Trinity Lavra is the most important Russian monastery and is also the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Located 70km for Moscow in the town of Sergiyev Posad the monastery today is the home to more than 300 monks
The monastery was founded in 1337 by Sergius of Radonezh, one of the most venerated of all Russian Saints, who built a small wooden church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, on Makovets Hill. After only a few years, St. Sergius introduced a charter which required the building of auxiliary buildings such as a kitchen, refectory and bakery. The charter was later used to found more than 400 monasteries all over the country including Solovetsky, Krillov and Simonov. Serguis died in 1392 and in 1422 his incorrupt relics were placed into a new stone cathedral, Trinity Cathedral, where they can still be seen today. The building was decorated with icon painted by some of the most well-known iconographers of the time including Andrei Ruble and Daniil Chyorny and as became a favorite place for the Moscow Royal families to hold baptisms and thanksgiving services.
In 1476 Ivan III, known as Ivan the Great, commission the building of the Church of the Holy Spirit Church, one of the few Russian churches topped with a bell tower, which later say several St. Sergius disciples buried.
Ivan the Terrible, Ivan IV, commissioned the building of the Assumption Cathedral in 1559 which eventually became larger than its model and namesake in Moscow. Again, the best iconographers of the time were commissioned which saw the magnificent “Last Supper” created by Simon Ushakov. With the walls later covered in blue and violet frescoes, the building became a burial place from some of Russia’s most noble families, most notably the Godunov’s
As the donations flowed in from wealthy Muscovite families, the monastery grew to be one of the wealthiest landowners in Russia. Eventually the surrounding woods were cleared and the as small village, posad in Russian, sprang up near the monastery walls. This village developed into the modern-day town of Sergiyev Posad.
The 17th century saw much of the wooden structures replaced with stone, the most notable being a 1.5km (0.9mi) stone wall which included 12 defensive towers. These defenses proved invaluable when Peter I, Peter the Great, twice found refuge within the monastery to escape his enemies. This event began the building of several baroque palaces within the complex, all of which were known for their incredibly luxurious interiors. The Royal Palace had its façade painted in a checkerboard design which itself was replicated in the 510m² (5490ft) Refectory of St. Sergius, which at the time was the largest hall in Russia. Towards the end of the 17th century the Stroganov family commissioned the building of the Church of John the Baptist’s Nativity with its incredible five-domed roof.
Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was a great patron of Trinity Lavra and it was her who gave it it’s 88m (288ft) white and blue baroque bell tower.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 saw the monastery closed in 1920 and the building were assigned to different civic institutions with parts also being turned into various museums. The Soviets decided to destroy the monastery bells in 1930, including the Tsar’s Bell which weighed 65 tons. When WWII finished, Joseph Stalin decided allow a small amount of religious tolerance and as a result on April 16, 1946 services were renewed in the Assumption Cathedral. Trinity Lavra became the seat of the Patriarch of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, until 1983 when they moved to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.
In 1993 Trinity Lavra was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list.