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“Suspended in the air”- the breathtaking monasteries of Meteora

Goran Blazeski

Located in the North Western part of Thessaly, between North East of Hasia and West of Pindos, Meteora is one of the largest and most important Greek Orthodox monastic complexes. It is the second most important monastic community in Greece, after Mount Athos in Halkidiki.

Meteora means “suspended in the air”, “middle of the sky” or “in the heavens above”. Thirty monasteries were founded here, but only six of them are in operation today and receive many pilgrims. Of these six, four are inhabited by men, and two by women.

However, the Greek Orthodox Monks built the monasteries in the 14th century in order to escape the religious persecution of the ruling Ottoman Empire.

The sandstone megaliths on which the monasteries were built have an average height of 1,000 feet (300 meters), with several feet reaching 1,800 (550 meters).

The first monastery built at Meteora was the “Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ”, or the “Great Meteoron”. It is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries.

Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, a monk from Mount Athos, is the founder of the monastery. Saint Athanasios the Meteorite brought a group of followers to Meteora and from 1356 to 1372 he founded the “Great Meteoron”.

The second largest monastery is the Holy Monastery of Varlaam. It was built in 1541 and embellished in 1548. It was named after Varlaam, an ascetic who ascended the rock in 1350. He built three churches, a cell for him and a water tank. Two rich monks Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades took over the site in the 16th century and founded a monastery.

The Monastery of Rousanou was founded in the middle of the 16th century by Maximos and Ioasaph of Ioannina. Dedicated to St. Barbara, the Holy Monastery of Rousanou is easily accessible since is lower in elevation.

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas was founded in the 16th century by St. Dionysius, Metropolitan of Larisa and Nikanoras, exarch of Stagoi. It has a small church, decorated by the 16th-century Cretan painter, Theophanes the Monk.

The Rousanou, the Nikolaos and the Grand Meteora monasteries. Photo Credit

The Rousanou, the Nikolaos, and the Grand Meteora monasteries. – By Takeaway – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas. Photo Credit

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas. – By Takeaway – CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ", or the "Great Meteoron." Photo Credit

Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ” or the “Great Meteoron” – By Fingalo – CC BY-SA 2.5 de

Moni Varlaam, Meteora, Greece. Photo Credit

Moni Varlaam, Meteora, Greece. – By Dido3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rousanou monastery. Photo Credit

The Rousanou monastery. – By Vaggelis Vlahos – CC BY 3.0

 

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas. Photo Credit

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas. – By Dido3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

St. Stephen's Monastery (moni Aghiu Stefanu), Meteora, Greece. Photo Credit

St. Stephen’s Monastery (moni Aghiu Stefanu), Meteora, Greece. – By Janmad – GFDL

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity. Photo Credit

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity. – By Napoleon Vier – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen was founded around 1400 and it’s the only monastery in Meteora visible from Kalambaka. It was founded by St. Antoninus Cantacuzene and currently inhabits 28 nuns. The monastery was heavily damaged during WWII and the civil war throughout the 1940s.

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity was built in 1476 and is one of the least visited since is the most dramatically positioned of all. It was used in the final scenes of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

Read about another Monastery from us: Dunbrody Abbey: The 800-year-old Cistercian monastery in Ireland

The total monastic population of the Meteora monasteries in 2015 was 66, comprising 15 monks in four monasteries and 41 nuns in two monasteries.