We left the cruise this morning. After getting through the morning traffic of Athens, we headed straight up Highway 1 to the east coast town of Lamia, on the Aegean Sea where we stopped at a Greek Fish Tavern for lunch. Then on to Meteora.
We couldn’t wait till tomorrow to go see these amazing monasteries on pillars of amazing rock carved by nature over many millennia. So I bring you into the picture, and share a couple of pics tonight.
Next morning, we brave the 169 steps winding up to the top of one of the pillars of rock, the mountain, to visit the Varlaam Monastery.
On the way up, we can see that the unique ‘geological formations’ like pillars of stone here in Meteora are no more than small stones and rocks that have washed down from rivers past over the millennia. What remains are these hardened pillars on which many monasteries have been built.
We are fortunate to witness first-hand how all this came to pass, and still exists today with seven monks living in this particular monastery.. The story is worth reading.
In 1350, an ascetic monk named Varlaam climbed this great rock and settled at the top. He built three churches, a cell for himself and a water tank. No one chose to follow his lead, so after his death the site was abandoned.
In the early 16th century, two priest-monks ascended the rock and founded a monastery. They renovated Varlaam’s church of the Three Hierarchs, erected the tower, and built a katholikon (1541-42) dedicated to All Saints. We visit this today and hear the monks singing.
Using ropes, pulleys and baskets, it took 22 years to hoist all the building materials to the top of the rock. Once everything was at the top, the construction work took only 20 days.
Varlaam Monastery was continuously occupied by monks (about 35 at a time) throughout the 16th century and into the early 17th century, after which it began to decline. Steps were first carved into the rock in the early 19th century and have been altered several times since.
The frescoes in the main church were painted by the celebrated iconographer Frangos Katelanos of Thebes in 1548 (the date is inscribed on the south wall). They appear as colourful today as they must have when first painted.
Our guide Fannie described in evocative terms the different symbolism in the architecture of ‘Gothic’ Catholic churches and ‘Byzantine’ Orthodox churches.
Fanny explained that the pointed arch of a Gothic cathedral ceiling was designed to draw the eye up and reflected the belief that ‘God was in heaven’, while the curved dome and ceiling of a Byzantine church reflected the belief that God dwelled in the church ‘among the people’. This thought is also reinforced in the art and beauty of the church.
We see in the old tower the old windlass and rope basket (1536), which used to transport monks and supplies to the monastery. When asked how often the rope was replaced, a 19th-century abbot famously replied, “Only when it breaks.” It was used as recently as 1961-63, when the refectory was renovated into a museum of religious artefacts.