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.



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Mount Athos, Greece
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Founded: 963 AD
Category: Religious sites in Greece


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User Reviews

Amin “λ” Warrayat (10 months ago)
I wanna visit mount Athos....
Andrey Vinnitskiy (2 years ago)
The Lavra itself is amazing place and experience. Monks and host are friendly and welcoming. But unfortunately there is a bed bugs in dormitory, so if you are planning to stay there, better use your own sleeping bag
Nicholas The Bulgarian (2 years ago)
I love this monastery. It is my favourite on Mount Athos, together with Iviron.
Zoltán Péter Dr. Erőss (3 years ago)
Unaccetable!Be careful! There is bed bug ín pilgrim's bedroom. What a shame for the Monastery...
Chris Bell 59 (3 years ago)
The harbour and the Monastery above feature in the book "Dare To Be Free" by WB Thomas, a soldier of the British and New Zealand forces sent to defend Greece from German invasion in April of 1941. Wounded and captured, Thomas was fortunate enough to make a successful escape from internment, making his way south on foot, with the occasional assistance of sympathetic Greek civilians, by 8th of December 1941 arriving at Mount Athos, the easternmost of the three peninsulas which project into the Aegean Sea, Thomas was put ashore by a friendly boat captain at the harbour, whence he climbed the steep stone pathway to the Monastery. The monks offered him sanctuary without question, and hereabouts Thomas remained for over a year until plans came to fruition whereby he was able to escape by boat along with other British and some Cypriots, to neutral Turkey. So remember when next you venture to this serene and spiritual place, the monks of the various Monasteries here also played their part in liberating Europe at the risk of their own lives. "DARE TO BE FREE!" by WB Thomas +NEVER FORGET+
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