The Great Meteoron monastery

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The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, photo by N.Ziogas

Definitely the bigger and one of the most impressive monasteries in Meteora is the Holy Monastery of Transfiguration of Jesus, best known as Great Meteoron. The monastery was constructed on top of the biggest rock named accordingly “Platis lithos” or “Wide Rock”, having a total area of more than 50 acres and height reaching more than 613m above sea level.

The first to climb “Platis Lithos” was the monk Athanasios, a prominent ascetic figure of the Meteora’s early hermitic community who later became a Saint of the Greek Orthodox church. He was to be followed by other 14 monks and in 1340 AD they manage to built Theomitoros (God’s Mother) church, thus organized into the very first systematic monastic community in Meteora. Later on founder St Athanasios constructed a second church dedicated to Transfiguration of Jesus Christ and this church became the Catholicon of the monastery from which the monastery took its name.

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St Athanasios of Meteora (1302-1380) and Osios Ioasaph of Meteora (1349/50-1422/23)

St Athanassios successor and the second proprietor of the Great Meteoron monastery was the monk Ioasaf (Ioannis Uros), the son of the Serbian-Greek king Symeon Uros Paleologos who supported the monastery financially.

In those early times access to the monastery was achieved only through wooden ladders, ropes and nets. That was the case up until very recently and only in 1923 did they build the 146 stairs one has to climb to reach the monastery.

The cofounder monk Ioasaf completed and frescoed the Catholicon of the monastery in the year 1484 AD. Stories and spoken tradition in the area narrate the huge difficulties those early monks faced in building the monasteries and the need of a 25 to 30 years period to assemble all the necessary materials on top of these huge rocks and another 20 to 25 years of very hard labor in almost isolation to complete the monastery.  A great leap of faith was needed by anyone in order to undertake such a monumental task and with such sparse resources to utilize for the construction, while on the same time most of the 14 monks who initially followed Athanasios they never lived long enough to see the monastery being completed!

The inside of the monastery

The inside of the Great Meteoron monastery

The nave of the Catholicon is bright and filled with frescoes. The iconostasis is beautiful and elegantly carven and glided constructed in 1617 AD and includes images taken from the flora and the animal kingdom.  Another great sample of elegant wood carving can be seen on the Episcopal throne which was constructedthe same year as the iconostasis.

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 and it is characterized from its polygonal domed basilicas. The third chapel of the monastery is dedicated to St Athanasios.

Priceless are the treasures of books and manuscripts being preserved in the monastery’s library. Byzantine and post-Byzantine era manuscripts and documents, books concerning the function of the monastery, patristic texts, hymnographical, rare incunabula of the 15th-19th century, legal documents, as well as classical ancient texts of Homer, Sophocles, Demosthenes, Hesiod, Aristotle, and many writers and authors from  Hellenistic times. The monastic library is one of the wealthiest of its kind.

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The monks follow strict regulations and gather at the church 4 times a day, Orthodox liturgy lasts about 6 hours a day. The practice of the monastic life, which is the monks’ main concern, is in absolute agreement with the imperative morals of the Holy Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church.

There is both social activity and spiritual support of the pilgrimages, which stems from our saints’ miraculous grace.The monastery has offered a great deal to our nation, education and our culture. It constitutes a vibrant monastic community for more than six hundred and fourteen years, a bastion of true Christianity and the traditions of Hellenism.

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The amazing view from Great Meteoron monastery

Monks devoted to Christ, carrying prayers in their hearts and building materials on their backs, renovate, restore and preserve the monastery, celebrating its beauty. As a result, every year, pilgrims and tourists are getting overwhelmed by the great mission undertaken there, making Great Meteoron one of the most visited monasteries of Greece.

Discover more of Great Meteoron monastery and all the other hidden gems of the area with a hiking tour

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Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas monastery

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St Nicholas of Anapafsas

The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas is the first Monastery that we encounter on our way to the Holy Meteora. The monastery is only a short walk from Kastraki village just 1km away.  For the name “Anapafsas” there are numerous interpretations two of which are the most popular.

The first one is that the name “Anapafsas” was attributed by one of the monastery’s benefactors, while the second explanation has to do with the monastery’s position being the first to be encountered on the way up to the other Meteora monasteries, and probably served to the pilgrims and other visitors as a resting place before continuing further up. Resting translates into Greek “anapafsys”. So, Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas it literally means Saint Nicholas the one who rests you.

We have to keep in mind that back then there wasn’t any hotels or rooms to let, so all travelers usually had to either camp outside or seek for shelter to places like monasteries or even on common people’s houses. That’s why for the ancient Greeks one of the biggest blasphemies of all was to deny to provide “philoxenia” for shelter to any traveler asking for it.

The monastery itself was built on an 80 meters’ high rock and is surrounded by the deserted and ruined monasteries of Saint John Prodromos, the Pantocrator and the chapel of Panagia Doupiani.

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The view from St. Nicholas monastery

The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas was founded at the end of the 14th century. The limited surface of the rock forced the building of the monastery to be built vertically on floors, one level on top of the other.

Access to all monasteries different floors is achieved through an inbuilt staircase. At the entrance of the Monastery lie the Church of St. Anthony and the crypt where codes and the monastery’s heirlooms were previously stored. On the walls, paintings of the 14th Century can be seen.

The Catholicon, where St. Nicholas is honored, is on the second floor and it is elongated and stuck on to the south side of the wall of the monastery. The dome of the church is low and has no windows.

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Good Friday’s service

On the third floor rests the Holy Table, decorated with murals. The Table, recently restored, is used as a reception area for the visitors. There is even the ossuary, the cells of the monks and the chapel of St. John Prodromos.

Since the space is restricted and there is no courtyard, the monks could only gather in the narthex, which was roomy, when there were no liturgies in the nave.

The monastery and the current Catholicon of the Monastery were renovated in the early 16th century by the Bishop of Larisa Nicholas, Saint Dionysus and the Abbot of Stagi, Monk Nickanoras. There are portraits of the founders painted in the narthex of the Monastery. The 1527 AD the hagiography of the Monastery was completed by Theophanis the Cretan, who is included in the most significant hagiographers and frescoes painter of the Mount Athos’ monasteries and Orthodoxy in general.

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St Nicholas fresco made by Theofanis the Cretan

His exquisite murals are considered to be the best in Meteora and render the monastery a true gem, abounding in vitality, plasticity, freshness and bright tones. There is also a notable overall high quality and excellence in design and color of the figures painted by Theofanis the Cretan. The rules and the aesthetic principles of the Cretan mural school have been formulated here.

The monastery has been closed and without monks since 1909. That year, N. Veis paid a visit to the monastery to record the existent manuscripts. He discovered 50 codes which were transferred to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, where they are still kept today.

In the 1960s, the monastery was reconstructed and restored under the supervision of the 7th Inspectorate of Antiquities. There has also been maintenance of the murals, which regained their old splendor.

The monastery remains open to the public to visit any day of the week from 09:00-17:00 except Fridays.

If you wish to know more about Meteora, hotels, things to do, or the hidden gems click here 

St George the Mandilas, the origins of a 300 years old Meteora tradition

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Saint George was a Greek who became an officer in the Roman army. His father was the Greek Gerondios from Cappadocia Asia Minor and his mother was the Greek Polychronia from the city Lyda. Lyda was a Greek city from the times of the conquest of Alexander the Great (333 BC), now in Israel. He became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. He is venerated as a Christian martyr.

In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His memorial is celebrated on 23 April, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent military saints.

There are many different customs around Greece honoring Saint George’s memory, but only one that we know of to involve colorful headscafs, climbing and dancing on the cliffs very edge all at the same time. It takes place on an old ruined monastery dedicated to Saint that was build inside a cave some 40 meters above ground on the north side of a Meteora rock.

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There is an old story circulating from mouth to mouth mainly in Kastraki village about the origins of the custom.

In the early 17th century Meteora area like the rest of the Thessaly and most of Greece was under the Ottoman rule. A Muslim landowner and his wife were cutting down some trees next to Saint George’s hermitage. While the Muslim man was chopping down the woods he had an awful accident. The tree he was cutting down fell over him and as a consequence he was badly wounded. His wife immediately upon realizing her husband’s accident she rushed to help him, but she couldn’t do much.

The man lay there on the ground with his wife crying over him when people from the nearby village of Kastraki heard the hopeless screams for help of the injured man’s wife, and so they rushed there to check out what exactly has happened.

Upon seeing the seriously wounded man on the ground they immediately realized that the Muslim man had slim chances to win the day. So all they could do was to advice his wife to turn to Saint George and prey on him for help. Having nowhere else to turn, she decided to follow the advice of her Christian neighbors and so she made an offer to the Saint to spare his life.

She offered St George the only valuable she had, her colorful headscarf. And behold the miracle! After the passing of only few days the man clearly was getting better. And at the end not only did he manage to survive but as the story goes he was able to walk up straight again, becoming completely healed.

So significant was in the minds of the locals the above event and the associated miracle, that in memory of all this once every year after the church service on the name day of the Saint every 23rd of April, young boys and girls climb up with ropes to offer colorful headscarves to honor Saint George miracle.

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They are doing so believing that “Saint George the Mandilas” will help them to maintain good health throughout the year and of course to have fortunate marriages. Fact is that as far as we know and despite boys and girls climb up there every year without using any safety gear but ropes, none fatal or any other sort of serious accident ever happend during this custom celebration. All locals here in Meteora are deeply convinced that the Saint is always present protecting all the ‘Mandilarades” from getting injured.

“Mandilarades” in Greek are named all those who climb up each year to change the headscarfs, called “mandiles” in greek language.

The place where one can find the old ruined monastery of St George of Mandilas is very near to Kastraki central square and easy to reach it even from Kalmpaka, with lots of amazing hikes and trails starting from that same area. But if you wish to find all the hidden gem and learn more of the place history like the story above, then we strongly advice you to take the “Holy Spirit” Hiking Tour.