A town of 100 000 people about 70km north-east of Moscow, Sergiev Posad is really only distinguished by its monastery.
But it is a very impressive monastery, perhaps the most visually striking in Russia and one that has had great importance in Russian history. The Trinity Monastery of St Sergius is one of only four monasteries in Russia designated as a lavra, a lavra being the highest rank of monasteries.
A number of important historical episodes unfolded here. Ivan the Terrible’s 1552 capture of Kazan was partly done under the advice of the monastery’s head, Abbot Bassyan.
The monastery was rewarded with a church afterwards. In the early 17th Century the monastery withstood a 16 month siege by the Poles even after Moscow had been occupied. Peter the Great later took refuge in the monastery during the Streltsy uprising that was targeting him and his family. It also acted as the residence of the Patriarch from the end of World War 2 until the fall of Communism.
The original wooden monastery was founded in 1340 by St Sergius of Radonezh but was destroyed after the Saint’s death by the Tatars.
The oldest building still standing today is the Trinity Cathedral which dates from 1422. This white, gold-domed church houses an iconostasis with many works by Andrei Rublev and the tomb of St Sergius himself. The next oldest building on the site is the 1476 Church of the Holy Spirit, which was built on the orders of Ivan the Great. The single, blue and gold domed church stands near the Trinity Cathedral on the southern side of the main square.
But perhaps the most striking church on the grounds though is the 1585 Cathedral of the Assumption with its dazzling blue, star-spangled domes. It was built with money donated by Ivan the Terrible. Just in front of this church, to the left of the entrance, is the tomb of the only Tsar not buried either in the Kremlin or in St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in St Petersburg: Boris Godunov. To the right of the entrance, meanwhile, stands the small, pretty Chapel
at the Well, built over a natural spring said to have appeared during the Polish siege. You can imbibe on the spiritual water for the price of a cup, or for free if you have your own container.
Other notable buildings among the many beautiful sites in the monastery include the stunning baroque bell tower built in the 18th Century and the 1692 Refectory Church of St Sergius. With an intricate and unique multi-colored paint job, this huge building once served as a refectory for pilgrims visiting the site but its function now is as a working church. The Tsar’s Palace dates from the same period and the lush chapel it houses is open to visitors. The orange Gate Chapel of John the Baptist is a pretty little church, while the vestry along the southern wall of the complex houses the treasures that an exalted monastery tends to accumulate from
various benefactors. The white, fortified walls of the monastery date from the 1540s.
Outside the monastery, a little north of the entrance is a statue of St Sergius. A little to the south of the monastery is the Pyatnitskaya Church. Directly across Prospekt Krasnoi Armii stands the Chapel of the Pyatnitsky Well, another place where you can have a refreshing drink of sacred water.
Entry to the monastery grounds is free, as is entry to the churches when they are open. A photography pass costs 100R ($3.70). You can sign up for English-language tours of the grounds and churches at the kiosk just before the entrance gate. Entry to the vestry (Open 10-17:30 except Monday) costs 150R. The monastery grounds are open 10-18 daily.
Directions: Suburban trains run from Yaroslavsky Vokzal. You can take any train going to Sergiev Posad or Aleksandrov. Trains leave every 20 or 30 minutes from 5am and the trip takes about 90 minutes or a little more. To be sure of getting back you should be at the station at Sergiev Posad by 11:30pm at the latest. Tickets cost 79R ($2.90) one way. From Sergiev Posad take the street at the far right hand side of the square in front of you. Take your first right and follow this street until the monastery comes into view. The monastery sits just off Prospekt Krasnoi Armii, the town’s main street.
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