1921 – Day one, part two: The building renaissance on Athos and the miracle of Thibais

We found the gate of Thibais closed. Pilgrim Herman started talking with a loud voice to draw someone’s attention. After quite a while we saw a black figure waving at us from a building up the hill. It took a while before he reached the wooden gate. He welcomed us friendly but he only spoke Russian. He invited us in.
We followed him through the garden, under a bow of roses, and he led us to the kitchen. There was a novice, Boris, from the Ukraine who, so we discovered, could speak German fluently. He was a very communicative novice, who liked to talk to us and explain all about Thibais and especially about the changes that were going on. But first they wanted us to share a welcoming cup of coffee. During the coffee break he started to explain about the major works that are going on in Thibais. It is an enormous restauration scheme that will deprive all four of them, the two monks, Boris and the one
visitor, who live there of their quiet and peaceful existence, at least next couple of years. Probably until 2020.
As property of the Russian Monastery Panteleimonos they are confronted with the changes. It is considered shameful that the first complex you see, when you enter the monastic republic by boat, is a Russian ruin (of an unfinished church). In this vast building renaissance Thibais seems to be the next project, after Panteleimonos and Paleo Monastir.
Once Thibais houses the biggest church on Athos. But the church was never finished. It never wore a roof. This is because of an old, nineteenth century, prediction that there is no blessing for a roof. Later the church became the ruin we see today. But the days of the ruin will soon be over. It will rebuild to a splendour it had never before. We were told that the monks worried about the old vow. They doubt if there is a blessing for a roof now.
The monks are wondering where all the extra space is needed for. They have room enough right now. Will all those buildings be filled with new monks or pilgrims? Will Thibais lose its tranquillity and its splendid isolation? This is one of the buildings that will be restored.
The church how it looks now from the central entrance. The size is enormous. The floorplan is quite different from most of the other churches on Athos. The trees and shrubberies are already cleared from the inside of the church. It is made ready for the next phase, the restauration works.
Another building just below the big church. We were lucky that there no workmen while we were there. The peacefulness was not disturbed by engines or by loud workers. But they would be back any day now.
Some frescos on the wall of the ruin. Probably the last image of these frescos. I seriously doubt if they will be saved for the next generations.
A bit more up the hill are many more ruins to be seen. The damage done by the fire is still clearly visible. Boris told us that due to a miracle Thibais was saved. Suddenly, just before the fire would reach the hamlet, the direction of the wind changed. They are still very happy about the result of their prayers.
Bas Kamps
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1 Response to 1921 – Day one, part two: The building renaissance on Athos and the miracle of Thibais

  1. gerard koolschijn says:

    Very sad, nicely told story, mister Kamps!

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