"One of the most formidable silhouettes in the region belongs to the towering rock surmounted by Agios Trias, the fifteenth (15th) Century Monastery of the Holy Trinity."
EVEN at midday, under the hard summer sunlight of Thessaly, Greece, Meteora is rife with mystery. As the day progresses and shadows lengthen, the rugged patch of ground, a short distance from the small town of Kalambaka in the Northern center of Greece, only becomes more so. For the landscape at Meteora is one of the strangest and most unexpected geological showcases on earth, a place where huge natural cones and chimineys of rock spring hundreds of feet skywards from the comparatively flat floor of the Thessalian Plain.
The ancients believed they were meteors hurled to earth by angry gods; modern visitors may think of the region as something from the imagination of an opera set designer. Scarred by wind and rainwater, the gnarled gray sandstone fingers are made all the more intriguing by the additions of man, namely the Byzantine ascetics who, during the 14th and 15th centuries, crowned 24 of these pinnacles with religious retreats. Gradually these became thriving monasteries, turreted and fresco-filled complexes that, perched somewhere between earth and sky and accesible only by ladders and winches, were effectively removed from marauders and the ways of the world.
[editor's note: These monasteries are and were operated by the Eastern Orthodox Church and are Holy places where the Holy Divine Work of our Lord Jesus Christ is accomplished. Here, every day, the Holy Traditions of the Orthodox Church are protected from perversions and unauthorized change. The Brethren at the monasteries are called by God to serve Him day in and day out through prayers and communion with God. The Monastery is a place where servants of God uphold the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit through prayer and supplication and thanksgiving to our triune God. Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and from all Ages to all Ages. Amen.]
Centuries later, only six of the monasteries remain, four still inhabited by black-bearded, black-robed brethren who carry on lives of prayer and isolation. Bells echoing out over the valley are the only signal of their presence. Today, with the region's strange beauty awesomely intact, not even grinding tour busses can diminish the sense that Meteora is charmed ground.
[editor's note: The Orthodox Church needs a reawakening in the areas of service to God, and in Evangelical Outreaches. The monastery represents the true Prayer Wariors of the Church Militant here on Earth. While the Church Triumphant is blessed with Abundant Numbers of Prayer Warriors: The Angels and the Saints led by Jesus Christ, we here on Earth need to support the Church Triumphant in every way we can.]
"The view east from Meteora takes in the broad expanse of the Thessalian Plain. In this view is the abandoned monastery of Agia Barbara-Roussanou."
"The Monastery of Agio Nikolaos, also known as Abapafsa, is dwarfed by neighboring pinnacles. A monk studies in a monastery bell tower overlooking these wonderful sights while immersed in the Word of God."
"The so-called Grand Meteoron is the oldest and largest religious aerie in the area. Its population of monks once numbered more than three thousand (3,000)."
Meteora, the "rocks that fly," is situated on the western border of the Thessalian Plain. This is the broad, fertile expanse hemmed in by a ring of mountains that includes Pindus, Pelion, and Olympus. The Ancient Greeks rightly believed that the plain was at one time a vast inland sea; according to mythology it was the post of Poseidon during the battle between the gods and the giants. We now know that Meteora's mighty rock pillars were carved out by centuries of receding water.
An abundance of natural caves and crevices at the bases of its numerous outcroppings attracted religious hermits to Meteora as early as the ninth (9th) century. During the 12th century, with the advent of Ottoman invaders and a resulting wave of persecution, eremites were forced to take to the tops of the lofty formations. By the 14th century a number of independent monasteries had been built, and the area quickly established itself as an important religious center in the post-Byzantine world.
Of the 24 monasteries built atop the Meteora pillars, only six remain; the rest have crumbled away with scarcely a trace. Although five are still in operation, one as a nunnery, their populations and artistic treasures have been substantially reduced.
The oldest and largest is the Monastery of the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis), more commonly known as the Grand Meteoron. Capping the flat top of the most massive of the built-upon stone columns, it was founded in the mid-1300s and quickly rose to a degree of political and financial power commensurate with its size and height. (Its monk population at one time numbered more than three thousand (3,000). ) A variety of existing structures on two levels include four (4) Churches, the most exquisite of which is open to the public. At the monastery entrance is the large basket that provided the original means of access to the summit; monks and visitors now make use of some two hundred steps cut into the rock face in 1924. Also of interest are the monastery's original barrel-vaulted refectory, which now displays medieval icons and illuminated manuscripts, and a small chamber containing the neatly stacked skulls and bones of previous residents.
Across from the Grand Meteoron and reached by a metal footbridge from a neighboring pillar is Varlaam, the second largest monastery at Meteora. Dating from 1517, it was named for the hermit who originally inhabited the rock. Inside Varlaam are some of the are's finest examples of late Byzantine art. Outside, a wooden balcony perched 1,000 feet in the air affords a dizzying view of the Thessalian Plain.
The most spectacularly sited monastery is Agia Barbara-Roussanou, which crops up flush from the sides of an especially picturesque pinnacle. Famous for its relatively simple decorations, it dates from before 1545. Due to steady deterioration it remains closed for repairs.
Farther down the road is Agios Stephanos, or Saint Stephen, another religious aerie reached by footbridge from an adjacent pinnacle. Dating from the mid-14th century, Agios Stephanos now serves as a nunnery. Among its relics is the head of the medieval martyr Charalombos.
The two remaining monasteries are Agios Trias (Holy Trinity), with gardens scattered between its halftimbered buildings, and Agio Nikolaos (also called Anapafsa), which was built a century earlier, in 1388, and houses a series of frescoes by the 16th-century Cretan master Theophanes.
The monasteries and nunnery are open to the public year-round. Since hours vary, it is best to check with the local tourist offices in Volos or Thessaloniki. There are small entrance fees as well as dress codes:
Women, for example, must have arms and legs covered (skirts, but no shorts), and men must not have hair below the collar.
Set aside at least a full day for your visit; you must allow ample time for climbing hundreds of steps, and not all of the monasteries will be open at the same time or day.
Tour buses for Meteora (summer only) originate in the small town of Kalambaka, about 20 minutes distant. The walk from town is steep but provides many spectacular vistas. Hotels in Kalambaka range from clean and simple to expensive and luxurious, and there are many good restaurants. As in other parts of Thessaly, Kalambaka is known for its delectable meat dishes as well as excellent fresh fruits and vegetables.
From Athens and Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, in the northern province of Macedonia, bus trips to Kalambaka are more pleasant than those by train. Both trips, however, are frequent and are routed through Trikala.
This article was published in Pan Am Clipper Magazine, June 1987, issue.
[editor's note: I urge you to visit Meteora if you possibly can, as it is a facinating and Holy place. God bless you and keep you!]
Typed into a DEC Rainbow 100 Computer by: Petros Theodoros Presbeutes P.O. Box 1338 Douglasville, GA 30134