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The Orthodox Monasteries of Meteora Toumpouri, Marina


Meteora (meaning “suspended in the air” in Greek) in the region of Thessaly (Greece), is a group of monasteries built on the summits of vertical sandstone formations, which average 300 m in height while several of them are reaching 550 m. From the 11th century onwards, hermits established their dwellings in the lesser peaks of the sandstones. They eventually formed a single monastic community, of which remains today the 12th century chapel of the Theotokos at the base of the pillar of Doupiani, after which the monastery was named. In the 14th century the Athonite monk Athanasios founded the first monastery built on a summit, the Great Meteoron. Meteora reached the peak of their prosperity in the 16th century. From the 24 monasteries that were built, only six are still functioning today, while the rest are in ruinous state. 1. The Great Meteoron: the church of the oldest and largest of the monasteries of Meteora built by Athanasios in the 14th century is dedicated to the Virgin, while cells for the monks were added later. The second church (the present katholikon) built in 1387-1388 by monk Ioasaph (the Serbian ruler of Thessaly and Epirus Jovan Uroš Nemanjić or John Ouresis Doukas Palaiologos). In 1544-1545 was built a new katholikon dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, to which the old church was integrated. It was decorated with frescoes in 1552. The successors of Athanasios expanded the monastery by adding more cells, a hospital, a chapel and renovated the two churches. 2. Varlaam Monastery: the name of the second largest monastery of Meteora comes from the monk who climbed the cliff and founded the monastery around 1350. Varlaam built in total three churches but after his death, the monastery was abandoned, until the beginning of the 16th century when the priest-monks Theophanes and Nektarios Apsara, members of a Byzantine noble family settled there. In 1518 they renovated the church of the Three Hierarchs. In 1541 they built the present katholikon, dedicated to All Saints. It was decorated with frescoes in 1548. In 1627 the chapel of the Three Hierarchs was rebuilt and was frescoed in 1637. 3. Rousanou Monastery: it is believed to have been established in the 14th century, while the 16th century monastery preserved until today, was built by the brothers Ioasaph and Maximos. The katholikon was frescoed in 1560 following the style of the Cretan school of Byzantine iconography. It received the name “Roussanou” probably from the first monk who settled on the rock on which the monastery was built. The monastery is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, although it is also dedicated to saint Barbara. 4. Holy Trinity Monastery: it is believed that the actual monastery was built between 1475-1476, although there is evidence that the first monk who lived at the site was Dometios, in 1362. The wall paintings of the katholikon were completed in different phases. In 1741 brothers Antonios and Nikolaos completed the inside of the church. The esonarthex built in 1689 was decorated in 1692. In 1682 was built and decorated the chapel of saint John the Baptist. 5. Saint Stephen Monastery: it is believed that monks were living on the site since the end of the 12th century and that the founder of the monastery was a monk named Ieremias. The monastic complex was built in the 14th century by the monk Antonios Kantakouzinos, although the present katholikon dedicated to saint Charalampos is a structure of 1798 with frescoes of the 1980s. The old church was constructed at the time of the monastery’s foundation or shortly thereafter and was rebuilt by monk Philotheos in 1545. Its painted decoration was executed in two phases. The first phase probably dates from the period spanning the second and the third decade of the 17th century. The second phase was completed around the middle of the same century. 6. Saint Nicholas Anapafsas Monastery: it was founded in the late 14th century. It has served as a resting place for pilgrims and so it received the name “Anapafsas”, meaning “the one who rests you” in Greek. The first katholikon of the monastery dedicated to saint Anthony was decorated with frescoes in the 14th century. The monastery was renovated in the first decade of the 16th century, when the present main church dedicated to saint Nicholas was built, and in the 1960s. In 1527 the famous Cretan painter, founder of the Cretan school of Byzantine iconography, Theophanes Strelitzas Bathas painted the katholikon.

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