I sat quietly enjoying the tranquillity of the evening. It was at the back of the catholicon. Further down a monk sat as quiet as I did. His back against the church. When a monk with a stick crossed, I took this picture. One of my favourites. Despite his stick he walked quickly towards the siting monk. They had a short conversation before he moved on.Near the kitchens, plastic crates with vegetables, artichokes and beans were stalled. A concentrated monk was shelling the peas. Left of him the bean shells piled up.
Another meeting of two monks in the evening sun. In front of the catholicon, with the gigantic cypress tree. The cypress is said to be a 1000 years old. This one is called after Athanasios. The other one (not visible) after Euthymius the Athonite.When Martel took a picture, about 100 years ago, the cypresses in the court yard were still small.But Martels small Cypress is gone, as can be seen here.A monk entered a small house. He used a key to open it. The next day we would walk to Skiti Anna and I knew we had to go over the mountain ridge.
In the front is a small fountain. The sound of falling water amplified the serenity of the scene.Two pilgrims went for a walk. Crossing the open bell tower. Suddenly my attention was drawn to the beauty of the informal patterns in the pavement. The advantage of taking your time on a spot is that you notice things that otherwise would have been left unnoticed, like a pavement.We met for a conversation in the kiosk outside the main entrance, there were many small groups of pilgrims chatting. Suddenly there was some excitement, we heard enthusiastic voices. We decided to take a look.
To the enjoyment of many pilgrims this man in the centre, dressed in a furry white coat, was posing for and with his followers. Pilgrim Jaap, on the left of the picture, joined the party. Has anybody an idea about this man and his special clothes?They were showing the results of the posing session to the man in white. Pilgrim Herman (at the back) was very curious as well.And on the same evening there was that warm meeting between Herman and Athosfriend Dragan Jemuovic in front of the main gate of Lavra. See also Herman’s older post.
The minivan drove us from Karies to Megistis Lavra. Every seat was taken. A long and winding dirt road takes you there. The old footpaths are mostly destroyed by the dirt road. Only short patches remain. We had been visited the Monastery before, but never found the time to take a proper look, due to late arrivals and hopping on the minivan at dawn.
We decided to walk around the complex. Herman had a copy of an old picture, taken from a high perspective. He wanted a remake from the same spot. So we climbed up.The helicopter platform used for medical emergencies or VIP’s. A medieval wall encloses the buildings.We were quite surprised to find a big water reservoir. A bench was placed there to enjoy the impressive view. And cranes, always cranes around many monastic settlements in recent years.
I couldn’t discover the reservoir on Athos’ best map by Peter Howorth from 2016. (Another minor detail: the helicopter platform is situated a little lower, east of the grey main dirt road. )
A different perspective on Lavra, the oldest Monastery on Athos. We had just seen the fresco of Saint Athanasios the Athonite in the Protaton. He founded Lavra. He died here too, due to the collapse of a wall in the church.Many shiny metallic green beetles on a flowering giant fennel with the monastery as a backdrop.We climbed downhill into the cemetery, where a layman was working on a recent grave. He didn’t pay any attention to us. Monks live a long life here. Their years are on the crosses, I read: 65, 74, 88, 89, 94, and one who died in his 48th year on earth. We took the path down along the wall of the monastery. (The red line south of the complex on the Howorth map.). It descents through a olive orchard where the path dissolves into grassland. We walked on to a fenced garden. But couldn’t find a path. We saw this picture looking up to the monastery. We meandered our way down until we finally bumped into the dirt road (white road on the map). From that road we could easily find the nice, old and cobbled monopati leading to the arsanas. Only on the easy way back we realized that the path is much lower on the slope of the hill.A view on the tower at the arsanas from the dirt road. A bright light on the tower guided us. Next time more pictures from Lavra’s harbour.
After our walk to Koutloumousiou we could finally enter the Protaton. This is the oldest church (10th century but repaired in the 13th century) and the most important church on Athos. The church is dedicated to the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was heavily restored during the last decade. For years and years the church wore a metal corset, both inside and outside, to keep it upright. Now the work is done.The situation in 2009, when the whole church was covered by a enormous metal construction, and the church was hidden from the sky as a plane in a hangar.The view of the spot from the other site, made by the French photographer Fernand Cuville, around 1918, with the bell tower, the Archive tower and the Holy Mountain as a back drop.Despite the restorations there are still impressive cracks in the frescoes. On the left we see Saint Athanasios the Athonite. He is the father of monastic life on the Holy Mountain. He went to Athos in 963 and founded Lavra. He died there due to the collapse of the apse of the church, together with six of his disciples.
In the middle we see the skinny Peter the Athonite. He was the very first monk entering Mount Athos. He was a hermit; lived in a cave, ate chestnuts and wore animal skins. He died before 883.
On the right is Saint Nicholas the wonderworker. The damage of this fresco is due to a pipe that was placed just in front of the painting. There have been times when the cultural and artistic value of these frescoes was not recognised.
It is probably the work of the most famous of fresco painters; Manuel Panselinos, who lived in the thirteenth century.
The frescoes are studied extensively in scientific articles. One of the questions was the technique (wet or dry) that was used and another question concerned the binding material. This is what was concluded in 2007:
“Now, however, through the application of instrumental analytical investigations, it is possible to demonstrate that a mixed technique involving both al fresco and al secco was employed. Furthermore, it was determined, on the basis of results from gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC/MS), that egg together with a modest amount of animal glue were the organic binding media used for the Protaton art work.”
Venerating the most famous of icons; the Axión Estin.The throne on which only the Byzantine emperor can sit, so the story went. But in reality it is the bishop’s stasidion (choir stall).
When Vladimir Putin visited the Protaton in 2016 he stood in the throne. His expression makes me wonder. He visited Athos to celebrate the 1000 years presence of Russian monks on the Holy Mountain.Christ Anapeson at rest. A typical image of a beardless Christ reposing. A fresco from Panselinos above a wooden door.The same wall, with Christ and the archangels as photographed by the French photographer Roger le Baron around the First World War.
In post 1937 I already showed you the pictures I took during our Cessna flight on May 6th 2017. During that flight I had two cameras in both my hands: one for taking pictures and in the other hand I had a camera to film the complete flight over Athos. It took from the border near Ouranopolis to the end, near Cape Arapis, a little more than 30 minutes. It was quite a bumpy and enervating flight (with 2 camera’s), so don’t expect professional shots. But I do have to say that it was a fabulous experience. So, if you ever have time (and some money) to book this flight, I would say: “do it”.
The movieThe crew
Our pilot Georgeos was a very friendly person, who knew a lot about the Holy Mountain (being member of the harbour police stationed at Vatopedi/Ierissós). It is very easy to make an appointment with the Thessaloniki Aeroclub. We flew immediately after arriving the international airport.Our pilot Georgeos
Wim Voogd, 12/1
Post Scriptum: I know it has nothing to do with Athos, but I am big fan of Dakota planes. This beauty stands alone at Thessaloniki airport, waiting for somebody to care about ….Who helps her from this deplorable state?