I was cheated in a monastery: the Meteora part deux


The view from the top of the monastery.  I feel queasy.

The view from the top of the monastery. I feel queasy.

The Great Meteoron is the sparkling jewel of the Meteora and was the brainchild of a hermit monk called Athanasios, who diverged from his hermit ways long enough to convince some other hermits to build the monastery along with him. Much of the monastery remains monk-only, but tourists are permitted to visit chapels, the remnants of a 14th century kitchen, two roomfuls of medieval religious manuscripts, and most splendidly of all, a closet full of tidily stacked dead monk skulls. The thousand-year-old manuscripts are incredibly legible and well-preserved, in part because the monks hid some of them in a specially designed crypt during the assaults by the Ottomans.

The Meteora were badly bombed during World War II, so one hallway of the monastery is dedicated exclusively to propaganda posters of demonic-looking Germans being beaten up. One depicts a German attempting to raise a Nazi flag, and being kicked down the mountain for his trouble.

We moved on to the next monastery: a long vertical climb down, a trek across the mountain pass, and then a long vertical climb up. The Varlaam Monastery has a more modern feel to it, and is somewhat less impressive than the Grand Meteoron. To my mind the most interesting things about this monastery, aside from the obvious fact that 16th century monks hacked it out of a column of stone essentially with their bare knuckles were (a) the biggest 16th century barrel I’ve ever seen, with a capacity of about 12,000 litres and (b) the fact that it is under construction, and mending walls 500 m above ground is evidently a huge bugger. Someone on the ground loads building materials into crates and hoists them up to the hands of a waiting monk via pulleys and ropes. The monk unloads and sends the crate down again.

I also found it notable that the monastic ‘guard’ (a civilian non-monk) accepted my 1 Euro coin to light a prayer candle with a gentle, holy smile, and then shoved it in his pocket when he thought I wasn’t looking and slipped a 20 cent piece into the collection box. Blessed be he who robs monks. As with the Grand Meteoron, the gift shop sold unconscionable rubbish. The 14th century golden icon of Jesus was made of plastic, and in China.

To be continued…

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