My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Travelling Through Greece In the Steps of St Paul - a diversion to the Meteora Monasteries

 Tuesday - It's our fourth full day on this wonderful pilgrimage and we are going to visit the quite extraordinary Meteora monasteries perched high on gigantic rocks in the central Thessalia Plain, Not anything to do with Paul's second journey but as one of the largest and most important Greek Orthodox monastery complexes after Mount Athos it is an essential destination in this part of Greece.
Holy Monastery of St Stephen - the only one occupied by nuns
sunbathing cat
There were five coach loads in our hotel when we arrived last night together with a seemingly large number of hunky hairy bikers on a German motor cycle rally judging by all the gleaming machines parked outside - but such is the scale of the hotel and their efficiency that we are not unduly disturbed by such large numbers; indeed we have the gorgeous swimming pool to ourselves on our second afternoon here, some time to relax and perhaps reflect on and assimilate all our experiences to date.
the talanton

First we are going to visit the Agios Stephanos, or St Stephen's Holy Monastery, the most accessible monastery of them all, approached simply by a small bridge from the road. Later we will climb the 195 steps to Varlaam - actually not so daunting as they sound - and by coach see the outside of the other four monasteries open to the public.
There are various theories as to how this amazing landscape formed. Mara tells us that 60 - 10 million years ago the river deposited material here. Then a huge earthquake opened up the area to the Aegean Sea, which swept in and eroded all the soft rocks, leaving just the massive stacks we see today.
The first inhabitants were hermits who lived in caves high up in the rock faces.
There are sheltered porches around the outside of the churches here - I have noticed this elsewhere - and these provide shade for standing for services on very hot days. We also note the simple sounding boards to call the faithful to prayers or to be used as a warning sign, from the Noah legend.

Varlaam with The Holy Monastery
of St Nicholas Anapausas in background
Photographs inside the buildings are largely forbidden - and this is good as it does help one focus on the spirituality of the places rather than always reaching for the camera - take away memories, not photos, is often a good maxim. But the icons, wall paintings, embroideries, wood carvings and other artifacts are wonderful. Jesus Christ as the good judge is invariably in the domes of the churches, with the four evangelists in supporting panels beneath and with other saints around the base. 

those steps up to Varlaam
Many coach tours are arriving together as we approach St Stephens and we get shuffled around in our groups and it is very hard to find and feel the spirituality of this place.
We re-board our coach and on the way to Varlaam stop for more views and photo shots of other monasteries and so to lunch.

The Palazzo restaurant we go to for lunch is well organised for dealing with several coach parties at a time - we are welcomed with a Greek aperitif served smilingly by waiters in Greek national dress - a nice touch in what could otherwise be a cavernous and impersonal place - self service with clearly labelled and priced food - and the trays carried to the tables for us - another welcome idea.

 So to Varlaam
and those 195 steps - Actually I only counted 115 to the top of the main flight - they then continue in easy low level steps to the top - these are wide and well constructed steps - and we had a cooling breeze - so it really is not as bad as it sounds - but perhaps avoid doing this in the midday heat.
I spy two lads right on the top of a rock - there is plenty of rock climbing around here unsurprisingly - they leave something behind - litter? Or camera? I hope neither! 
There are plenty more amazing photos here and here and plenty of greater detail about each of the monasteries to be readily found on line. With the hordes of tourists it can be quite difficult to find the spirit in these places but they are truly remarkable for all that.
panorama - spot the monasteries!

1 comment: