The Trinity Sergiev Lavra is by far the most important monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church. The monastery was founded in 1345 by one of Russia's most venerated saint Sergius of Radonezh. For centuries it has been an important center of the political and religious life of Russia, and up to this day draws scores of pilgrims from all over the world.
The first wooden church built on these lands in the middle of 14th century was destroyed during the Mongol Tartar raids in 1408. When Sergius of Radonezh was proclaimed the patron saint of all Russia in 1422, a new stone Cathedral of Holy Trinity was built to house his relics. This Cathedral is one of the oldest Orthodox Cathedrals in Russia, and by tradition all Moscow royals were baptized in it.
Later Russian Tsars added newer Cathedrals to the monastery. In the late 15th century Ivan III commissioned the Church of Holy Ghost, and Vasily III constructed the Nikon Annex in the early 16th century. In 1559 Ivan the Terrible started building the Assumption Cathedral which is considered the jewel of the whole complex. Built over 26 years, the six-pillared cathedral is decorated with a magnificent iconostasis featuring the Icon of Last Supper, a masterpiece by the Russian icon-painter Ushakov.
During his early years, the Russian Emperor Peter the Great twice found refuge in the monastery from his enemies. In 1744 his daughter Elizabeth proclaimed the Trinity Sergiev monastery a Lavra, or the cathedral of the highest rank. She was a pious lady and every year would go to the Lavra afoot accompanied by her secret husband Count Razumovsky. She commissioned a baroque-style Bell Tower which at 88 meters high was the tallest structure in Russia in those days.
After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Trinity Sergiev Lavra was closed and its premises were given to various civic bodies. During the reign of Stalin, the Lavra's bells including the 65-ton Tsar Bell were taken down and melted for the needs of the Soviet collectivization. However, after the end of the World War II in 1945 Stalin suddenly reconsidered his anti-religious views and returned the Lavra to the church. The Trinity Sergiev Lavra served as the official residence of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church until 1983, when the official church headquarters moved to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.