The Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) of Christ
1) Historical facts
The monastery, built on an imposing rock, is the oldest, the biggest and the most important among the monasteries of Meteora which are preserved today. It was founded little before the mid-14th century (around 1340) by a scholar monk of Mount Athos, Saint Athanasios Meteorites. In the beginning, he built on the rock a church to the Mother of God. He also dedicated the monastery (the Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Meteora rock-Petra-) to her. Besides, he built cells so that the monks who began to concentrate there could live. Then, he built another church honoured to the Transfiguration of Christ. This church constituted the monastery katholikon and the definitive name of the monastery attributes to this church.
An important person was also his successor and second founder of the monastery, monk Saint Iosaph (one-time king Ioannis Uresis Paleologos). During the 40 years of his monastic life, Saint Iosaph built cells, hospital, cistern, he renovated the church of the Transfiguration (it is the sanctuary which has today the form of a church) and he was among the first ones who built the monastery of Ypsilotera (of Kalligraphon) on a steep and inaccessible rock opposite the monastery of Great Meteoron.
The monastery flourished particularly in the mid-16th century. Thanks to imperial and royal donations it became the most powerful of all the monasteries of Meteora. In 1544/1545, today's magnificent nave and narthex of the imposing katholikon (the old church turned into sanctuary) were built. Later, a refectory, a kitchen, a hospital-home for the aged, a tower, small chapels and joined ladders were built. On the other hand, the monastery suffered from destructions: incursions, thieving, looting and fires.
The monastery of Great Meteoron has already more than 600 years of existence. Its monastic presence and its fame have never ceased to exist. It is a real bastion of orthodox monasticism and Christendom.
2) The founders
Saint Athanasios Meteorites was born in Ypate (once New Patra) in 1302. Among the lofty and steep rocks, he chose a land of about 50000 m2 (named "Platys Lithos"- broad rock- or "Platylithos") as his hermitage. He himself gave it the name of Great Meteoron. Since then, this name has been established, retained, generalized in the ensemble of the monasteries and rocks and has gone far beyond the borders of Greece. Besides, the coenobitic system and the oldest written Canon of the monasteries of Meteora owe their existence to this indefatigable intellectual man.
Athanasios' holy personality was characterized by asceticism, quieting disposition, organizational ability, the gift of making miracles and prophesying and, above all, by modesty. Probably, because of his modesty, he didn't write any texts, although he had the necessary education and knowledge. During his whole life he remained a plain monk until he died in peace in 1380 at the age of 78.
Saint Iosaph was born in 1349/1350 and he was son of the Greco-Serbian King of Thessaly and Epirus (with seat in Trikala) Symeon Uresis Paleologos, who died in 1370. So, Ioannis succeeded his father. However, he soon denied his power, his wealth and the royal luxury and became a poor monk. He settled in the monastery in the early 1373 and he became monk under the name of Iosaph. He was 22 years old at that time. Iosaph's holy personality was characterized by gentleness, benevolence, quieting disposition and intelligence. He probably died in 1422/1423.
3) Monk and Abots of distinguished action
The two founders of the monastery (Athanasios and Iosaph) remained plain monks until their death. But, others joined them. In its prime (in the mid-16th century), the monastery had about 300 monks and therefore, it was a spiritual hive. Then, the number of monks decreased and unfortunately, nowadays, there are only 3 monks. Monastery abbot is Metropolitan Athanasios Athanasiou, who is very active in renovation, building and charity matters.
Apart from the two founders (whose great work was described above), the following abbots distinguished themselves by their actions:
A) Priest-monk Symeon; when he was abbot, in 1552 the nave was decorated with frescoes and icons and the monastery refectory was built.
B) Priest-monk Parthenios Orphidis (at the close of the 18th century- in the early 19th century); according to several inscriptions, he was renovator and icon-donator. When he was abbot (in 1789), the chapel to Saints Constantine end Helen was built and the famed carved wooden and gilded iconostasis of the nave of the monastery katholikon was created.
C) Last, but not least, the scholar and active priest monk Polykarpos Ramidis (at the close of the 19th century), who was the author of the first general history of the monasteries of Meteora.
4) The katholikon and its decoration
The monastery katholikon is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ and it is the result of a combination of 3 construction stages.
5) Portable icons
The portable icons of the monastery are of great importance and excite the admiration of the visitors.
A) In the church, on the two carved wooden icon-stands, which are supported on the columns, there are the icon of the Virgin on the right and the icon of Saint Nicholas on the left (14th / 15th century). The iconostasis icons are more recent and date from different periods (from the 16th century until the 19th century). The icons of the Christ (dated to the 16th century), the Virgin with Child (dated to the 16th century), Saint John the Baptist, the Virgin with Christ (Rhodon Amaranton, 1790), the Annunciation of the Virgin and the Archangels are distinguished thanks to their art and their age. The icons of the two front carved wooden icon-stands (near the church entrance) are also interesting. The left icon is the one of the founders of the monastery and the right one is the icon of the Transfiguration of Christ.
B) The portable icons of the museum of the monastery are of great importance, as well. The two famous icons that Mary Paleologina (sister of Iosaph, second founder of the monastery) donated to the monastery are distinguished. On the first icon, the Virgin, surrounded by 14 busts of Saints, is depicted. The other icon depicts Doubting Thomas. Both icons have the face of Mary Paleologina. She probably donated these icons to the monastery between the years 1372-1384. Some others portable icons of great value are the following: a 14th-century diptych formed by the Lamentation of the Virgin and the Man of Sorrows, a series of twelve 16th-century icons which depicts the Saints of the menologion and finally the icons of the Dodecaorton (which are also dated to the 16th century). In view of all these icons, Christian pilgrims are filled with a feeling of devoutness, while those who are not interested or who are heterodoxies are stunned by their imposing presence.
6) Other buildings
Among the buildings of the monasteries (apart from the katholikon), the following are also distinguished:
7) The library
The library of the monastery is one of the richest and most remarkable monastery libraries. Despite the unfavourable historical junctures, the monks preserved with devoutness the fabulous treasures of the monastery up to the present day: codices (in manuscripts), documents and rare printed books. If we compare the systematic record of manuscripts and documents made by Nicholaos Veis (in 1908/1909) with the present facts, we can deduce that, fortunately, there are only a few and negligible losses.
Manuscripts: Nowadays, 640 manuscripts of the 1200 ones that the monasteries
of Meteora own belong to the Transfiguration monastery. These manuscripts
have been produced during 10 centuries (from the 9th century
until the 19th century). Their content varies. It is mainly
theological and ecclesiastical: liturgical books, the Holy Writ, texts
written by the Fathers of the Church, life and martyrdoms of saints,
apologetic, ascetic, hortative texts and many others. There are also
some manuscripts written by ancient authors, as well as several most
recent philosophical, grammatical, alchemy texts, chronicles etc. We
must mention that the importance of these manuscripts is distinguished
for two more reasons:
They have paleographic significance, as well; thanks to these manuscripts someone can observe and study the evolution of writing during the centuries. It looks like that during the 16th and 17th century a systematic bibliographical workroom operated in the monastery with experienced calligraphers and writers of codices.
A lot of manuscripts are also remarkable works of art. They are richly decorated with impressive miniatures, multi-coloured titles, first letters of the texts and other decorative patterns.
Documents (Byzantine, post-Byzantine and modern). They are golden bulls, metropolitan documents, patriarchal sigils etc. They constitute important relics and valuable historical documents. We mention characteristically the golden bull of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus III Paleologos (1336), the golden bull of Stephen Dousan (1348) and two golden bulls of the king Symeon Uresis Paleologos, father of the second founder of the monastery, Iosaph (1359 and 1366).
Printed books. Like the manuscripts, a great part of the printed books is liturgical books, several of which are rare editions of Venice. There are also several archetypes of classic Greek authors (they are also edited in Venice) as well as grammatical works. Another book that belongs to the monastery is the rare edition of the Dictionary of Souida (Souda) written by Demetrios Chalkokondyles in 1499 in Milan.
8) Works of wood-carving
The following masterpieces of wood-carving excite the admiration of visitors:
9) Cloths embroidered with gold
The collection of the gold-embroidered cloths which is kept on the monastery is rich and very remarkable. The following cloths are distinguished:
They are mainly reliquaries, since the monastery keeps with respect holy relics of many and great Saints of the Orthodox Church. The silverware dates from different periods (16th-19th century) and depicts various Saints and other decorative themes.
The skulls of its holy founders, which are kept in silver and richly decorated reliquaries, are of great importance for the monastery. They are situated on the katholikon narthex above their tombs. Among the other silver reliquaries, we mention the one of the skull of Saint John the Charitable (1614), the skull of Saint John from Klimakos (1760) and the reliquary of the hand of Basil the Great.