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Abbeys - Monasteries
Monastery of Esfigmenou
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The Monastery Esfigmenou is located at the northeast tip of Mount Athos. There are two versions on the origin of its name that its literal translation is ‘tightened’. Some support that is the area’s geography (it is build on a stretch of land, tightened by three surrounding mountains) and others that it took the name of a monk who used to call ‘Esfigmenos’ because he was tightened his belt very much.

According to the tradition, the monastery was founded by Theodosius II and his sister Pulcheria in the 5th century. It closed in the period 830-870 due to the Agarians’ attacks. The monks returned back after 80 years. In the years 133 and 1634 it suffered many Saracens invasions. The pirates looted, burnt and captured many monks. The monastery stopped operating in the 14th century due to lack of money. The monk Efthimios Kesareas put the monastery back together towards the end of 1700 while in the mid 1850 the monk Agathaggelos made some additions and inaugurate it. During the Greek Revolution it was used as a shelter for the fighters while its long distance from the borders of Mount Athos is the cause of the numerous sufferings from the Turks.

Since 1972 the monks of the monastery were self-cut off from the rest of the monastic community on Mount Athos, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church.

Architecture

The Catholicon stands at the monastery’s west part and is dedicated to the Ascension of Christ. Its construction started in 1808 and the monastery was inaugurated in 1811 by the Patriarch Grigorios the E. It consists of three parts; the Narthex, the Pro-Narthex (where the Library and the Vestry stand) and the Exo-Narthex. The Catholicon’s interior is really impressive, 8 domes are supported on 10 columns. The Holy Table (1810) is wooden like the gilded iconastasis that is decorated with motifs from the Bible. The icons and the hagiography found here are many and represent Saints and Orthodox motifs. Some of the most noteworthy are the icons of Christ, the God’s Mother, the Ascension and John the Baptist that date to 1850.

The Refectory is housed in a building opposite the Catholicon, with a capability of 100 seats. One of the most important features here are the murals, charred from the Turkish occupation.

The Bell Tower stands right at the south wing. It was constructed in 1851 and its entrance is covered in murals by the monks. The embedded clock has got Greek, Latin, Arabian and Turkish characters on its four sides.

The monastery’s wings are four-storey buildings that attribute the place a fortress-like character. Internally, the corridors are cobble-stoned and wooden. Here operate: a nursing home, a dentist’s, a hospital, a tailor’s, a cobbler’s, a wax workshop and other storing and secondary rooms.

The monastery has got 8 chapels, the half of which is located inside the monastery whereas the other half stand at the wider area.

The rest buildings, apart from secondary rooms, include: the oil house, the oven, the winery, the kitchen and the Font.

Artifacts

Most of the monastery’s artifacts are kept in the Vestry and the Library (at the top of the Narthex) and include priests’ robes, ecclesiastic items and crosses. The Shrine hosts the relics of 56 Saints. The precious icon of Jesus Christ (13th century), the Scene of Napoleon 1st, the gilded Cross of Pulcheria (a Byzantine-art object of priceless value) and the miraculous icon of Theomitoros (God’s Mother) are kept in the monastery too.

Moreover, there is a noteworthy Library that includes about 372 manuscripts, the 75 of which are written on a parchment. Some of these documents are significant thanks to their age others thanks to their rich content and others thanks to their elaborated decoration. The library’s rich collection is enriched with 2000 books from various fields.

How to reach the Monastery

You can reach the monastery through Thessaloniki on the way to Ierissos either on a private vehicle or by KTEL buses. Once you reach Ierissos (Longitude: 23° 52´ 35´´ latitude: 40° 23´ 35´´) taxi boats will carry you to the monastery (1,5h).

Useful Information

The Monastery Esfigmenou is approachable only by sea, via Dafnis port or via the dock of the Monastery Iviron. Greek citizens can enter the monastery without special permission. Citizens of other countries can enter under a special permission. If you wish to spend the night at the monastery, you should obtain a special permission called ‘Diamonitirio’ from the capital of Mount Athos.

Females can neither enter the monastery nor the whole area of Mount Athos.

-Monastery Esfigmenou: +3(0)2377023229 / +3(0)2377023653, Fax: +3(0)2377023682, e-mail: info@esphigmenou.gr

- Port Authority in Ierissos : +3(0)2377022576

- Police Station in Karies : +3(0)2377023212

- Ticket Office in Ierissos: +3(0)2377021041