Meteora, Greece
Meteora, Greece (Credit: RmX86/ Pixabay)

Meteora’s Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron

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Situated on top of Meteora in Thessaly, in a region of almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, the monastery of the Transfiguration of the Christ has come to be called “Great Meteoron”, not only because is the largest and one of the most spectacular monasteries in Meteora and all of Greece, but also because of its spiritual reputation. It was founded around 1340 by a scholar monk of Mount Athos, Saint Athanasios Meteorites (1302-1380). King John Palaiologos was its co-founder, and became a monk when retreating from secular life.

The monastery katholikon is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, it is decorated with beautiful 16th-century frescoes, and it is the result of a combination of 3 construction stages ( around 1340, 1387-1388, 1544-1545). There are 3 chapels at Great Meteoron monastery: The chapel of John the Baptist, the chapel of St Constantine and St Helens, of which the latter was built in 1789. The third chapel of the monastery is dedicated to St Athanasios.

Kitchener in the monastery (Credit: Richard Mcall/Pixabay)

In the middle of the 16th century the monastery flourished so much and prevailed among all the other monasteries because of many imperial sponsorships. Priceless are the artifacts of monastic life, the religious relics and Byzantine and post-Byzantine era books and manuscripts being preserved in the monastery’s library.

The famous Codex 591, containing the homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, is the oldest of the monastery’s manuscripts – and the oldest dated manuscript in Greece. This manuscript was written by the monk Eustathios in the 9th century.

Also of great importance are two 13th century Byzantine icons. These are the miracle-working icon of the Panagia Loxadiotissa and the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, which has been associated with St. Athanasios. Two other icons donated by Maria Palaiologina (1360-1384), St. Joasaph’s sister, also hold an important place in the monastery’s history. St. Joasaph, was a Serbian king who was maternally related to the Palaiologos Byzantine imperial family and who abandoned worldly power to become a monk here at the age of around 22.

It is also worth to see the tower (1520), the Folklore Museum with old appliances and tools, the ossuary, the church of Transfiguration of Christ, the Holy Altar and the kitchener (cook-room of 1557, nowadays Folklore Museum with old copper, clay and wooden kitchen implements.

Panorama of the monastery of Grand Meteoron (Megalo Meteoro), Meteora, Greece (Credit: Janmad, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Meteora (the name was derived from a Greek contraction meaning “suspended in the air”) is the most important (after Mount Athos) monastic center in Greece. The first ascetics came here in the 11th century. Between the 13th and 14th century, twenty-four monasteries were constructed. Much of the architecture of these buildings is Athonite in origin.

The 16th century is considered the Golden Century of Meteora: the churches were decorated and painted by the most famous painters of the time, the buildings were renovated and expanded. However, the prosperity of Meteora started to fade away after the 17th century mainly due to the raids of thieves and conquerors.

Meteora rock formation with monasteries on top of them (Credit: Stathis floros, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By the 18th century, most monasteries were abandoned. The Meteora is now home to six monasteries and is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. A vibrant monastic community for more than six hundred years, has offered a great deal to education and culture being a bastion of true Christianity and the traditions of Hellenism.