We find ourselves in Greece, the birthplace of modern Europe, the land of mythical gods, blue waters, sandy beaches and hospitable people. Greece has had a tumultuous history throughout the ages and it has made the subject of countless volumes and archives.
The Greeks are known to have an innate bent towards philosophy, spirituality, inner seeking and looking beyond the mundane. So, when you mention the famous heathen pantheon – which might become a tiring cliché at one point -, you will also feel obliged to mention about the Christian Orthodox belief, that has become for almost two millennia, one of the major characteristics of the Hellenic nation.
The core of Orthodoxy is known to be the sacred Mountain of Athos, a mysterious place inhabited by monks who make a living out of what they produce with their bare hands and where not everybody is free to enter. The Greek nation has given Christianity one of the greatest numbers of saints and hermits who have received martyrdom and sanctification, and that is why, the tradition is being kept with devotion and solemnity.
I will not go on on theological matters, but on geographical subjects, which are, nevertheless, strictly correlated to the aforementioned ideas.
Another important spot of religious relevance is the Meteoras, the famous monasteries built on top of steep peaks at the dawn of Christianity, when technology was not that evolved. The high granite pillars that seem to have suddenly burst from the depths of the gentle and smooth fields of Thessaly create a scenery of surreal beauty and have served as a place of shelter for the Christian hermits who were hiding from persecutions.
In the beginning, there had been more than 20 such edifices built, but currently only six of them are standing, being functional and inhabited; they represent one of the most important touristic spots in Greece.
More general information about the monasteries can be found on the site About Eastern Europe, but today we will focus in detail only on one of them: The Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ, generally known by the name of the Great Meteoron.
It is known as “the Great Meteoron” obviously because it is the largest, and also the oldest of them.
An Orthodox monk from Athos, named Saint Athanasios Meteorites, went up on the highest peak, which has a height of over 615 meters (2,000 feet) above the sea level, and had began the building of this amazing edifice dedicated to Holy Virgin Mary. Afterwards, he added a larger church dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, which is a part of the same complex. This entire labor had begun in the 14th century, namely in the year 1340, thanks to the efforts of the monks.
It’s good to know that the original settlement of Saint Athanasios was a simple cave built into the rock, which can still be seen next to the staircase that will take you to the the entrance of the monastery, if you look towards the left side.
The successor of Saint Athanasios was a former Serbian king who had left his mundane life behind and became a monk under the name of Saint Iosaph. The latter also contributed to the rebuilding of the Great Meteoron throughout his next four decades, including the building of a hospital, cells for the other monks and a cistern.
During the 26th century, the monastery reached the apex of development, thanks to significant donations coming from important political figures from the Christian Orthodox area.
Unfortunately, in the year 1544, a great earthquake caused some damage, but people’s devotion brought back its glory.
As time has passed, the inhabitants of the Great Meteoron have brought important contributions to the development of this amazing place, from the building itself, to the frescos and other adornments.
The Macedonian-style frescos, dating from the fifteenth century, are very well preserved and depict the Holy Trinity, scenes from the life of Christ and Virgin Mary, patron saints of the military and the builders of the monastery: Saint Athanasios and Saint Iosaph.
Other frescos, dating from the sixteenth century and painted by an anonymous Cretan scholar, have enriched the nave and nartex of the edifice and are in great shape as well. They also have the role of historical archives of the early years of Christianity, as you can observe some very specific scenes of the martyrdoms of the first saints, depicted in detail.
The Great Meteoron is also known for its spectacular wine cellar which preserves a great collection of wines kept in wood barrels. Another special place within the monastic complex is the sacristy, where the skulls of the previous residents are carefully aligned on shelves.
The library of the monastery also keeps an impressive collection of priceless ancient artifacts, papers, books, documents, manuscripts etc. – just imagine by whose hands those books have been held throughout the ages! – which contain Byzantine codices, theological and ecclesiastical materials of inestimable value and have been preserved and protected at the cost of the monks’ lives during the many military confrontations that the land of Greece and the entire Orthodox world has faced.
Also, a great part of the codices found here have a great artistic significance as they are richly and elaborately adorned with real masterpiece miniatures, richly colorful and ornate headpieces, initials and other decorative elements.
It is worth remembering that the library of the Monastery of Transfiguration is one of the richest in the world and it could be the subject of an entire doctorate thesis, itself.
Remember, this is only one, but there are five more left, reason enough to go and see by yourself this natural wonder blessed by Divinity and ennobled by human hands.