Nearer my God to Thee!
I was there. I was close. I visited the monastery on Amorgos yesterday. Way up in the sky sitting on the side of a very high cliff.
Some pertinent background information first. Then my personal experience.
The Monastery is also called the Monastery of Hozoviotissa. Do not ask what it means. I do not know. Could not ascertain. It has something to do with the Virgin Mary, however.
There was an Emperor Alexius back in the 11th century. Whether he was emperor of only Amorgos or more, I do not know. As the story goes, a mysterious icon of the Virgin Mary arrived on the beach below the cliff. No one knew nor could discover where it came from.
Emperor Alexius concluded it had been Divinely sent to him. He decided to build a shrine on the spot to honor the Virgin.
The spot could not be the beach. A house cannot be built on sand. There was only the beach and a cliff. The cliff towered. Straight up. Three thousand feet or better. Alexius decided the shrine should be built on the side of the cliff. The cliff that was sheer and high.
He ended up building a monastery to house the Virgin icon. The Monastery constructed is 8 stories tall. For real. Built a couple of thousand feet up the side of a sheer wall of stone. The Monastery itself is constructed of stone, marble and whatever concrete was back then.
Now to put everything in perspective. Louis’ journey and visit to the Monastery.
My first step was to take a bus. To Chora. The old part of town I visited a couple of days ago. The road to Chora is basically straight up a high mountain. The Chora area continues straight up. Evverything here is up, up and more up!
Fortunately, the bus dropped me off near the top side of the Chora. Then it was a long walk to the gate to the Monastery. Up hill, of course.
The gate did not mean I was there. It was merely an entrance.
The next step (a good word to use) in the process was to climb the steps to the Monastery. Note, I am walking up the side of a sheer cliff.
There are 300 steps. They twist a bit. Always up. Never down. Not even once.
The steps are not of normal construction. Their height varied little. Their width and length very much. Like 5-10 feet.
The steps were constructed of stone. A slate type. I do not know if they are the original steps from the 11th century or have been replaced. The stones/slates were worn. A few missing here and there.
Basically, the steps had the side of the cliff on one side and a drop off the cliff on the other.
The Monastery was at the other end of the 300 steps. Almost straight up. I keep stressing the straight. Simply because it was that way. I would estimate the steps were at a 75 degree angle or better. That is straight up!
You will recall, I failed to make it to the top of the volcano. I was not gung ho to make it to the top here. If I did, good. If not, it would have been a valiant effort. I would give it a try!
I made it to the top. To the Monastery. It took a while. Quite a while. I stopped about a dozen times. Sat a while on a step. The stress on my body did not seem as bad as the volcano attempt.
I was thinking why was I making it now and could not with the volcano. I concluded because the volcano was early in my trip and a first attempt at something high and steep. Everything is upward bound in Greece. Hills and steps every where. I have been in Greece more than three weeks now. My body gotten a bit in shape and adapted to the terrain.
The end of the steps did not take me directly into the Monastery. There was still a long walk up a path to the Monastery door.
I was there!
Awesome is the only way to describe what I saw. A mammoth white building running to the sky. Recall, the building is described as eight stories tall. That is tall. Especially when you are standing at the foot of the structure.
The building was constructed on the side of a sheer cliff. I could not help but think sadly how many slaves were involved and how many died in erecting this shrine. I also thought the engineers and architects of the 11th century had to be brilliant to have constructed such a large edifice under extremely difficult conditions.
The front door. Small. Tiny. At best 5 feet in height. Maybe less. Three to three and a half feet in width. The only entrance. I had to bend over to enter.
I suspect the Monastery entrance was so constructed because people were shorter back then. Additionally, it was a good way to ward off invaders. Only one bad guy at a time could enter.
The first room on the other side of the entrance. The first thing I saw was a table with clothes. Women’s dresses, men’s pants, etc.
There is a strict dress code. No shorts on men. Women in dresses. Not even pants. Shoulders and beasts covered. If you are not so attired, the monks provide the appropriate clothing. I was glad I had been forewarned. I wore khakis. The clothes available at the monastery were filthy. Looked like they had not been washed in 50 years.
Awesome continued to be my impression as I walked through the rooms. Amazing what my eyes beheld.
Art work in each room. Fantastic art work! Paintings. Icons. The sanctuary where the Virgin Mary icon was shown defies description. That beautiful.
An eight story structure has many windows. The views from the windows magnificent! Open sea to the front. The beach below. All in glorious color. It was like almost being in Heaven and looking down.
There was a social aspect. A monk came out at the end of our visit. The only monk I had seen. The monks here take a vow never to speak or see outsiders the rest of their lives. This monk apparently had a dispensation.
We were seated in a long narrow room. There was a throne at one end. A long narrow beautiful wood table. A long couch with very comfortable cushions on each side.
The monk served us a sweet drink. A wine of some sort. And a sweet. A piece of candy covered with sugar. He spoke. Gave some sort of dissertation. Unfortunately, it was in Greek. I understood none of it.
The monk was interesting. He was tall and thin. Appeared aged. Had a very long beard. Like down to his chest. He was dressed in a blue flowing robe. A hat/head cover of the same color.
I found his hands and face skin interesting. Dirty. Perhaps he had come to see us directly from the fields. But there were no fields. We were attached to a cliff. Then, he did not bathe that often. It was the only viable conclusion I could come to.
Between the dirty clothes at the beginning for those not properly dressed and the monk’s lack of cleanliness, I assumed the axiom that cleanliness is next to Godliness did not apply at the Monastery.
I made a meager contribution to the Monastery as I left.
There was a guest book. I signed and dated it. I wanted the whole world to know I had made it. I also inscribed above my signature…..Just amazing!!!
The trip down was not so bad. I took my time so I would not fall.
The bus was at the end of the Chora waiting where we had been dropped off. It was back to Amorgos.
An interesting trip. I am glad I have been able to share it with you.
Enjoy your day!