Sacred Spaces: Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

This week, we’re continuing our Sacred Spaces blog series with a visit to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.  “Lavra” is the highest rank an Orthodox monastery can achieve.  The Russian Orthodox equivalent of the Vatican, the Lavra is one of four such monasteries to reach this rank in all of Russia.
Don’t forget to follow the links below and catch up on this blog series!

One of Russia’s Crown Jewels


The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius was founded by Sergius of Radonezh and his brother Stephen in the 1300’s.  The pair established a small chapel and cell in the forest at Makovets Hill (north of Moscow).  The chapel was dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  With time, many made pilgrimage to the cell of St. Sergius for guidence.  Eventually, more cells were built nearby and the Lavra grew to twelve monks; the beginnings of one of Russia’s most famous hermitages.

“In 1355, Sergius produced a charter for the monastery that formed a model for organization of Holy Trinity and was used also by his many disciples who were to found over 400 monastic communities. The charter formed the plan for growth of the monastery that included adding a refectory, kitchen, and bakery.” 

Unfortunately, the monastery was attacked and burned in 1408 during the Tartar campaign against Moscow.  Abbot Nikon rebuilt the wooden church and, during this reconstruction, discovered the miraculously-preserved relics of St. Sergius.  The relics were housed in the completed structure.  To this day, a daily memorial service is held for St. Sergius which lasts all day.

Even more unfortunate, the attacks continued and, each time, the Abbot Nikon rebuilt the monastery.  Finally, in 1422 (the same year that St. Sergius was named the patron saint of Russia), construction of a new stone cathedral began.


This cathedral was also dedicated to the Holy Trinity and housed the relics of St. Sergius.  “This imposing, white-stone building, with unusual sloping walls and gold dome, became a blue-print for Russian church architecture and the inspiration for the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Assumption.”  Famous iconographers, Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny, were brought in to decorate the cathedral with frescoes.

In 1458, a brick chapel, which housed the tomb of Abbot Nikon, was added to the monastery.  “In 1476, Ivan the Great instructed craftsmen from Pskov to build the graceful Church of the Holy Ghost, a rectangular structure of white brick, topped by a slender, blue and gold domed bell-tower[.]”  At 88 meters, the church was one of the tallest buildings in Russia.  It is also one of the few remaining Russian churches with a bell tower atop it.

Over the years, more structures were erected at the monastery.  Mile-long brick walls, which replaced wooden fortifications, were built in the 1550’s.  The Cathedral of the Assumption, similar structure-wise to its namesake in the Kremlin, was completed in 1585 and houses the tomb of Boris Gudonov.  There were also the “[…] Refectory, a palatial building with intricate and brightly coloured decorations, completed in 1692, and the ornate Tsar Palace of the same period, which later became the Theological Academy.”

The Lavra experienced another setback, however, in 1746 when a fire destroyed most of the monastery’s wooden structures.  This brought on a major reconstruction where many of the buildings were rebuilt in a more monumental style.

Because of these rebuilds and reconstructions, none of the Lavra’s buildings remain in their original state.  “However, the importance of the monastery as a symbol of Russian spiritual cultural identity has ensured that much time and resources have been spent in its conservation and restoration.”  The Lavra was delcared a world UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and remains a popular destination for pilgrims. 

Tour the Lavra

If you cannot make it to Russia, the wonderful video below gives an excellent tour of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. (Click here if you cannot view the video below to view it directly on YouTube).

Main image via
Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Lavra –
Trinity Monastery at St. Sergii –
A taste of Russian spirituality: Trinity Lavra of St Sergius –
Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius –
Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad –
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