The Great Lavra Monastery was founded in the 10th century by Saint Athanasios the Athonite with the financial support of the emperors Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes. It has ever since ranked first among the monasteries on Athos.
In itself a splendid building, with strong surrounding walls, katholikon, cells, refectory, and a defensive tower, it established the norm for the monastic and structural arrangements of other monasteries.
The extremely ancient katholikon, dedicated to Theotokos (the Mother of God), was built in 963 and has undergone various repairs in its time, the latest redecoration being executed in 1535 by the outstanding Cretan artist Theophanis.
The decoration of the Lavra, displaying a wealth of iconography and an astonishing quality of painting, was to become the model for other churches on Athos and in the Orthodox world in general. The monastery possesses a rich collection of 2,046 manuscripts, 10,000 printed books, and numerous other treasures.