The foundation of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra (Aleksandro-Nevskaya Lavra) is connected with the important events in the history of Russia.
In 1240 Grand Prince and military commander Alexander Yaroslavich won a major victory in the war with Sweden on the Neva river, for which he was given the title Nevsky and canonized by the Orthodox Church as the Holy Patron of Russia.
On May 16 (May 27, n.s.), 1703, St Petersburg, the Northern Russian capital, was founded by the order of Peter the Great. The city was built on lands where Slavic tribes had lived for many centuries. The Volkhov River, Lake Ladoga and the Neva were part of a waterway running from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Early in the seventeenth century these lands came into the possession of Sweden. For a long time Russia struggled to win back her lands and only in Peter I's reign, when in the Northern War of 1700-21 Russian troops smashed the well-drilled Swedish army, did Russia finally establish herself on the banks of the Neva, thereby regaining an outlet to the Baltic. The Emperor decided to immortalize the name of the great commander and patriot of Ancient Russia, St Prince Alexander Nevsky, and by his order in 1710 to the south-east of the city center the Alexander Nevsky monastery was founded. The place for the monastery was chosen by Peter I himself on the left bank of the Black (Chornaya) river (now the Monastyrka river) not far from its confluence with the Neva, this locality bearing a strong resemblance to the place of the famous Nevskaya battle.
St Petersburg being regarded by its founder as the administrative, political, economical and cultural capital of new Russia, the Alexander Nevsky monastery was intended to become the religious center of the country.
On the 30th of August 1724 the relic of Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky was carried to St Petersburg from Vladimir and placed in the monastery's St Alexander Nevsky Church (in 1790 the relic was transferred to the newly built and sanctified St Trinity Cathedral). Since that time the Russian Orthodox Church has been celebrating this day as a holiday.
Emperor Peter I was eager to reform the Church, make it serve the state. Thus he founded the Alexander Nevsky monastery as a model one meant to function as a charitable, corrective, medical and educational institution. These projects didn't agree with the Orthodox concept of the monastery as a source of spiritual light and an example of pious life, a religious institution where praying is a monk's life-work. Fortunately, greater part of the emperor's plans concerning the Church wasn't translated into reality.
From the very beginning, the Alexander Nevsky monastery became the ecclesiastical educational center of the St Petersburg eparchy. In 1719, by decree by Peter I a printing-house attached to the monastery was organized, being the first one in the Northern capital. In 1726 the Alexander Nevsky Slavyano-Greko-Latinskaya Theological Seminary was established, famous for the high level of education it provided.
Since its founding, the Alexander Nevsky monastery was placed above other Russian cloisters. It enjoyed the favour of all Russian emperors and empresses, the Father Superior being nominated by a sovereign's personal decree.
In 1797 the Alexander Nevsky monastery was elevated to the status of Lavra (lavra, a name given to rich monasteries of the highest rank enjoing special privileges). At the same time the Seminary was raised to Academy rank and became a higher theological educational institution parallel with those of Kiev, Moscow and Kazan. The St Petersburg Theological Academy was always regarded as one of the best in Russia in training highly educated clerical cadre.
Most of the monastery's regular clergy came from various provincial Russian cloisters, they had to live and work there for about ten years. At the expiration of this period the monks were usually appointed to fill high clerical positions. Some of them devoted their life to theology or missionary work.
According to an old Christian tradition, the place near the relic of a great Saint was especially honourable for interment. At Peter I's will the oldest in the city St Lazarus Cemetery was intended as a burial ground for the Imperial Family's members and court nobility, for prominent state and church figures, for military leaders, for outstanding scientists and eminent art figures. On their graves the magnificent tombstones and monuments of marble, bronze and granite were erected.
Since 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church endured difficult times. Saint Metropolitan Veniamin of Petersburg (canonized by the Church in 1992) and dozens of the Lavra's black clergy became martyrs of the Red Bolshevists terror, having been shot by the walls of the cloister. The Lavra's churches went closed, the buildings were taken away by the city authorities. The sacred relic of Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky was transferred to the possession of an antireligious museum, the precious sarcophagus being exhibited among other displays in the Hermitage.
It was only in 1956 that the St Trinity Cathedral was given back to the Orthodox Church and divine services were resumed there again. In 1987 was St Nicholas (Nikolskaya) cemetery church reopened (now belongs to the Lavra). Two years later another portentous event in the Lavra's life took place - Alexander Nevsky's relic was solemnly replaced in the St Trinity Cathedral. November 25, 1996 is the official date of the monastery's rebirth.
Thus, little by little the Lavra's life is now being restored.