Sergiev Posad is a city of slightly more than 100,000 people that is 75 km to the north-east of Moscow. Unlike the other cities on my list, I am not going to say much about Sergiev Posad’s socioeconomic status. I was there for a day, and it was filled up with purely “touristic” things. As in Kolomna, the population has declined by 10% since the end of the end of the Soviet period, when it was called Zagorsk (in honor of the Jewish revolutionary Mikhail Zagorsky, whose main accomplishment seems to have been spreading Bolshevik propaganda amongst Russian POWs in German captivity during WW1). During the late Soviet era, the city was a major center of chemical weapons production, which was shuttered down during the 1990s.
On the bright side, Sergiev Posad appears to one of the major epicenters of Russia’s drive to restore its previously neglected and/or destroyed historical legacy. The churches are in much better condition than they were even just five years ago. Frescoes have been restored or repainted. Dirt paths have been paved over, at least in the tourist areas. And with the ROC now declaring its intention to make Sergiev Posad into the Vatican of global Orthodoxy, we can expect to see these transformations accelerate even further.
Our adventure didn’t get off on the very best footing. Our train took us to Fryazino, a small town away in the middle of nowhere, instead of Sergiev Posad, which was 40 km away. This wasn’t our fault, since at least a couple dozen other passengers faced the same problem – it was obviously a screw-up on the part of the people who were manning the information displays in Moscow. To add insult to injury, the turnstiles wouldn’t let us leave the station, since our tickets were for Sergiev Posad; this would have necessitated buying a second pair of tickets right at the station. Nor was continuing by train an option, since there was no route to Sergiev Posad; continuing by rail would necessitate a return trip to Moscow.
Since Russian Railways were too sovok to refund our tickets, to apologize, or even let us out, the stranded passengers also solved things the good old sovok way by climbing over the station fence and across the rail tracks [see photo]. My companion was uncomfortable about climbing that fence, so we stormed the turnstiles instead. Fortunately, Yandex Taxi (Russia’s Uber) is cheap, so we got the rest of the way by car.
Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius
Entrance to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, the heart of the Russian monastic tradition.
As in Veliky Novgorod, one starkly noticeable thing was the proliferation of Chinese tourists on package tours.
I found it rather amusing that there were signs telling Russians and Chinese to be quiet – the latter in extra large characters – but not for Anglophone tourists.
The Refectory Church was constructed in the late 17th century. The building was close to a ruin a decade ago. Since then, it was restored, including the indoors frescoes.
The Trinity Cathedral (1422–1423) [left] is the oldest building in this complex. It houses the relics of St. Sergey of Radonezh (1314-1392), a hermit who played a crucial role in Russian history.
Sergey left Moscow to seek God in the forests outside the city. But his solitude was soon interrupted, as a growing stream of monks trickled out to join him. The community of ascetics in the forests soon developed a settlement (posad) around it.
This would subsequently form a template – a “killer app” of monastic core, armed camp, trading settlement – around which the colonization of the Russian North and beyond would subsequently occur. This was in contradistinction to the old ways, in which monasteries were attached to particular cities.
Sergey blessed Dmitry Donskoy before the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380.
The Bolsheviks closed the Lavra in 1920, and destroyed its bells in 1930. They also wanted to destroy the relics of St. Sergey of Radonezh, but were thwarted in their plans by a conspiracy of Orthodox priests, who hid them away until the Lavra was reopened in 1946. The Russian theological, mathematician, and scientist Pavel Florensky martyred himself to keep the secret of where the relics were hidden.
The Dormition Cathedral.
Tomb of the Patriarch Alexis I, who reached a “reconciliation” with Stalin on the permitted role of the Church in Soviet life in return for absolute loyalty to the Soviet state.
The “Guest Izba” (Гостевая изба) is a very nice restaurant offering Russian and local cuisine. The windows made from mica are a cool authentic touch (this colored mineral was used instead of glass in windows in medieval Russia).
Sergiev Posad streets
Here are some typical streets in Sergiev Posad.
The Sergiev Posad Museum-Zapovednik was closed in preparation for an exhibition when we were there, so we went on straight to the Abramtsevo Museum-Reserve (see below). You can easily get there by railway or taxi from Sergiev Posad.
The Eternal Flame in Sergiev Posad.
The lake close to the Lavra.
The Abramtsevo Estate was a 19th century center for the national/Romantic strain of the Russian visual arts. Its initial owner, Sergey Aksakov, had Nikolay Gogol over as a regular guest. After his death, it was bought by Savva Mamontov, a wealthy railroad tycoon who wished he had had the time and money to master the arts himself, and thus used his wealth to sponsor existing artists instead. Members of the artistic collective that hung round the estate during the summers included Ilya Repin, Mikhail Nesterov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Vasily Polenov, and Mikhail Vrubel.
The Mamontov family played an active role in many of these artistic creations.
Their ultimate fates were rather tragic. Both of Savva’s sons died in relative youth, as did his daughter Vera (the subject of the famous “Girl with Peaches” painting; while the original is at the Tretyakov Gallery, there is a reproduction at the estate museum). The tycoon himself lived just long enough to see his estate expropriated by the Bolsheviks, who would subsequently portray him as an exploiter for building Russia many of its railways.
The road back to the railway station, recently built to connect it to the Abramstevo estate. (A few years ago this was a dirt track).