Monastery Dionisiou Mount Athos

On the southern side of the promonto­ry, on the western shore, atop a steep rock which rises to a height of 50 me­tres, stands the Monastery of Dionysiou. Tra­dition has it that Dionysius from Coryssos had grouped some monks around him on this rock and that he later retreated to a cave a little higher up. One night a glow appeared in the sky, “light from the light eternal” which shone for a long time above the rock; Diony­sius interpreted this heavenly sign as a com­mand to found a monastery.

With Dionysius came his brother Theodosius to be a monk on Athos. While Diony­sius went into retreat and lived on the rock as a hermit monk, his brother joined the community of the Monastery of Philotheou. Theodosius later came to the imperial court, rose in office rapidly, became the spiritual father of the emperor Alexius III Comnenus and was ordained Metropolitan Bishop of Trebizond. In 1347, Theodosius persuad­ed the emperor to recognize the foundation of the monastery of Dionysiou and ratify this decision by a chrysobull. This exquis­itely decorated document, adorned with miniatures representing Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Trebizond, his wife Theodora and St. John the Baptist, not only ratified the disbursement of the sum granted for the erection of the monastery, but also ordered the payment of a considerable annual sub­sidy in return for the renaming of the mo­nastery as Monastery of the Great Comnenus. Later benefactors of the monastery were the Palaeologan emperors John and Constantine, but the fall of Constantinople in 1453 put an abrupt stop to the grants.

The Byzantine benefactors were succeeded by the rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia. The names of Radul and Neagu (1512-1521) who provided the funds necessary for the con­struction of the fortified tower and of the aqueduct, are particularly mentioned.

In October 1535 a terrible fire burnt down almost all the buildings of the monastery ex­cept the Tower, which was better equipped to withstand this catastrophe. Once again the rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia manifest­ed their interest by ensuring the reconstruction of the eastern wing of the monastery com­plex, which included the kitchen, the wine cellar, and other auxiliary areas. The Grand Duke Peter IV laid the foundations of the new Katholikon, while the Duke Alexander IV and his wife Roxandra, daughter of Pe­ter, assumed the costs of the reconstruction of the Refectory (1568) and of a six-storeyed edifice on the seaward side, the picturesque balconies and covered passages of which to this day give the monastery its characteristic appearance. The part of the complex ex­tending towards the garden is attributed to the brothers Lazarus and Boris from Piavista. To these benefactors may be added the bishops Macarius and Jeremiah who lived in the monastery until their death and be­queathed to it their considerable property. After the great fire of 1535, the Katholikon was built (1537-1547) in the narrow court­yard of the monastery, and decorated with marvellous murals, which are attributed to one of the main representatives of the Cre­tan School, Zorzis. A Typikon of 1634 records that the wall paintings of the monastery of Dionysiou were executed by the outstanding painter, “Master Zorzis the Cretan”.

The murals of the narthex are of a later date and were painted by a Rumanian artist. The very impressive iconostasis is entirely cov­ered with pure gold leaf and is among the most notable of Athos. In this iconostasis are set the most important icons of the Mona­stery, among which are five icons of the Great Deesis, by the famed Cretan painter, Eu-phrosynos (1542).

However, the most important icon of the monastery is kept in the chapel of the Akathis-tos, and is the Virgin of the Akathistos, which is ascribed to the Evangelist Luke. During the siege of Constantinople by the Avars in 626, Patriarch Sergius carried the icon around the walls of the city and showed it to the besieged to encourage them. The Akathistos Hymn, which was composed by Sergius him­self, is today sung daily before the icon. Between the Katholikon and the Refectory, with its exquisite murals of the “Asomatoi” and the Ladder to Heaven, there is a porti­co with wall paintings depicting scenes of the Apocalypse which are among the most impressive and famous wall paintings of the Athonite monasteries. A carved wooden door with representations of mythical animals leads to the Refectory.

In the sacristy are kept treasures many cen­turies old, such as a relief ivory plaque with scenes of the Crucifixion, gold crosses, chal­ices,, Gospels, and a liturgical New Testament dating from 1201, whose binding is very fineldecorated with enamel.

The library contains approximately 1100 manuscripts and 27 scrolls, as well as over 5,000 incunabula, numerous 16th-centun dictionaries, and Alexius’ magnificent illuminated chrysobull, ratifying the foundation of the monastery.

Some of the Gospels have particularly beautiful and elaborate bindings. Such a one is the 13th-century Tetraevangelon, bound in an exquisitely carved wooden cover fashioned with incredible delicacy. Among the holy relics are the right hand of Saint John the Baprist,as well as a segment of the iron chains with which Peter had been chained when in Rome. In the crypt of the Katholikon are kept the relics of Niphon I, patriarch of Constantinople (1486-1489 and 1497-1498) who spent his last years in the monastery of Dionysion without at first being recognized. He was later canonized.