Monastery Megisti Lavra

Founded: 963 A.D.
Founder: Blessed Athanasios
Feast-day: 5th of July
Library: 2.000 manuscripts
Collection: 2.500 Icons


The Monastery of Megisti Lavra (or Great Lavra) is built on the south-eastern end of the Athos Peninsula and is the earliest and biggest foundation on Mount Athos. It was founded by the monk Athanasios the Athonite during the years of the Emperors Romanos the Second and Nikephoros Phocas. He is considered to be the founder of Athonite monasticism and the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra is the mother monastery of Mount Athos.

The monastery occupies the first rank in the hierarchical order of the twenty Athonite monasteries. It is inhabited by 317 monks (1990), the most in comparison to the other monasteries, and is coenobitic (communal).

It features the shape of a small medieval town, is surrounded by a strong fortress with 15 towers. Inside and outside these towers there are 37 chapels, many independent kellia, three sketae (Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anne and Kavsokalyvia) and regions of kalyve.

The katholikon has served as a model for all the katholika of the Athonite monasteries. It was built in 963 by Athanasios. It is a four-columned church with a dome. Restoration works performed at later times gave the church a cross-like shape. First it was dedicated to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but in the 15th century it was dedicated to Saint Athanasios Athonite. The katholikon is frescoed in the 16th century, by Theophanes the Cretan, a famous representative of the Cretan painting school. Left and right of the eso-narthex are two chapels dedicated to Saint Nicholas and to the Forty Martyrs. The tomb of Saint Athanasios is lying in the chapel of Forty Martyrs.

The most important of all the other chapels are these of Saint George, Saint Athanasios and of Virgin Koukouzelissa. The Phiale, the basin for the blessing of the waters stands outside the main entrance of the Katholikon. It is the oldest and the biggest in Athos. Just opposite the entrance of the Katholikon is the refectory, frescoed by Cretan painters.

The library contains 2,046 manuscripts, 165 codices and 30,000 printed books. The treasury is very rich. It houses the crown and sakkos (liturgical vestment) of Nikephoros Phocas, ecclesiastical plates, sacerdotal vestments, the relics of many saints, etc.