by Vladislav DARKEVICH, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Archaeology
The Holy Trinity Monastery (Lavra) of St. Sergiy has always been and remains one of the most venerated Christian shrines of Russia. A fount of lofty spirituality, it was destined to set an inspiring example of the victorious struggle of this nation against foreign invaders. Over the centuries the cloister has been illuminated by the name and personality of its founder-one of the most venerated saints of this land. In the words of the writer Boris Zaitsev (1881 -1972) "his whole life, and that of his Lavra, is inseparably linked with the historical destiny of Russia. He shared in all the joys and sufferings of this land. Having no formal authority, even ecclesiastical one, he has been always supporting this nation, and the Russian state, by his word, personality and prayer".
Nearly a century after the Mongol invasion (1247) Russia began regaining its peaceful course of life. The dire plight of Russian cities and towns exposed to frequent inroads by the nomads, and of the monasteries located within them forced many Christian ascetics, as different from the earlier times, to seek blessed refuge in the silent solitude of virgin forests in the country's north.
The central figure and proponent of this new period of monastic community life was St. Sergiy of Radonezh who elevated Russian spirituality to a new height. One of the signs of the time, historians tell us, was a revival of links and contacts with Byzantine with its Paleologue Revival which manifested itself not only in philosophy and poetry, but also in the fine arts. This precious legacy, accepted in its own way by this nation and by St. Sergiy as one of the key figures of that time, paved the way for a surge of creativity which can be regarded as a second stage of Old Russian civilization.
St. Sergiy (Seigius) of Radonezh (secular name Bartholomei) was not a commoner by birth-his parents owned some land not far from Rostov the Great where the saint was born (in 1314or 1319).
Around 1330 his parents, impoverished by that time, decided to move from Rostov and settle in Radonezh - a tiny town to the north of Moscow. In this poetic little comer, preserved to this day, history blends with austere beauty. Standing on a low hill is a village church in the Empire style surrounded with a fence. A gently sloping road runs down to the village on the bank of the Pazha. Around the village one can still see what remains of the old ramparts beyond which there is now a village graveyard. This is all what is left of the historical town of Radonezh-an estate which the Moscow princes usually gave to their younger sons. Looking at copses here and there around the village, it is hard to believe this was all sylvan wilderness in olden times.
After the demise of his parents the young Bartholomei went to the Khotkovo Monastery of the Intercession of which his elder brother Stefan was a monk. Inspired by the ideal of "strict monkhood", Bartholomei invited Stefan to follow him "in search of a truly secluded spot". In search of their ideal the two brothers picked a site on what was known as the Makovets Hill located some 14 ver-sts (kilometers) away from Radonezh. "And, after saying their prayers, they began to fell trees with their own hands and carry logs to a chosen spot. They began by building a hut to spend the nights in and made a roof over it and later on they built a single cell, selected a spot for a small wooden chapel which they proceeded to erect" (Epifaniy the Wise, Life of St. Sergiy of Radonezh 1417- 1418)*. They dedicated the chapel to the Holy Trinity in keeping with the theological- philosophic awareness of the time (14th cent). The builders of that chapel chose the symbol of the Holy Trinity as a token of national revival and spiritual unity as different to ruinous division. In the words of the philosopher Pavel Florensky of the first third of this century, "it was destined to become a center of Russia's cultural unification, which is the groundwork and supreme motivation of all aspects of Russian life".
But after a short while Stefan could not bear any longer the hardships of desert life and abandoned his brother. At the age of 23 Bartholomei took monastic vows with the name of Sergiy while continuing to endure the solitude of the virgin forest in the company of wild beasts and demoniac temptations. After some time, however, he was joined by some like-minded hermits who desired to share his ascetic lot as a pledge of salvation. Sergiy usually welcomed newcomers with the question "Can you endure the travails of living in this spot: hunger,
* See: B. Kloss, "The Hegumen of Rus", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1993.- Ed.
thirst and all sorts of hardships?" When newcomers confirmed their resolve and faith, they were accepted as brethren in Christ since the saint was motivated by a vision of a big cloister rising there in future. In this involuntary manner Sergiy became Father Superior of the cloister and a presbyter (from 1354).
His fame continued to spread, attracting to the abode faithful in all walks of life-from common peasants to princes. Many chose to settle nearby while donating their possessions to the cloister. Starting literally from hand-to-mouth existence "the abode of Father Sergiy" gradually turned into a wealthy monastery. The new arrivals cleared the forest for plougland, built villages, and cultivated crops.
As years went by the cloister became the focal point of wide-ranging activities with Father Sergiy laying the foundations of several new monasteries, including the Monastery of the Annunciation on the Kirzhach, Golutvin-sky Monastery in K-olomna, Vysokiy in Serpukhov and the Monastery of Sts. Boris and Gleb near Rostov the Great. This work was taken up by St. Sergiy's disciples who set up scores of monastic abodes in Northern Russia. Monk Andronik built the Monastery of the Savior in Moscow and St. Sergiy's nephew Fyodor founded the St. Simon Monastery on a high bank of the Moskva River.
In this way the period of 14th-15th centuries mapped out the pattern of colonization pursued by the Monastery of St. Sergiy from the region between the Oka and the Volga. With the Mongols and Lithuanians blocking the way to the west, south and southeast, one could only proceed in the northern and north-eastern direction. One such "avenue" extended from the Kostroma to the Vychegda River and the other- along the Sheksna to the White Sea. The historian Vasiliy Klyuchevsky (1841-1911) pointed out that "the watershed between the Kostroma and the Sukhoni, then overgrown with the virgin Komelsky woods, became the Russian trans-Volgan Thebaid"*.
A person of great dedication and vision, St. Sergiy gave a new lease of life to Russian monasticism. Monasteries began consolidating their links with the secular world and written sources of the period tell us of the great spiritual strength gathered by monks in a peaceful conquest of what were then heathen regions. Monastic abodes founded in sylvan wilderness turned into focal points of peasant transmigration. For a peasant a monastery fulfilled the role of a guide in economic matters, a source of loans, a parish church, and, finally an almshouse for old age.
Over the years rumors of the great Russian ascetic spread as far as Constantinople and Patriarch Philopheus sent to him his envoys bearing a cross, a monastic mantle and a message calling for the observance of stringent communal life in his cloister. And St. Sergiy acted accordingly with his Rules later being adopted by many Russian monasteries. "And he urged strict observance of the behests of the holy fathers: Have nothing in thy possession, call nothing as thy own, but keep everything in common possession; and the holy father of great wisdom also arranged other duties with amazing goodness" (Epiphaniy the Wise).
The pulse beat of Russian history was manifested in the monastery of St. Sergiy more strikingly than anywhere else, so to say His cloister happened to be at the crossroads of the great ones of this nation who shared many common objectives, with its abbot assuming the role of the spiritual forefather of Muscovy
Metropolitan Aleksiy (between 1293 to 1378), who elevated archpastoral authority to an unprecedented height, acted as the chief advisor to the ruling Moscow princes and did his best to put an end to controversies and discords within the ruling elite. Bishop Stefan, honored as an enlightener of the Land of Perm, made a symbolic bow to St. Sergiy when he was once on his way passing within some 10 versts from his monastery These three figures, each in his own way, were acting to promote one common cause which reached far beyond the ecclesiastical confines. Their common cause was the consolidation and enlightenment of the Russian state which was being established by the dedicated efforts of the Moscow
* Thebaid-the desert around Egyptian Thebes where the first Christian hermits used to settle.-ёy.
princes in the 14th century. By the middle of that century "there grew up a generation... which began to forget the fear of the Horde and panicked no longer as their fathers did at the slightest mention of the Tartars" (Vasiliy Klyuchevsky). The moral and then the political revival of the Russian nation took place largely thanks to the efforts of St. Sergiy of Radonezh. It was he who gave his blessing to Prince Dimitry Donskoi (1350-1398) to a battle with the Tartar-Mongol hordes on an open plain and predicted his victory. Before the Prince set out on his historic campaign Father Sergiy blessed two of his monks to join the Russian ranks. Fathers Peresvet and Oslyabya, both former boyars, died as heroes in the historic battle.
The person of St. Sergiy offered a rare combination of a mystic and politician, recluse and architect of monastic community life. He passed away on September 25, 1392, and was canonized in 1452.
The Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergiy preserved to this day truly warrants the status of museum of the 15th-17th century, Russian architecture. And although no wooden structures of the time of St. Sergiy have survived, the more recent stone buildings of different styles arranged into a harmonious ensemble behind the monastery walls offer a visitor a symphony of artistic impressions. After a visit to the Lavra in 1655 the Archdeacon of the Patriarch ofAntioch, Paul of Aleppo, praised it as the most beautiful place on earth. He said that the Church of the Holy Trinity (erected in 1422 on the spot of the original church of St. Sergiy) "is so beautiful one does not want to leave it".
Indeed, the white-stone Trinity Church with portals arranged in a perspective, a belt of ornamental stone carvings, kiel-shaped gables and golden domes - is the best monument of Moscow architecture of the first quarter of 15th century. The iconostasis icons were painted by the great Andrei Rublyov and Daniil Chemy Placed above the shrine of the founder was the celebrated icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublyov (replaced with a copy, with the original kept in the Tretyakov Picture Gallery in Moscow). The icon-painter, a junior contemporary of St. Sergiy, reflected in his Trinity an aspiration-close to that of his spiritual teacher-of unity in Love Divine, an inspired graphic representation of this nation's dream of ideal peace in the tragic time or devastating inroads by the Horde and bitter feuds of the
feudal princes. "Amidst these endless hostilities, which ravaged Rus, one's spiritual gaze saw peace, endless, unperturbed and unbreakable... Enmity and hatred which ruled supreme in things earthly were contrasted to mutual love, streaming in a supreme accord, in conversation eternal and speechless, in the eternal unity of the spheres Divine" (Pavel Florensky).
For all of the reconstructions and extensions of the Lavra, the main principles of its architectural layout and composition were preserved. It was back in the lifetime of St. Sergiy that the cathedral and the refectory church were surrounded with a ring of monastic cells. In the 15th century the white-stone Holy Trinity Cathedral was erected over the tomb of the saint. A refectory and a kitchen were added southeast of the church and to the
east-a delicate, with a belfry placed right under the central dome, Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles (1476). Within its walls Ivan the Terrible lamented the demise of his son Ivan whom he had killed in an insane fit of wrath. In 1540-1550 the timber walls around the Lavra grounds were replaced with walls of stone which fit the present-day pattern of these fortifications. Mindful of the dramatic siege of the Lavra by the Polish-Lithuanian invaders, and taking into account the mounting power of artillery, Lavra authorities decided in 1630 to increase the height of the walls and replace the old wall towers with new ones.
As a result of this expansion of the Lavra grounds, a large square appeared in the center which looked like an empty space devoid of any architectural styling. This being so, the construction of a five-dome monumental Cathedral of the Dormition was launched in 1559 (and completed in 1585). In general terms the cathedral-the focal point of the Lavra ensemble - was conceived as an imitation of the Dormition Cathedral of the
Moscow Kremlin. This is demonstrated by its five apses, a four-part composition of its southern and northern walls, the six pillars of the interior and the five domes on its top. In 1684 the interior was decorated by a team of painters from Yaroslavl led by Dmitry Plekhanov. One can also see a splendid iconostasis of the late 17th century.
The addition of the new cathedral altered significantly the whole appearance of the Lavra. The central Holy Gates were oriented at its southern doors with stairs. Buried in the parvis, or porch, of the cathedral in 1606 were Tsar Boris Godunov, his wife and son; Godunov's daughter Ksenia was also buried there in 1622. In the 18th century the porch was dismantled and it was decided to build a small chamber over the royal tombs marked with a brief inscription "Burial-vault of the Godunovs".
The Lavra of St. Sergiy has been associated with many pages of Russian history. One of the most dramatic ones was the heroic defense of the monastery from the Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the tragic Time of Troubles (early 17th century). We now have a vivid eyewitness account of the 16-month siege left to us by Avraamiy Palitsyn (completed in 1620).
In the autumn of 1608 a Polish-Lithuanian military contingent led by Hetman Pyotr Sapega and Alexander Lisovsky approached the monastery and demanded that the monks surrender to "the legitimate tsar" who was False Demetrius II. When the demand was rejected, the invaders began preparations for a lengthy siege. Two fortified camps were build near the Lavra and all access roads were cut off. When things took this dangerous turn the residents of nearby villages set fire to their homes and sought shelter behind the Lavra walls. The defense of the monastery was organized by Prince Grigory Dolgoruky and Voivode (a military rank) Aleksei Golokhvostov Supported by the Father Superior, Archimandrite loasaf, senior monks and local gentry, they started fortifying the walls around the Lavra and installed guns on them and on the wall towers.
At different periods of the siege the invading force was from 15 to 20 thousand strong and was armed with hundreds of medium-caliber artillery pieces. The defending Russian force was pitifully small-of not more than 3 thousand able-bodied men. Out of the 400 monks of the Lavra all who were still capable of fighting even despite their old age and failing health joined the ranks of the defenders, and so did peasants from the local villages.
The first assault on the monastery was beaten back with the attackers suffering heavy losses. After that Hetman Sapega ordered continuous shelling of the cloister with red-hot cannon balls, but the walls of the Lavra withstood the attacks. In preparations for a second assault the invaders even dug a tunnel under the Pyatnitskaya (Parasceve) corner tower, but even that failed to break the resistance of the garrison, and enemy attempts to cut off the water supply of the Lavra failed to break the spirit of its defenders who, in their turn, launched surprise counterattacks, killing or taking prisoner enemy "chieftains", burning down enemy defences and capturing their weapons and supplies.
When winter came the hostilies came to a hault, but the Lavra defenders faced a new menace-an outbreak of scurvy and typhus. During the months of May and July of 1609 the shrinking ranks of the worn-out garrison of the Lavra beat back two more enemy assaults. During the third one, which took place on July 31, "the air seemed to be crisscrossed by fiery moons and the stars were shining all night through with great brightness and seemed to be dropping down upon and around the monastery. And all the faithful, men and women, were tirelessly fighting against the foes all night through" (Palitsyn). On January 12, 1610 the invading force of Sapega and Lisovsky beat a hasty retreat in the direction of the nearby town of Dmitrov.
The staunch resistance offered to the invaders by the defenders of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergiy played an important role in the campaign as a whole since the Lavra tied up a sizeable enemy detachment which could have been otherwise used on other fronts. The Lavra garrison drew confidence from the spirit of its saintly founder who is said to have appeared to the defenders in person in several visions. At the same time cities like Pereyaslavl-Zalessky, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Vladimir, Suzdal and Nizhni Novgorod located to the north of Moscow were sacked and plundered. In 1618 Prince Vladislav of Poland with his army made yet another attempt to capture the stubborn monastery, but even that surprise attack was a failure.
The siege, however, did appreciable damage to the monastery. To begin with, it was necessary to rebuild its damaged walls and towers, repair roofs torn by enemy shelling and also the living quarters. Monumental stone building construction, which reflected the general tendency for ornate decor in Russian architecture of the day, was resumed from the mid-1630s (hospital wards with a hipped-roof church of Sts. Zosima and Sawatiy, 1635-1638). The reconstruction of the Lavra fortifications continued till the 18th century
The rehabilitation of the Lavra relied on the aid and support of the Muscovy tsars and wealthy gentry which included the granting of special rights and privileges and gifts of land. Gifts from the rulers of Moscow and apanage princes, boyars, clerics, merchants and people of military rank included expensive icons, old manuscripts, church vessels of gold and silver, and also ecclesiastical vestments, covers and shrouds with gilt and silver embroidery and often decorated with strings of pearls. Such gifts were made on special and solemn occasions like ascent to the throne, birth of a heir and major military triumphs. Donations were also made "in commemoration of the departed", for being admitted to the ranks of the Lavra brethren and for the privilege of a burial in monastery grounds. Since ancient times statesmen and ranking individuals went on specially arranged pilgrimages to the Lavra on some important occasions like going to war or the conclusion of peace or some grave illness within the royal family
And the Lavra of the Holy Trinity itself gradually developed into a major center of arts and crafts with special workshops for painters, jewellers and bone and wood carvers. The building of stone houses sponsored by royalties assumed considerable proportions at the end of the 17th century. The square around the Dormition Cathedral was finished in fine style with the Refectory Church of St. Sergiy in the south and richly decorated Royal Chambers on its northern side. The construction of a spacious refectory in the place of the former "chambers of the tsarina" dates back to 1686-1692. Inside there is a long and spacious hall with a vaulted ceiling. The exterior of the chambers if exquisitely decorated with brightly colored checker squares, and the windows are framed with winding white-stone pillars with semi-pillars between the window wells all covered with carved vines. Their carved capitals support a broad frieze of sculptured conches. All around the refectory there is an open gallery with stairs. A carved inscription says that "The Church of Our Father Sergiy among the saints and the holy refectory attached" were erected by the order of their royal highnesses Ivan and Pyotr Alexeevich. This was, probably, in memory of the successful escape of the
royal family to the Trinity Lavra during a boyar riot of 1682. In emergencies of this kind members of the royal clan sought and found shelter behind the Lavra walls which had three tiers, reaching the height of up to 12 meters, were reinforced with 12 towers and pierced with rows of upper and ground-level loop-holes and embrasures for small arms and artillery.
Solemn splendor is also the attribute of the Royal Chertogs (chambers) erected right after the Refectory and probably by the same craftsmen. A Dutch traveller Camelius de Bruin (1652-1711) left us a record of a sudden visit to the Lavra by the young Peter the Great in August 1689 and the events which followed. In his description he supplies a host of details about the new palace which leads one to believe that the construction was practically over. The Chambers are located in a monumental two-storey building (85 x 20 m). The ground floor was occupied by service rooms with the parade halls and a suite of residential quarters being located on the first floor above. The exterior of the Chambers, like the Refectory, was decorated with a brightly colored checker ornament which imitated ribbed masonry. Twin windows of the upper floor are decorated with jambs and lintels of tiles. Above there is a broad belt of a frieze made of multi-colored glazed tiles.
The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergiy is also linked with the dramatic ascent to the throne of the young Peter the Great. On the night of August 9, 1689, he arrived there on horseback in the company of just a couple of loyal servants. They galloped all the way from the village of Preob-razhenskoye where there was a riot of streltsi (soldiers of a military corps instituted by Ivan the Terrible) who staged a coup in support of Tsarina Sofya. Peter stayed in the safety of Monastery walls for two whole months during which time he received a stream of his loyal infantrymen, accompanied by some streltsi detachments, noblemen, members of the clergy and even foreign army officers.
Peter returned to Moscow only after the collapse of the coup attempt when Sofya was locked up in the Novodevichy Convent. Her supporters were either executed or exiled.
Coming back to the Lavra, its architectural ensemble is topped off, so to speak, with a perfectly placed belfry in the baroque style (1740-1770) designed by three architects-Johann Shumacher, Ivan Michurin and Dimitry Ukhtomsky. More than 80 meters high, it stands out like a tracery pillar, or hub which unites all the buildings around. Out of its five tiers, the top two were added by Ukhtomsky which gave to what originally looked like a squat structure an unusually airy appearance.
The Lavra status by which we know it now was granted to the monastery in 1744 in recognition of its special position with respect to its size, the number of the
brethren and also its wealth. The economic standing and income of the monastery shrunk considerably after the secularization of church property in the 18th century. And even so, during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 the Trinity Lavra donated to Russia's war budget 70 thousand rubles in banknotes, 2.5 thousand rubles in silver and more than 5 puds (one pud is approx. 36 Ib.avoirdupois) of silver in bullion and tableware.
Today the Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Ser-giy is the core of the town of Sergiev Posad formed by a merger of what used to be monastery villages (KJementyevo, Ko- kuyevo and Sluzhnye Slobody). After the lifting of the 1610 siege a permanent military garrison was established in the monastery. This gave rise to the Push- karskaya (artillery) and Streletskaya (infantry) settlements and from the middle of the 17th century on another three-Ikonnaya, Povarskaya and Konyu-shennaya (of icon- painters, cooks and stable men) were added to that number.
In 1919 the Monastery was closed to be reopened in part only in 1946. To a present-day visitor the Lavra looks like a whole town in its own right which contains Russia's biggest Moscow Theological Academy (opened in 1814) and seminary (founded in 1742). A well-established inventory system of the monastery possessions and the old records of its museum collections make it possible to trace the progress of the Moscow school of arts both in painting and in the applied fields. Current studies and restorations of Lavra's architectural monuments provide a wealth of data on the development of early Russian architecture.
For most Russians over the centuries the Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergiy has been the heart of this nation, and its founder our Patron Saint.
Опубликовано 07 сентября 2018 года
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