Prior to my obsession with yurts, tee pees, and tiny houses, I had a different interest; Amish and Fundamentalist Mormons. And long before Amish and Mormons, the place it all started with was Monasticism. This girl was all about monks and nuns.
I spent years researching the life of contemplation and getting any look I could into the private eye of cloistered living.
It was around this time that I discovered a place called Mount Athos, a Greek peninsula housing twenty Eastern Orthodox monasteries. I was immediately interested in Mount Athos mostly for the usual reason. It is forbidden. Well, for me, at least. Women have long been for prohibited from Mount Athos due to what is called avaton (Άβατον) in Greek, to make living in celibacy easier. These Monks feel that the presence of women alters the community dynamics and infringes upon their spiritual enlightenment.
I was equally surprised and pleased to find that there were several women as curious as myself that have tried, and successfully gained entrance to Mount Athos. French writer Maryse Choisy snuck into Mount Athos in the 1920s disguised as a sailor. She later wrote about her escapade in Un mois chez les hommes (“A Month With Men”). Again, in the 1930s a Greek beauty pageant contestant dressed up as a man and sneaked into Mount Athos. Her escapade was discussed in the 13 July 1953, Time magazine article entitled “The Climax of Sin”.
So, I can’t go to Mount Athos. But, I did manage to find a place as intriguing and geographically speaking, even more astonishing: Meteora, Greece.
Meteora, translated to “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos.
In the 9th century, a group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient sandstone pinnacles.They were the first people to inhabit Metéora. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some of which reach 1800 ft. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors. Initially the hermits led a life of solitude, meeting only on Sundays and special days to worship and pray in a chapel built at the foot of a rock known as Dhoupiani.
Six of the monasteries remain today. Of these six, four were inhabited by men, and two by women. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants. The monasteries are now tourist attractions and are definitely on my Bucket List.
- Greek monks hurl petrol bombs at bailiffs trying to evict them from sanctuary (vancouversun.com)
- Interesting Facts About Greece (travelingmyself.com)