Architecture Around the World
The Monastery of Barlaam, Greece
TEXT Beneath Illustrations
THE MONASTERY OF BARLAAM
In the mid 14th century the hermit Barlaam climbed the rock and built a few cells and a small chapel which he dedicated to the Three Hierarchs. He lived there in seclusion, dressed in tattered rags and lost in prayer till the end of his days.
The buildings remained deserted for many years after his death but early in the 16th century two brothers, the monks Nektarios and Theophanis, scions of the noble family of Apsarades from Ioannina who had already spent seven years on the column or rock of the Forerunner in the monastery of the Great Meteoron, ascended the rock and single-handed began to rebuild the church of the Three Hierarchs that Barlaam had erected.
The two brothers mention the ascent they made of the rock in their will:
"Having found the wide and lofty and tranquil rock, called Barlaam after the monk Barlaam who lived upon it long ago and from whom it received its name, to be of ample space and acceptable to us as a habitation though uninhabited for many years and utterly desolate as a buildingqround, we commenced in 1518 to renovate and build upon it in order to make it habitable.
As time passed the monks increased in number till they were thirty in all, and then the two brothers built a second church, the katholikon, which is greater in width and has twin domes; they dedicated it in 1542 to All Saints
The rapid growth of coenobitic life and the spiritual heights it attained there led to the monastery's enrichment by the two founders and by gifts from the faithful of estates, vineyards, olive groves, and metochia.
Even after their death ๑ Theophanis died in 1544 and Nektarios in 1550๑the monastery continued to flourish, attracting yet more monks who obediently followed the instructions left by the founders in their will:
"...it is required that those who embrace the monastic life therein hold and perform all things in common, the fare at table, the clothing and footwear, the taking of decisions the living quarters..."
J.J. Bjornstaal visited Barlaam in 1779 and wrote a description of life in the monastery:
"The abbot of the monastery, Father Anatolios, who is also the sacristan and librarian, received me with every courtesy. There are two churches here. The monks are not above 9 or 10 in number and all the persons living up here on the rock do not exceed 24 individuals including the monastery servants. No woman has climbed up here since the founding of the monastery. Nor to the Meteoron. The abbot accompanied me to one of the churches which is not so large as that of the Meteoron but much more beautiful. It has two lovely small domes and is fairly well lit. Everywhere inside you see wall paintings in the local style, lacking perspective and shadowing. The Monastery of Barlaam was built 7044 years after the creation of the world, that is, in 1535 after Christ, as recorded in an inscription on a stone near the windlass with which they hoist you up...".
Immured in the sanctuary apse of the church of the Three Hierarchs, the first to be built on the rock, is a clay tile with the date 1627 on it, the year in which the building was restored. The church is a single-aisled basilica with a wooden ceiling and a wealth of finely executed wallpaintings.
In the account of their lives the founders Theophanis and Nektarios state that the church of All Saints built in 1542 was completed in twenty days.
See also: Byzantine Architecture