The Rambling Writer Returns to Greece, Part 28: The Byzantine Monastery of Hosios Loukas

 Join Thor and me on our last day in Greece, as we providentially get lost and find ourselves at this beautifully serene monastery that has been active since the early 10th century.

NOTE: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gives an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.

As I recounted last week (post #27), Thor and I were sobered by our visit to the memorial at the town of Distomo, site of the Nazi massacre of an entire village. After the elevation of spirits we found at ancient Delpi, we were saddened to be carrying that terrible recent history as we drove back to the Athens airport for our flight home. Then, as luck– or the angels or muses — would have it, we got lost again along the winding back roads. I almost missed a tiny sign with the symbol for an Antiquity, but on impulse we pulled into its entrance road that led to a lovely valley with no sign of development. Then, around a turn, we came upon the tiled rooftops of the Byzantine monastery of Hosios Loukas. We had wandered back in time.

The Greek Orthodox Church has been an important presence in the life of the people for many hundreds of years, and today around 90% of Greeks still report it as their chosen religion. In our trip, we visited mostly more ancient sites, so it’s fitting to devote some time to this important religious aspect of Greece and the influence of Byzantine culture, architecture, and art. Let’s take the tour!

 

When I found out about the healing miracles and the practice of “incubation,” I was excited, as the practice echoed that of the ancient aesculapia, the healing centers honoring the god of healing, Aesculapios. The practices were later regulated by Hippocrates, the founder of “modern” medicine and the oath to “do no harm.” The healing sites and dream incubation figure in my novel-in-progress, in which Ariadne learns from the ancient ways and visits Hippocrates’s healing center on the island of Kos. After visiting Hosios Loukas, I realized that this setting will also play a part in Ariadne’s new journey. Stay tuned!

On to the crypt, adjoining and partially beneath the larger, later church. (The partially-sunken doorway on lower right required ducking down, especially for Thor):

Hosios Loukas is the largest of three monasteries surviving from the Middle Byzantine period in Greece. The frescoes on walls and ceiling arches are believed to date from around 1050, and are amazingly well preserved. They may have survived because over the centuries,they were covered in thick layers of dust. There were restored in the 1960s by the Greek Archaeological Service.

Some of the frescoes have been damaged, but a series of Christ’s Passion remains, including being taken down from the cross after crucifixion:

And being placed on a bier in the cave while an angel looks on:

The original crypt was connected and partially covered by the newer “Large Katholikon” church started around 1022. Stone buttresses help support the building:

The church is impressive with its soaring ceilings and multiple domes. Almost every surface is decorated with frescoes or inlays. Gold leaf on many of the frescoes glows with reflection of natural light.

More frescoes in another dome:

Newer icons range from this gentle portrait of Mary and the infant Jesus…

…to an angry angel as witness of the beheading of John the Baptist:

Beautiful marble and inlays decorate the floor:

A priest in traditional garb at the church entrance:

This display of an historic monk’s bedroom is open to visitors:

And, as everywhere in Greece it seems, one of the natural springs known for cleansing and purification feeds a drinking fountain.

For Thor and me, this quiet sanctuary offered a most welcome bubble of serenity, where time seemed to pause.

The overlook shown above, shaded by beautiful old plane trees, opens to this view of the valley where the monastery owns the olive orchards and beehives that help support it. There is no sign of modern civilization

A last moment of grateful quiet, before we continue on our journey. We’ve already planned our return to amazing Greece….

Chairete! Rejoice!

*****

You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com

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The Rambling Writer Returns to Greece, Part 28: The Byzantine Monastery of Hosios Loukas — 9 Comments

  1. The view from the overlook does not seem to compare to places like Santorini and Delphi, but somehow the peace and quiet of the valley, and the timelessness of it, make it magical. There is no sign of habitation and it is absolutely quiet. You can sit there and eat your lunch and look out over an olive grove that has not changed substantially in a thousand years.

  2. Wow, that was stunning. What amazes me was the complexity of the design, both architecturally and artistically, embodying the theological principles. What a terrific place!

  3. Thanks, Thor, for expanding on the magical peace of this place. I was finding it hard to express the way it made us feel so tranquil.
    And, Sherwood, yes, so complex! Especially inside the church, it seemed every surface was embellished with symbolic art. I could have gone into more about the architecture, but didn’t want to get too technical. Lots online about it….

  4. Thanks for inspiring a little trip down memory lane for me too! Hard to believe how long ago my trip to Greece was now.

      • I did! The whole trip was part of a three-credit course on Greek history (credit in the Ancient History program and also the Poli-Sci program). Of the whole trip, Delphi, Mystra, Corinth and Athens have stuck in my head especially strongly. For Hosios Loukas, it’s the overall shape of the buildings and the scenery together, along with that exterior mosaic (perhaps because it’s also on the cover of the guidebook I bought). I think it was also the first place I ran into instructions on what we could wear to enter (by that point I’d picked up a couple of light shawls to ward off the AC in the tour bus and they worked wonderfully for covering shoulders as well for monastery tours). Not to mention keeping the sun off for other tour days too. Still a couple of my favorite souvenirs.

        That trip was also the one where I figured out that using my sketch book as a scrapbook for ticket ends, transit maps and the like is also a great idea and makes for a very long-lasting memory.

        I could go on forever, but probably shouldn’t. Definitely been enjoying my way through your Greece posts though!

  5. Elena, that sounds like a wonderful trip. I always have a travel skirt and long-sleeved top when traveling — helps beat the heat/sun as well as conforming to different traditions for dressing. The sketch book idea is smart! I keep ticket stubs, etc. in my journal, but should tape them in so they don’t get lost.
    Thanks for following along with my posts — that’s the best reward for a writer!