The Monastery of Great
Lavra is the first monastery built on Mount Athos. It is located on the
southeastern foot of the Mount at an elevation of 160 metres. The founding of
the monastery in AD 963 by Athanasius the Athonite marks the beginning of the
organized monastic life at Mount Athos. At the location of the monastery, there
was one of the ancient cities of the Athos peninsula, perhaps Akrothooi, from
which the sarcophagi of the monastery that are in the oil storage house come.
The history of the monastery is the most complete compared to the history of
the other monasteries, because its historical archives were preserved almost
intact. It is possible that the study of these archives may contribute to the
completion of the knowledge of the history of other monasteries, whose archives
were partially or completely lost.
The main church
(Katholikon) was found by Athanasius who lost his life together with 6 other
workers when one of the domes fell during the construction. The architectural
style of the temple is characterized by the two large areas of the chorus and
the prayer. This style was then consecrated and was copied by the other
monasteries. The frescoes were made in 1535 by the great painter Theophanis.
However, the narthex was painted in 1854.North of the narthex (liti), there is
the chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in which there is the grave of
Athanasius. South of the liti, there is the chapel of Saint Nicholas, painted
by Franco Cantellano, in 1560. The trapeza opposite the central entrance has a
shape of cross and is the biggest on Mount Athos. Its interior is full of
frescoes, painted by Theophanis or his school.
The library of the
monastery is located behind the main church. It contains 2,116 Greek
manuscripts and 165 codices. Among them uncial manuscripts of the New
Testament: Codex Coislinianus, Codex Athous Lavrensis, Uncial 049, Uncial 0167,
and minuscules 1073, 1505, 2524, 1519. There are also over 20,000 printed
books, and about 100 manuscripts in other languages. The collection is one of
the richest collections of Greek manuscripts in the world.
The vestry is behind the
main church. Some of the most important artifacts are a manuscript of a gospel
with a golden cover which is a gift from Nikephoros II Phokas and the list
(Kouvaras) of the monks since Athanasius. There are also 2,500 icons which
cover the whole history of hagiography of the second millennium.