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Varlaam Monastery, Meteora

Photo © Charles Lee. View all images in our Varlaam Monastery Photo Gallery.
Photo © Charles Lee.
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Photo © Neil Carey.
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Photo © Charles Lee.

Varlaam Monastery (or Barlaam Monastery) in the Meteora is named for the monk who first built a tiny chapel on this rocky promontory in the 14th century. It has an elegant church with 16th-century frescoes by a well-known iconographer and other notable buildings.

History

In 1350, an ascetic monk named Varlaam climbed this great rock and settled at the top. He built three churches, a cell for himself and a water tank. No one chose to follow his lead, so after his death the site was abandoned.

The buildings fell into ruin for almost 200 years until 1517, when two rich priest-monks, Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades from Ioanina, ascended the rock and founded a monastery. According to legend, they had to drive away the monster who lived in a cave on the summit before they could move in.

The brothers renovated Varlaam's church of the Three Hierarchs, erected the tower, and built a katholikon (1541-42) dedicated to All Saints. Using ropes, pulleys and baskets, it took 22 years to hoist all the building materials to the top of the rock. Once everything was at the top, the construction work took only 20 days.

Varlaam Monastery was continously occupied by monks (about 35 at a time) throughout the 16th century and into the early 17th century, after which it began to decline. Steps were first carved into the rock in the early 19th century and have been altered several times since.

What to See

Today, Varlaam Monastery is occupied by seven monks and can be accessed by a narrow bridge that runs from the main road. There is a pleasant garden in the compound, where a monk sometimes sits and chats with visitors.

The Late Byzantine katholikon of Varlaam has a cross-in-square plan with a west narthex, with a dome in each section. The frescoes in the main church were painted by the celebrated iconographer Frangos Katelanos of Thebes in 1548 (the date is inscribed on the south wall). The narthex was frescoed in 1566 by the brothers George and Frangos Kondares of Thebes.

North of the katholikon is the small "Parekklesion of the Three," an aisleless chapel dedicated to the three great bishops St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. Originally built by Varlaam in c.1350, it was repaired by the founders in c.1520, renovated in 1627 and decorated with frescoes in 1637.

The tower contains the old windlass and rope basket (1536), which used to transport monks and supplies to the monastery. When asked how often the rope was replaced, a 19th-century abbot famously replied, "Only when it breaks." It was used as recently as 1961-63, when the refectory was renovated into a museum of religous artifacts.

The monastery's museum displays a fine collection of relics, carved wooden crosses, icons, embroidered epitaphoi and many other eccelesiastical treasures. Varlaam also possesses over 300 religious manuscripts copied by monks, some of which are displayed in the sacristy.

The monastic kitchen is an elegant vaulted structure with an octagonal dome leading to a chimney. The original water barrel, which can hold 12 tons of rainwater, is on display in a storeroom.


Quick Facts on Varlaam Monastery

Site Information
Names:Barlaam Monastery; Varlaam Monastery; Varlaam Monastery, Meteora
City:Meteora
State:Thessaly
Country:Greece
Categories:Monasteries
Faiths:Christianity; Greek Orthodox
Feat:Spectacular Setting; Murals/Frescoes
Styles:Byzantine
Dates:1350; 1517-42
Status:active
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Meteora, Greece
Coordinates:39.725128° N, 21.629806° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of Varlaam Monastery

Below is a location map and aerial view of Varlaam Monastery. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Blue Guide Greece: The Mainland, 7th ed. (W.W. Norton, 2006), 549.
  2. Varlaam - Frommer's Greece
  3. Varlaam (Barlaam) - Rough Guide to Greece
  4. The Holy Monastery of Varlaam - Kalampaka.com
  5. Advisory Body Evaluation - UNESCO World Heritage (1987)
  6. Meteora: Greece's Spiritual Pinnacles - Travel with a Challenge
  7. Meteora: Monasteries – Greece Travel

More Information

Article Info

Title:Varlaam Monastery, Meteora
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:07/01/2009
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/greece/meteora-varlaam-monastery/greece/meteora
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