The Monastery of Great Lavra is the first monastery built on Mount Athos. The founding of the monastery in AD 963 by Athanasius the Athonite marks the beginning of the organized monastic life at Mount Athos. Athanasius began the construction according to the will of his friend and Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas who funded the project. The emperors gave also the Great Lavra many other lands of property including the island of Saint Eustratius and the Monastery of Saint Andreas in Thessaloniki.
The building project, according to the biography of Athanasius the Athonite, began with the protective wall and continued to the church and cells. After Athanasius' death, the monastery continued its operation normally. The emperors favored its development and during the 11th century there were 700 monks, while smaller monasteries had been ceded to Great Lavra.
In the 14th century the monastery suffered, like all the other monasteries of Mount Athos, from Catalan and other pirates. The result of the crisis was the formation of a peculiar way of monasticism, the Idiorrhythmic Way, despite the objections of the official Church and the emperors. In 1574, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Sylvester, helped and the monastery operated again under cenobitic monasticism, but soon the peculiar monasticism was again introduced.
In 1655, the Patriarch Dionysios III, who also became a monk, donated his personal fortune for the return to the cenobitic life but again these attempts were insufficient and the peculiar monasticism remained until the 20th century (1914), when there were new attempts for the return to the cenobitic life but without results. Since 1980 the monastery has been cenobitic.
The main church (Katholikon) was found by Athanasius who lost his life together with 6 other workers when one of the domes fell during the construction. The architectural style of the temple is characterized by the two large areas of the chorus and the prayer. This style was then consecrated and was copied by the other monasteries. The frescoes were made in 1535 by the great painter Theophanis. However, the narthex was painted in 1854.
North of the narthex (liti), there is the chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in which there is the grave of Athanasius. South of the liti, there is the chapel of Saint Nicholas, painted by Franco Cantellano, in 1560. The trapezaopposite the central entrance has a shape of cross and is the biggest on Mount Athos. Its interior is full of frescoes, painted by Theophanis or his school.
The library of the monastery is located behind the main church. It contains 2,116 Greek manuscripts and 165 codices. There are also over 20,000 printed books, and about 100 manuscripts in other languages. The collection is one of the richest collections of Greek manuscripts in the world.
The vestry is behind the main church. Some of the most important artifacts are a manuscript of a gospel with a golden cover which is a gift from Nikephoros II Phokas and the list (Kouvaras) of the monks since Athanasius. There are also 2,500 icons which cover the whole history of hagiography of the second millennium.References:
The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a world famous spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and a popular site of pilgrimage and tourism. It is the most important working Russian monastery and a residence of the Patriarch. This religious and military complex represents an epitome of the growth of Russian architecture and contains some of that architecture’s finest expressions. It exerted a profound influence on architecture in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe.
The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, was founded in 1337 by the monk Sergius of Radonezh. Sergius achieved great prestige as the spiritual adviser of Dmitri Donskoi, Great Prince of Moscow, who received his blessing to the battle of Kulikov of 1380. The monastery started as a little wooden church on Makovets Hill, and then developed and grew stronger through the ages.
Over the centuries a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings and constructions of different dates were established. The whole complex was erected according to the architectural concept of the main church, the Trinity Cathedral (1422), where the relics of St. Sergius may be seen.
In 1476 Pskovian masters built a brick belfry east of the cathedral dedicated to the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The church combines unique features of early Muscovite and Pskovian architecture. A remarkable feature of this church is a bell tower under its dome without internal interconnection between the belfry and the cathedral itself.
The Cathedral of the Assumption, echoing the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin, was erected between 1559 and 1585. The frescoes of the Assumption Cathedral were painted in 1684. At the north-western corner of the Cathedral, on the site of the western porch, in 1780 a vault containing burials of Tsar Boris Godunov and his family was built.
In the 16th century the monastery was surrounded by 6 meters high and 3,5 meters thick defensive walls, which proved their worth during the 16-month siege by Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the Time of Trouble. They were later strengthened and expanded.
After the Upheaval of the 17th century a large-scale building programme was launched. At this time new buildings were erected in the north-western part of the monastery, including infirmaries topped with a tented church dedicated to Saints Zosima and Sawatiy of Solovki (1635-1637). Few such churches are still preserved, so this tented church with a unique tiled roof is an important contribution to the Lavra.
In the late 17th century a number of new buildings in Naryshkin (Moscow) Baroque style were added to the monastery.
Following a devastating fire in 1746, when most of the wooden buildings and structures were destroyed, a major reconstruction campaign was launched, during which the appearance of many of the buildings was changed to a more monumental style. At this time one of the tallest Russian belfries (88 meters high) was built.
In the late 18th century, when many church lands were secularized, the chaotic planning of the settlements and suburbs around the monastery was replaced by a regular layout of the streets and quarters. The town of Sergiev Posad was surrounded by traditional ramparts and walls. In the vicinity of the monastery a number of buildings belonging to it were erected: a stable yard, hotels, a hospice, a poorhouse, as well as guest and merchant houses. Major highways leading to the monastery were straightened and marked by establishing entry squares, the overall urban development being oriented towards the centrepiece - the Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra.
In 1993, the Trinity Lavra was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.