Holy Trinity Lavra, Sergiev Posad
The Holy Trinity Lavra or Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra (Trinity-Sergius Monastery) is the most important monastery in Russia and the spiritual center of Russian Orthodox Christianity. Founded in 1345 by St. Sergius of Radonezh and containing his relics, Holy Trinity is located in the city of Sergiyev Posad (formerly known by the Soviet name Zagorsk) about 45 miles northeast of Moscow.
According to Lonely Planet Russia & Belarus, "If you have time for just one day trip out of Moscow, this is the obvious choice." UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1993, calling it "a fine example of a working Orthodox monastery, with military features that are typical of the 15th to the 18th century."
The Holy Trinity Monastery was founded in 1345 by St. Sergius of Radonezh (1322-92), a highly revered monk and the patron saint of Russia. The monastery started as a simple wooden church in an isolated area, but soon grew much larger.
Originally a hermit, Sergius soon attracted many followers and granted their request to become their father superior. In 1355, Sergius introduced a charter for the monastic community, which led to the expansion of the monastery with buildings like a refectory and bakery. Sergius' charter was used as a model for more than 400 monasteries founded by his followers throughout Russia, including the celebrated Solovetsky, Kirilov, and Simonov monasteries.
St. Sergius was an important figure in secular Russian history as well. He blessed Dmitri Donskoi before the important Battle of Kulikovo (1380) against the Tatars, and even sent two of his monks to help. The battle was a success, but the monastery was devastated by fire in 1408 when a Tatar unit raided the area.
St. Sergius was declared patron saint of the Russian state in 1422. The same year, his relics were interred in the monastery's first stone cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Trinity), built by a team of Serbian monks who had found refuge in the monastery after the Battle of Kosovo. The greatest icon painters of medieval Russia, Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny, were summoned to decorate the cathedral with frescoes. It soon became traditional for Muscovite royals to be baptized in this cathedral and to hold thanksgiving services here.
In 1476, Ivan III invited several Pskovian masters to build the Church of the Holy Ghost. This graceful structure is one of the few remaining examples of a Russian church topped with belltower. The interior contains the earliest specimens of the use of glazed tiles for decoration. In the early 16th century, Vasily III added the Nikon annex and the Serapion tent, where several of Sergius' disciples were interred.
It took 26 years to construct the six-pillared Assumption Cathedral, which was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1559. The cathedral is much larger than its model and namesake in the Moscow Kremlin. The magnificent iconostasis of the 16th–18th centuries features Simon Ushakov's masterpiece, the icon of Last Supper. Interior walls were painted with violet and blue frescoes by a team of Yaroslavl masters in 1684. The vault contains burials of Boris Godunov, his family and several 20th-century patriarchs.
As the monastery grew into one of the wealthiest landowners in Russia, a village (posad) sprang up near the monastery walls. It gradually developed into the modern town of Sergiyev Posad ("Settlement of Sergius"), which was known as Zagorsk in the Soviet era.
Just opposite the monastery walls, St. Paraskeva's Convent was established, among whose buildings St. Paraskeva's Church (1547), Introduction Church (1547), and a 17th-century chapel over St. Paraskeva's well are still visible.
In 1550s, a wooden palisade surrounding the cloister was replaced with 1.5 km-long stone walls, featuring 12 towers, which helped the monastery to withstand a 16-month Polish siege in 1608–1610. A shell-hole in the cathedral gates is preserved as a reminder of Wladyslaw IV's abortive siege in 1618.
Numerous structures were added to the Holy Trinity Monastery in the 17th century, including a small baroque palace of the patriarchs, noted for its luxurious interiors, and a royal palace, with its facades painted in checkboard design. The Refectory of St. Sergius, covering 510 square meters and also painted in dazzling checkboard design, used to be the largest hall in Russia. The five-domed Church of John the Baptist's Nativity (1693–1699) was commissioned by the Stroganovs and built over one of the gates. Other 17th-century structures include the monks' cells, a hospital topped with a tented church, and a chapel built over a holy well discovered in 1644.
In 1744, Empress Elizabeth conferred on Holy Trinity the dignity of a lavra, making the metropolitan of Moscow also the Archimandrite of the Lavra. Elizabeth particularly favoured the Trinity and annually proceeded on foot from Moscow to the monastery. Her secret spouse Alexey Razumovsky accompanied her on such journeys and commissioned a baroque church to the Virgin of Smolensk, the last major shrine to be erected in the lavra.
Another pledge of Elizabeth's affection for the monastery is a white-and-blue baroque belltower, which, at 88 meters, was the tallest structure built in Russia up to that date. Its architects were Ivan Michurin and Dmitry Ukhtomsky.
Throughout the 19th century, the lavra maintained its status as the richest monastery in Russia. A seminary founded in 1742 was replaced by an ecclesiastical academy in 1814. The monastery boasted a supreme collection of manuscripts and books. The medieval collections of the lavra sacristy attracted thousands of visitors. The monastery maintained several sketes in Sergiyev Posad, one of which is a place of burial for the conservative philosophers Konstantin Leontiev and Vasily Rozanov.
After the Russian Revolution (1917), the Soviet government closed the lavra and assigned its buildings to civic institutions or declared museums. In 1930, monastery bells, including the Tsar-Bell of 65 tons, were destroyed. During this period many valuables were stolen and sold, lost, or transferred to other collections.
Following Joseph Stalin's controversial conversion during World War II, the Holy Trinity Lavra was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1945. On April 16, 1946 divine service was renewed at the Assumption Cathedral. The lavra remained the seat of the Patriarch of Moscow until 1983, when he settled in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.
Since then, the monastery has continued as a prime center of religious education. Important restoration works were conducted at Holy Trinity in the 1960s and 1970s, and the monastery was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1993.
What to See
The heart of Holy Trinity Lavra is the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Troitsky sobor), built in the 1420s and distinguished by its gleaming-white exterior topped with gold domes. It contains the revered holy relics of St. Sergius in its southeast corner.
A memorial service for the saint is conducted in the cathedral all day, every day. The interior, lit by oil lamps, is covered in icons that are largely the work of the great medieval painter Andrei Rublev.
Behind the Trinity Cathedral is the Vestry (Ritznitsa), which contains the monastery's rich treasury. On display are 600 years worth of donations from the rich and powerful — jewel-encrusted vestments, fine tapestries, solid-gold chalices, etc. Admission is R150; open Tues-Sun 10-5:30.
Another important church is the Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky sobor), modeled on the church of the same name in Moscow. It was finished in 1585, with money donated by Ivan the Terrible as penance for killing his son. Services are held here in the summer, but it is often closed at other times of the year. Outside the west door is the grave of Tsar Boris Godunov, the only tsar not buried in Moscow's Kremlin or the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Nearby is the Chapel-at-the-Well (Nadkladeznaya chasoynya), built over a miraculous spring that is said to have appeared during the Polish seige. It is topped by a five-tier baroque bell tower, which took 30 years to build. It once had 42 bells, the largest of which weighed 65 tons.
Taking over the hosting of services from the Assumption Cathedral in the winter is the Refectory Church of St. Sergius (Trapeznaya tserkoy Sy Sergia). A huge block-shaped structure with wallpaper-like paint and a lavish interior, this was once a dining hall for pilgrims. The green building next door is the metropolitan's residence.
The Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit is a little 15th-century church with a bell tower under its dome. A graceful imitation of Trinity Cathedral, it is used only a special occasions. Among its interior features is the grave of the first Bishop of Alaska.
Trains run to Sergiev Posad about every half-hour from Moscow's Yaroslvl Station. The journey takes about an hour and costs R30. Look for any train bound for Sergiev Posad or Alexandrov. The fastest option is the daily express train to Yaroslavl (R90 for 1st class; R60 for 2nd class), which takes 55 minutes.
Quick Facts on Holy Trinity Lavra
|Names:||Holy Trinity Lavra; Holy Trinity Lavra, Sergiev Posad|
|Faiths:||Christianity; Russian Orthodox|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Location:||Sergiev Posad, Russia|
|Coordinates:||56.310278° N, 38.129444° E (view on Google Maps)|
|Lodging:||View hotels near this location|
Map of Holy Trinity Lavra
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- Lonely Planet Russia & Belarus (2003 ed.), 222-24.
- Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra - official website
- Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad - UNESCO World Heritage List
- Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra - Wikipedia
- Sergius of Radonezh - Wikipedia
- Holy Trinity Lavra, Sergiev Posad - Go Historic
- Photos of Holy Trinity Lavra - here on Sacred Destinations
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