Sergiev Posad is like an architectural museum for Russian church architecture. It is a monastery which has had additions made to it over the centuries, and depicts the architectural trends in decoration and building style in the churches and the monastery interiors. The monastery is on an hours travel distance from Moscow and is a ‘must see’ for any history and architecture enthusiast
The monastery is named after St. Sergii of Radonezh, a 14th century monk from Rostov whose pious, ascetic existence attracted numerous followers to the hermit’s retreat he had established in the forests around Moscow. The wooden monastery built by Sergii and his followers was razed by the Tartars shortly after his death, but his tomb survived and, in 1422, the year of his canonization, work began on the construction of the Trinity Cathedral.
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. In 1458 a brick chapel was added to house the tomb of Sergii’s successor, Nikon of Radonezh. Inside the Cathedral there is a silver shrine containing the relics of St. Sergii, and an iconostasis with many works by Andrei Rublev.
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, which also acted as a lookout post.
In the decade after 1540, the monastery’s wooden fortifications were replaced with the mile-long brick walls that stand to this day. They were made higher in the mid 17th century, and tent-roofed spires were added to six of their ten defensive towers, as happened at the Kremlin at about the same time. The towers have names such as the Drying Tower and the Beer Tower, which refer to their former functions.
Ivan the Terrible’s successful assault on Kazan in 1552 was prompted by the advice of Abbot Bassyan, head of the Trinity Lavra, and the Tsar expressed his gratitude by ordering the construction of the Cathedral of the Assumption. It was completed in 1585, during the regency of Boris Gudonov, who lies with his family in a modest tomb beneath the Cathedral walls. The Cathedral is similar in structure to its namesake in the Kremlin – and equally impressive – the major difference being in the colour scheme: Here the white walls contrast with four azure domes and a larger central gold one. Inside the Cathedral, a two-headed eagle stands as monument to the time in 1685 when the future Peter the Great took refuge here with his mother and brother from the marauding Streltsy. The boy Tsar was only saved by the sanctity of the place and the fortuitous arrival of a loyal cavalry regiment.
A pledge of Elizabeth’s affection for the monastery is a white-and-blue baroque belltower, which, at 88 meters, was one of the tallest structures built in Russia.
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