at Sergiev Posad, and the Alexander Nevsky Lavra Monastery in St. Petersburg. The Trinity St Sergius Monastery had the honour of its title as 'lavra' bestowed upon it by Russian Empress Elizaveta, in 1744.
- Empress Elizaveta made the pilgrimage journey to the monastery from Moscow on foot. However, she did this in a most original way – by walking 2-3 kilometres of the journey each day, and then being taken back to her palace in Moscow by carriage every day. The carriage would return her to where she had left off the previous day. The entire trip took several months when tackled in this way.
- The largest church bell in Russia is the Tsar Bell, weighing 72 tonnes. It hangs in the Bell Tower of the Trinity St Sergius Lavra Monastery.
- The best view of the monastery can be seen from the Blinnary Gora, or Pancake Hill Observation Platform, in the town centre of Sergiev Posad. Pancake Hill is so-called from the tradition of cooking pancakes there for the hungry pilgrims who arrived there after their long journey.
The Holy Monk, St Sergius of Radonezh established a small religious community at Makovets Hill, 70 kilometres from Moscow. In 1377 the monks built Church of the Holy Trinity to serve their worship needs. The depth of Christian study and devotion at the community became famed throughout Russia, becoming a spiritual centre serving the whole country. Grand-Princes came to the monastery for blessings before military conflicts.
By 1422 the original wooden Trinity Church had been replaced with a stone church – the Trinity Cathedral. Great ikon-painters such as Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chorny were involved in the murals and frescoes of the new cathedral. Rublev's famous ikon 'The Trinity' was created especially for the cathedral.
During the political upheavals of the early 17th century known as the Time of Troubles – during which Russia was invaded by a Polish-Lithuanian occupation force – the monastery withstood a sixteen-month siege by the would-be occupiers. Despite terrible suffering and damage, the monastery defended itself against the attacks.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Trinity St Sergius Lavra became one of Russia's richest monasteries. As well as becoming involved in trade, the Monastery opened a Divinity Academy.
During the soviet years, the monastery was entirely closed. Most of the ikon-screens and religious items were melted down for scrap metal. However, in the mid-20th century, it was decided to award the former monastery the status of a museum-reserve – a decision which saved all of the architectural heritage at the monastery. In 1993 the architectural ensemble of the monastery was listed by UNESCO as a site of world cultural heritage.
Today there are around 200 monks serving and working at the monastery.
What to see
- The Assumption Cathedral is the largest and most visible of the monastery's buildings, located directly at the centre of the monastery grounds. It was built over 1559 to 1585.
- The Trinity Cathedral is the main church of the monastery, and its oldest building. It was built between 1422 and 1423, on the site of a former wooden cathedral of the same name. The original murals and frescoes in the church were painted by the famous ikon-painters Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chorny – but their work has not survived. Instead, it has been recreated from original sketches and drawings. The church's crypt contains the relics of the monastery's founder, St Sergey of Radonezh, which are venerated by many visitors.
- St Nikon’s Church is situated by the southern walls of the Trinity Cathedral. The church as built over 1623-1624, and contains the grave of St Nikon of Radonezh – one of the early acolytes of St Sergey of Radonezh.
- The Church of the Holy Spirit. This small church is situated between the Assumption and Trinity cathedrals, and is the second-oldest preserved church within the lavra, being built over 1476 and 1477, by master masons from Pskov. The church contains the graves of a number of saints, including Maxim the Greek – a renowned theologian and philosopher of the 16th century.
- The smallest church within the monastery is the Mikheevsky Church – built in the 18th century on the spot where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Sergey of Radonezh.
- The Church of Zosima & Savvaty Solovetsky was built in 1635-1637 in the period when the monastery was re-established after the Time of Troubles.
- The Nativity Church of St John the Baptist was built with finance provided by Grigory Stroganoff, the Russian industrialist, financier and philanthropist. Just like other projects he financed, the interior decorations are truly sumptuous.
- The Refectory Church. This church and refectory is one of the largest within the monastery, and is well-known for its unusual colour-scheme, richly-decorated staircases and elaborate ornamentation.
- The Smolensk Church – the Church of the Most-Holy Smolensk Ikon of the Odigetria Mother of God. This tiny church dates to 1746-1753. It was specially built to keep the carved stone ikon of the Smolensk Mother of God. The ikon is presently in a museum, and a facsimile is kept in the church.
- The Monastery Bell-Tower was built between 1741 and 1776. It towers to 88 metres in height — even higher than those in the Moscow Kremlin.
- The Royal Chambers. These two-storey royal chambers are elegantly decorated with white walls, and occupy the entire northern section of the monastery. They stand on the site of a former wooden residence of Ivan the Terrible. The site is currently occupied by the monastery's archaeological service, and presents displays of ikons and church utensils.
- The monastery walls and towers. The monastery is completely enclosed in defensive walls, which compromise the Holy Gates and ten other towers, built between 16th and 18th centuries. The height of the walls can reach six metres, and their full perimeter distance is 1.5 kilometres. The walls are averagely 3.5 metres thick.
Guided Tour to The Trinity St Sergius Lavra Monastery
You can book a tour in English on our website.