Monastery Koutloumousiou Mount Athos

Five minutes away on foot, on the south side of the capital, stands the Koutloumousiou Monastery, on a fertile slope at an altitude of 320 metres, among vineyards and orchards.

Tradition, both written and oral, informs us that the monastery was founded by the Blessed Koutloumousis, of whom nothing else is known.

According to another view the Monastery's name is due to its possible foundation by monks from Palestine, since the name "Koutloumousi", in an ancient Arabic dialect, sig­nifies the Transfigured Saviour, to whom the Katholikon is dedicated. The monastery's first Custodian was the emperor Alexius I Comnenus.

The first historically substantiated indica­tion concerning the existence of the monastery dates from 1169 and comes from Isaiah, hegumen of the Koudoumousiou Monastery. What is certain, is that the monastery suf­fered so many attacks by pirates and rob­bers in the 12th and 13th centuries, as well as by Catalan mercenaries in the early years of the 14th century, that its survival hung on a very tenuous thread.

In 1344, in order to somewhat increase the monastery's income, the Protepistatis Isaac ceded to it the small, ruined monasteries of Anapafsas and Philadelphou, as well as the abandoned monasteries of Stavronikita and the Prophet Elijah. When Chariton from the island of Imbros became the hegumen of the monastery towards the end of the 14th century, the Koudoumousiou monastery began to flourish. Chariton, one of the most outstanding hegumens of the monastery, requested the financial support of the rulers of the Danube States, of Serbia and of Bul­garia. He also asked for the help of the Greeks. Prince John Vladislav proved to be die most generous benefactor of the time, assuming almost the entire cost of the monastery's reconstruction. He also con­tributed greatly to the spiritual renaissance of the monastery, encouraging many monks in his territories to come here.

When Chariton was ordained metropolitan bishop of Hungary and Wallachia, he re­tained his position as hegumen of the monastery and supported Koutloumousiou in every possible way. Thus, in the follow­ing years, Koutloumousiou began to acquire fame and, as a result, Patriarch Antony pro­claimed it a "patriarchal", stavropegiac monastery. Chariton managed to retain the Greek identity of the monastery, despite the fact that its revival was due to the strong in­flux of Rumanian monks who came to set­tle there.

In 1497, a terrible fire broke out, with dev­astating results. This time, help came from the ruler of Wallachia, Radul the Great, who provided the funds for the restoration of the buildings that had been destroyed by the fire. In 1508, that same Radul financed the construction of the great tower. Help also came from the voivode Neagu, thanks to whom the restoration was completed. During the following decades, the influence of the Rumanian monks decreased considerably, and the monastery, now in pre­dominantly Greek hands, held the sixth place in the hierarchy of the Athonite monas­teries, a position which it retains to this day. The financial support of the Rumanian rulers continued until 1861, when the Ru­manian State was established, but prince Alexander John confiscated the entire prop­erty owned by the monastery in that coun­try.

In the meantime, Koutloumousi had won die favour of other benefactors. Thus, when, a devastating fire destroyed the eastern wing of the monastery in 1767, the damage was once again repaired thanks to the generous assistance of the patriarch of Alexandria Matthew III, who retired to Koutloumousi as a simple monk and donated to it his en­tire property.

The support of Greek bishops permitted the survival of the Koudoumousiou monastery after the fires of 1857 and 1870 which, for­tunately, touched neither the Katholikon nor the library and sacristy. The latest dis­aster of this kind occurred in 1980, when the entire east wing was consumed by flames. The edifice of the katholikon as seen today dates from 1540. The murals, painted by artists of the Cretan School, date from the same period, but they were later painted over.

Besides the 100 portable icons, particular­ly revered is an icon of the Virgin. Incor­porated in the outer narthex is the chapel containing the miracle-working icon of the "Dreadful Protection", considered inde­structible by fire, since it has survived so many blazes. It is probably of Cretan origin and, according to tradition, once, when pi­rates attacked the monastery, the Virgin sent an impenetrable fog which obliged the surprised attackers to beat a hasty retreat. On an interior wall, almost hidden in a niche, there is a wall painting showing the emperor Andronicus II, who was a great benefac­tor of the monastery. The Refectory dates from the 18th century, while the phiale and the free-standing bell tower date from the 19th century.

In the library there are 3,500 printed vol­umes, over 350 manuscripts and 100 rich­ly illuminated parchments. Codex No.60. dating from 1171, presents an interesting particularity. It differs from the rest in that the traditional golden ground suggesting the "other-worldly", is here painted in very realistic deep blue tones.

In the treasury are preserved precious vest­ments and objects of great value, as well as relics of saints, such as those of saint Gerasimos (1812), which survived all the fires. Eighteen kellia and 3 hermitages come un­der the jurisdiction of the Koutloumousiou Monastery, as does also the nearby Greek Skete of St. Panteleimon. Approximately half of the 23 kalyves of this beautiful Skete are inhabited today. Koutloumousiou is ded­icated to the Transfiguration of the Lord and its feast-day is on 6 August.

PHOTOS OF MONASTERY

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