THE SAINT STEPHEN MONASTERY

The Monastery of St. Stephen is situated on the southeast end of the complex of the Meteor rocks, right above the town of Kalabaka and is the only monastery that one can visit without using stairs because the approach can be done by a small bridge.

The view from the balcony of the monastery is magnificent. Down in the valley lies Kalabaka and further away the Peinios river.

Since 1961 this monastery is a nunnery with a large and active sisterhood, who along with the rich spiritual and charitable work, can show a remarkable renovating and building activity in the monastery. An old tradition connects this monastery with female monasticism. The Swede traveler Jonas Bjornstahl, who visited St. Stephen on 3 April 1779, notes certain things for the monastery which he probably had heard by monks and nearby residents: “At the beginning this monastery was for women who loved quietism but later became abandoned until re-inhabited by monks”.

The history of the early years of the monastery is lost in the past, covered by the mist of legends and traditions as it happens with the history of most monasteries.

The only proved evidence is the inscription carved on a rock near the outer entrance of the monastery, which was noticed and mentioned by old travelers and visitors (the Swede Bjornstahl in Apr. 1779, the scholar Metropolitan of Caesaria in Philippos Palaestine Agathangelos in 1835/36, the French traveler-archaeologist L. Heuzey in Aug. 1859, the Russian Archimandrite Porphyrios Uspenskij in Apr. 1859) as well as local scholar at the beginning of our century (the historian – archaeologist N. Giannopoulos in 1926 and the theologian high-scholl teacher in Trikala Io. Papasotiriou in July 1927). This inscription, unfortunately lost, unknown when (yet definitely after 1927), according to the opinion of those who had read it, bore the date ςψ’ since the creation of the world [6700-5509/8 = 1191/92 A.D.] and the name ΙΕΡΕΜΙΑC (Jeremiah). Although the origin as well as the purpose of this inscription have not been ascertained yet, probably the name Ieremias denotes the first saintly hermit who had lived in a cave of this blessed rock.

Two are for sure the founders of the monastery: first the Archimandrite saintly Antonios around the first half of the 15th century, whom a later tradition connected with the glorious Byzantine family of Kantakouzinos and second the priest-monk Saint Filotheos from Sthlataina or Sklataina (today Rizoma village in the region of Trikala) around the middle of the 16th century.

Saint Filotheos, shortly before 1545, renovated or rebuilt from its foundations the old small and elegant katholikon of the monastery, the church of St. Stephen. He also built cells for the monks and other useful constructions, supplied the monastery with ecclesiastical vessels and manuscripts and finally established the coenobitic life to the brotherhood.

We do not have the exact day of the construction of the original church of St. Stephen, which was replaced by the present church in the middle of the 16th century by the priest-monk Filotheos. It probably happened in the 14th/15th century as it happened with the churches of nearly all the other Meteora Monasteries.

AsigillionoftheEcumenicalPatriarchIeremiasI, emanatedinFebr. 1545 afterapetitionofsaintFilotheos, confirmstheindependenceofthemonasteryaswellasitscoenobiticlifeandreferstotheconstructionworkandotheractivitiesoftheenergeticandpiouspriest-monk: «+ Επειδη ζηλω θειω κινηθεις ο οσιωτατος εν ιερομοναχοις κυριος Φιλοθεος ανεκαινισε τον σεβασμιον και θειον ναον, τον εις ονομα τιμωμενον του αγιου αρχιδιακονου Στεφανου, τον κειμενον εν τη κορυφη, εχων συνεργον και βοηθον εις την εξοδον αυτην και τον εν ιερομοναχοις κυριον Γερασιμον... αλλα δη και τους λοιπους μοναχους, τους ενασκουμενους εν τω ρηθεντι σεβασμιω ναω, και ως ειπειν εκ βαθρων θεμελιων τουτον ανηγειρε και εκοσμησεν ο ρηθεις οσιωτατος ιερομοναχος, και κελλας γυρωθεν πηξας προς αναπαυσιν των ενασκουμενων εκεισε και των αλλων πως παρατυγχανοντων, και λοιπαις οικοδομαις ανακτισας και βελτιωσας αυτην, ετι δε και σκευη και βιβλια εκκλησιαστικα συναξας και ιερεων αλλαγας και τ’αλλα παντα τα αρμοζοντα τη μονη, προς τοις δε και μετοχιον εν τη χωρα της Σθλαταινας ποιησας ... και κοινοβιακως ζην επαγγειλαμενοι, εζητησαν τη ημων μετριοτητι, ινα δια γραμματος αυτης πατριαρχικου βεβαιωσωμεν αυτην, του ειναι ακαταπατητον παρα του θεοφιλεστατου επισκοπου Σταγων και του οσιωτατου καθηγουμενου της σεβασμιας και βασιλικης του Μετεωρου μονης και των λοιπων των εν τη σκητη Τουτου γαρ χαριν εγενετο και το παρον ημετερον πατριαρχικον γραμμα και επεδοθη τη ρηθειση σεβασμια μονη του αγιου αρχιδιακονου Στεφανου εν ετει ζνγ΄[7053-5508 = 1545]... μηνι φεβρουαριω, ινδικτιωνος γ΄».

“Stimulated by divine zeal the very saintly priest-monk Filotheos rebuilt this venerable church in the honour of archdeacon St. Stephen on the top of the rock. Having as helper in his effort the priest-monk Gerasimos as well as the other monks who lived there, Filotheos erected the venerable church from its foundations and decorated it and also built cells for the monks and the visitors of the monastery. He improved the rest of the constructions and also gave many ecclesiastical vessels and manuscripts and sacred vestments and everything appropriate for the monastery; moreover he provided the monastery with a dependency in the territory of Sthlataina… and promising to lead a coenobitic life, they asked me to confirm and secure with this letter the rights and privileges of this monastery, so it will be inviolable by the Eminent bishop of Stagoi and the Most Saintly Abbot of the holy royal monastery of the Great Meteoron. This is why the present patriarchical letter is written and given to the venerable monastery of the archdeacon Saint Stephen in [7053-5508 = 1545] February, 3rd indiction”.

The small church of St. Stephen is a single-aisled basillican erected by Filotheos with wooden roof and an esonarthex separated from the nave by a three-arched opening as it happened with the early Christian basillican churches, where the nave communicated with the narthex.

Around 1545 or later, it was decorated during the abbacy of Metrophanis. Nowadays the well-cleaned and preserved wall paintings give a very interesting example of the metabyzantine hagiography. Very remarkable is the representation of the 24 “Oikoi” of Theotokos and of course all the other full-bodied saints. In the sanctuary there is the usual iconographic cycle: The Platitera of Heavens (The Virgin Mary) on the apse, as protector of the Christian and the whole world, the holy communion and figures of great hierarchs. On the left and right side of the entrance of the narthex there are the figures of the two founders priest-monks Antonios and Filotheos, wearing monastic frocks, with a divine serenity and heavenly peace on their austere faces, flanked by the Lords of the angelic hosts, Gabriel and Michael.

The inscription on the west wall of the narthex over the entrance and under the Assumption informs us about the painting of the Assumption, which was made by the priest and painter Nicholaos from Kastraki.

+ Ο ΠΑΝΣΕΠ(Τ)ΟΣ Κ(ΑΙ) ΘΕΙΩΣ ΝΑΩΣ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ Κ(ΑΙ) ΕΝΔΟΞΟΥ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΥ ΠΡΩΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟΣ Κ(ΑΙ) ΑΡΧΙΔΙ/ΑΚΟΝΟΥ ΣΤΕΦΑΝΟΥ ΕΙΣΤΩΡΙΘΗ ΔΙΑ ΣΗΝΔΡΟΜΗΣ Κ(ΑΙ) ΕΞΩΔΟΥ ΠΑΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΝΟΣΙΩΤΑΤΟΥ ΚΑΘΕΙΓΟΥΜΕΝΟΥ/ ΚΥΡΟΥ ΜΗΤΡΟΦΑΝΟΥ ΙΕΡΟΜ(ΟΝΑ)ΧΟΥ΄Κ(ΑΙ) ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΥ ΙΕΡ(Ο)Μ(ΟΝΑ)ΧΟΥ΄ ΜΕΤΑΓΕΝΕΣΤΑΙΡΩΝ ΑΝΑΚΕΝΙΣΘΗ, Η ΚΕΙΜΗΣΙΣ ΤΗΣ ΥΠΕΡΑΓ(ΙΑΣ) ΔΕΣΠΕΙΝΗΣ ΗΜΩΝ/ ΘΕ(ΟΤΟ)ΚΟΥ Κ(ΑΙ) ΑΕΙΠΑΡΘΕΝΟΥ ΜΑΡΙ(ΑΣ)΄ Κ(ΑΙ) ΤΟΥ ΚΑΤΩΘΕΝ, ΔΙΑ ΣΗΝΔΡΟΜΗΣ Κ(ΑΙ) ΕΞΩΔΟΥ΄ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΝΟΣΙΩΤΑΤΟΥ Κ(ΑΙ) ΚΑΘΕΙΓΟΥΜΕΝΟΥ ΚΥΡΟΥ...ΟΥ ΙΕΡΟΜ(ΟΝ)ΑΧ(ΩΝ)΄ ΕΙΣΤΩΡΙΘΗ ΔΕ Κ(ΑΙ) ΔΙΑ ΧΕΙΡΟΣ ΚΑΜΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΑΜΑΡΤΩΛΟΥ΄ ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟΥ ΙΕΡΕΩΣ΄ Κ(ΑΙ) ΚΑΤΡΗΣΙΟΣ ΕΚ ΧΩΡ(ΑΣ) ΣΤΑΓΩΝ ΕΝ ΕΤΙ ζω...

“The most venerable and holy church of the saintly apostle, protomartyr and archdeacon Stephen was illustrated at the expenses and with the help of the most Saintly Superior Metrophanis and the priest-monk Gregorios. Later the Assumption of our Holy Virgin was restored at the expenses and with the help of the most Saintly Superior… and the rest of the monks. It was painted by my hands, the humble priest Nicholaos from Kastraki of the region of Stagoi in the year ζω...».

During the last war there were caused a lot of damages on the paintings of St. Stephen and on the building of Saint Charalampos, as well.

In 1798 when Paisios Kleinovitis was the bishop of Stagoi (12 May 1784-1808) and when Amvrosios was the superior of the monastery, the present very imposing katholikon was built in honour of St. Charalampos whose skull is kept as a holy treasure, a priceless gift from the sovereign of Vlachia Vladislav and the relative of the great vornic Dragomit.

It must be noted that very early the Monastery attached closely to the Romanian royal House of Vlachia, who constructed and devoted to the monastery as dependency the chapel of the Transfiguration of the Saviour at Butoi near Tirgovisto in Romania and donated holy relics, vessels, sacred vestment etc. We do not have the exact dates of these events. Scholars propose some possible dates from the late 14th century up to the beginning of the 16th century.

The new katholikon of the monastery imitates the architectural style of Mount Athos. The main church is inscribed, cruciform, four columned with two lateral conches to the right and left, the choirs; an ample esonarthex-lite precedes which has four columns in the center to support its roof. Remarkable and impressing are the high and narrow domes, the central one (which is the largest) of the nave and two smaller of the sanctuary over the offertory and the diaconical. On the north outer side of the Church wall there is the addition of an arehed colonnade-exonarthex which according to the inscription was built when Theophanis was superior, who succeeded Amvrosios, at the beginning of the 19th century.

Remarkable is the activity of the Superior Konstantinos from Kalabaka (in the middle of the past century) in constructural, spiritual, social fields etc, who in 1857 erected the refectory of the monastery and many other buildings near the old small church of Saint Stephen. Very important was his contribution to education at those difficult times. At his own expenses the “Konstantinion elementary school of Kalabaka” was built and serious amounts of money were given for the erection of a school in Trikala.

It should be mentioned that the Monastery of St. Stephen was concerned a lot about Greek education. The famous hierarch and teacher Dorotheos Scholarios (1812-1888) from the village of Ventista (the present Amaranto) in Kalabaka region, came to this monastery in order to satisfy his literary aptitude. But even recently in the decade of 1970 an orphanage-school functioned here very successfully under the direction of the nuns-teachers of St. Stephen.

In the monastery are kept nowadays 147 manuscripts, a lot of which are ornated with miniatures of fine artistry, elaborated headpieces and colorful, decorative initials. Among the famous calligraphers-illuminators of the middle of the 17th century we have to mention the artistic set of Luke from Hungarovlachia and Matthew from Myrea, the priest-monk Anthimos from Giannena and the bishop of Sides and later of Ganos Iakovos. Among the most remarkable manuscripts exposed in the museum, four folios in vellum of the 16th/17th century are very important for their palaeographic value including extracts from St. Matthew’s Gospel in majuscule script. There is also a rich and rare collection of palaetypes.

In the old refectory which is rearranged to a museum today, are exposed many precious heirlooms of the monastery such as post-byzantine portable icons, gold embroidered vestments, wood-carved and of silver casing setcrosses, elaborated silver pieces of art cincences, communion cups etc). Among the portable icons, of great importance is the “Apokathelosis” (the Deposition from the cross), a masterpiece by the great Cretan painter Emmanuel Jane (17th cent.).

Astonishing is the gold-embroidered epitaphios of the year 1857 with a main many-figured composition and collateral representations on the border (the four Evangelists at the corners, the Annunciation, the Holy Trinity and the Baptism on the upper register, while the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection on the lower ornated with vignettes). Of great artistic value are the magnificently gilded wood-carved Royal Doors of St. Stephen’s iconostasis with the regular representation of the Annunciation on the upper part.

Finally an exquisite work of woodcarving, with elaborated vignettes and admirable combinations of birds, animals and human figures, is the iconostasis of the modern katholikon (St. Charalampos), which was carved in 1814 by Costas and Dimitris from Metsovo, at the expenses of the bishop of Stagoi Gabriel during the abbacy of Theophanis. The whole work costed 1000 grossia. Of the same artistic execution are the woodcarved box on the Altar, the four prie-dieux, the throne of the Abbot in the nave and four elegant elaborately decorated prie-dieux in the life (esonarthex) made in 1836 during the abbacy of Ierotheos.   


Δημιουργία ιστοτόπου ΑΔΑΜ ΠΛΗΡΟΦΟΡΙΚΗ