Convent of the Righteous. Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra

The Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra located in Sergiev Posad near Moscow has remained one of the most revered shrines in Russia for centuries. Each era is reflected here in the form of unique buildings. Thirty years ago, this architectural and spiritual monument became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Hermitage to Lavra

The Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra is a world-famous center of Orthodoxy, a site of pilgrimage and tourism. It is located in the city of Sergiev Posad, 70 kilometers northeast of Moscow, and is the largest operating monastery in Russia. Its history began in 1337, when a young nobleman Bartholomew (who would later become St. Sergius of Radonezh) settled on Makovets Hill to live a righteous life in solitude. Gradually, he was joined by other zealots. They built the Trinity Monastery, the center of the future architectural ensemble. By the 18th century, the complex expanded and became such an important place in Russia’s spiritual life that it became known as the Trinity Sergius Lavra.

The complex played a crucial role in the life of the region: since its inception, it attracted monks as well as other people who wanted to live near the walls of the venerated monastery, and the town of Sergiev Posad grew near the Lavra. Nowadays, the city and the Lavra receive up to 1.5 million tourists and pilgrims each year. Sergiev Posad is the only city of the Moscow region that is included in the Golden Ring of Russia.

Time in Stone

The architectural ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra includes more than 50 buildings and constructions. It grew around the Trinity Cathedral, the main temple of the monastery that houses the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh.

In 1476, architects from Pskov erected a brick belfry church in the name of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles to the east of the cathedral. The temple reflects a unique combination of traits characteristic of the early Moscow and Pskov architecture. One striking distinguishing feature of this church is the bell tower that is located under its dome while there is no internal passage between the belfry itself and the church.

The Assumption Cathedral was built in 1559–1585 with the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin as an example. 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, a tent with a broach roof was erected in 1780 over the tombs of Tsar Boris Godunov and his family.

In the 16th century, the monastery was surrounded by fortification walls 6 meters high and 3.5 meters thick. Thanks to these walls, the convent successfully survived the 16-month siege by Polish and Lithuanian troops during the Time of Troubles in the early 17th century. Subsequently, the walls were reinforced and extended.

When the Troubles ended, massive construction works began in the monastery. In the north-western part of the monastery, the Infirmaries were built with a tented church in honor of Saints Zosima and Sawatiy of Solovki (1635-1637). Only a few of such temples have survived to this day, and this tented church with a unique tiled roof is an important part of the architectural ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra.

In late 17th century, the entire complex of buildings in Russian Baroque style were erected in the monastery, including the refectory decorated with white stone carvings with the church of St. Sergius of Radonezh, Tsar’s Chambers, Over-the-Well chapel and a gateway church in honor of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

After the fire of 1746, a major reconstruction of the monastery was launched, and the appearance of the buildings became more monumental. At that time, the magnificent five-tiered bell tower was built which can be seen from many kilometers away from all sides of the monastery.

In late 18th century, the chaotic layout of the nearby villages and settlements around the monastery was replaced by the linear structure of blocks and streets. Right next to the monastery, a number of monastery buildings were erected: stables, hotels, a hospice, a poorhouse and a hospital, as well as tenement buildings and a market. The parish churches of Sergiev Posad formed a ring of domes echoing those of the Lavra. Thus, the architectural ensemble of the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra includes a complex of buildings near the monastery and represents the key element of the town-planning environment of Sergiev Posad.

Cultural Heritage

In 1993, the value of the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra was globally recognized: the “Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad” was included in the List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was noted that the Trinity Sergius Lavra Monastery complex represents the fusion of traditional Russian architecture with that of Western Europe, creating an Eastern European tradition with a strong influence on architectural developments in a large area of Eastern Europe. Moreover, the Lavra is an outstanding and remarkably complete example of an active Orthodox monastery complex with a military function that is characteristic of the period of its growth and expansion from the 15th to the 18th century.

It was mentioned that the architectural ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra possesses all the components representing its outstanding universal value. In particular, 

the historical boundaries of the property have been well-preserved, as well as the architecture of the historic buildings. The conservation of the ensemble has been maintained through the creation of a state museum reserve since the beginning of the 20th century. The integrity of the ensemble is ensured by the approved boundaries of its buffer zone, as well as by legally justified and registered boundaries of the land occupied by the buildings and architectural structures of the ensemble. The status of a cultural heritage site of federal significance ensures proper legal protection. 

There isn’t a single building in the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra that has been preserved in its original form. However, the importance of the monastery as the symbol of Russian spiritual culture contributed to the fact that the ensemble was repeatedly restored in strict compliance with all the requirements for the preservation of monuments. Therefore, the Lavra is an authentic monument that has been evolving over the centuries while preserving its general meaning and purpose.

Management and Restoration

In 2014,  Russia celebrated the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Sergius of Radonezh, and large-scale works to restore various monuments on the territory of the Lavra were conducted. For instance, specialists restored wall paintings in the Assumption Cathedral, cleaned the frescoes in the Refectory Church of St. Sergius, renovated the ornamental row of terracotta balusters on the drum of the Holy Spirit Church. The titanic amount of restoration efforts allowed not only to preserve the historical appearance of the World Heritage Site, but also determined the main areas of the program for its further development that will form the basis of the UNESCO Monument Management Plan.

Clerical and secular authorities work closely together at the management of the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra Ensemble as the World Heritage Site. The responsibility for the preservation of this unique cultural site is shared by the monastic community and the Sergiev Posad State Museum Reserve. The museum has been housing the collection of artistic treasures of the Trinity Sergius Lavra for more than a century. This is the only example of preservation and exhibition of the prized collection of spiritual art in a state museum on the territory of the acting monastery, at the place where it has been historically formed. The collection consists of contributions of Russian monarchs: icons, gold and silver church vessels, books and manuscripts in precious frameworks, veils and vestments made of silk, gold, silver, and pearls. The most famous piece of the collection is the golden framework for the Holy Trinity icon painted by Andrei Rublev, a gift from Tsar Boris Godunov.

The museum exhibitions of the Lavra bear the sacred traces, and the church buildings serve as outstanding examples of the 14-18th centuries architecture. This combination of culture, history and spirituality turns the Lavra into a unique object not only in Russia, but in the whole world.

Materials provided by the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra