Visit of Meteora

The Greek winter is dying quickly again this year, according to the unanimous affirmation of the moment, thus paraphrasing a talented spy and equally famous writer. End of February in the land of Zeus and it is already Spring, even under the rocks of the eternal Meteora. Visiting them at this time of year also avoids the usual crowds of the high summer season.
This is exactly what we did, because “Greece Differently” is first and foremost for all times.

Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

And as for our… author of the moment as well as of the places, he was Patrick Leigh Fermor, born on 11 February 1915 in London and died on 10 June 2011 in Gloucestershire, south-west England. He died the day after his return to England from Greece, at the age of 96.

A travel writer, he was first an officer of the SOE in Greece during the Second World War. It should be remembered that the famous “Special Operations Executive” was a British secret service that operated during the Second World War in all the countries at war, including Greece.

Under the guise of other professional activities, most of which were mostly concrete, several men and a few women were already operating in Greece in the 1930s in addition to spies, recruited locally. Note that all these British agents, as it must be specified agents of other countries and in particular Germany, Italy and France, they were officially at their hours… entrepreneurs, archaeologists, journalists, teachers and, of course, diplomats. And sometimes even… tourists.

So, apart from Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, 1912-1990, the other famous British writer was also there. This is not to say that their literary works are to be neglected, often quite the contrary.

According to the BBC, on the occasion of his knighthood in 2004 for services rendered to literature and the links between the United Kingdom and Greece… “Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor was a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.” Probably.

Patrick Leigh Fermor photographed by Joan in Nafplio circa 1950

In 1942, Fermor parachuted into occupied Crete, among other missions, in order to organize armed resistance to the German troops occupying the island. In April 1944, he took an active part in the kidnapping of German General Karl Kreipe, 1895-1976, for which he was later decorated. Indeed, Leigh Fermor and those of his commando managed to cross the whole of Crete with their distinguished hostage, pursued by German troops, to finally embark him for Alexandria. 1

During these action-packed times, Fermor observed everything, rubbed shoulders with the Greeks, learned their language and finally took many notes, which would also be useful for his work as a writer and even as a painter a few years later. After the war, he first became a screenwriter in Hollywood. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s 1958 film “The Roots of Heaven”, based on the novel by Romain Gary, starring Trevor Howard, Errol Flynn, Orson Welles and Juliette Greco.

He will travel widely across the wide world… including that of the British Empire and he wrote his first book, “The Travellers Tree”, in 1950, followed by several other books situated between travelogue, adventure and ethnography. Gradually, Patrick Leigh Fermor spent most of the year in Greece and more precisely in Kardamýli in Mani, accompanied by his wife Joan Leigh Fermor who was a photographer, she died in 2003. Together, they had already travelled through much of Greece after the Second World War, except that Leigh Fermor had travelled to Greece as early as the 1930s, and it was on this occasion that he had visited the monasteries of Meteora for the first time.

A precursor among these sufficiently adventurous wealthy travellers, all heralds of the mechanised mass tourism of the post-war period, Leigh Fermor will also discover what Greece and the Balkans were then consubstantial with balkanisation, including the empires that had so marked men and places, ranging from the Hellenistic world to the Ottomans. passing through Rome and Byzantium.

The kidnapping of German General Karl Kreipe. Crete, April 1944

On his journey to Constantinople, Fermor was one of the last travellers able to travel through the remnants of old Europe left by the First World War; customs, beliefs, strange dialects, hidden tribes, curious institutions, mystical religiosity. In other words, before they disappeared forever, because all these “curiosities” were finally largely swept away from their lands by the Second World War or by modernity in great strides.

Some of them will even be placed in a new place as soon as possible. basket labelled “heritage”, before they disappeared behind the Iron Curtain for the newly communist countries, or under a certain rapid and overwhelming westernization in the case of Greece.

It should be noted that the great division of Europe already during the interwar period, when Hitler had already been in power since 1933, struck Patrick Leigh Fermor personally. But somehow… He made up for it in those years with his Byzantine love.

In 1935 in Athens, he met and fell in love with Balasha Cantacuzène, a princess and painter belonging to one of the great dynasties of Romania. It should be noted that the Cantacuzenus family came from a great Byzantine imperial family.

Balasha Cantacuzène, photographed around 1930

According to the tireless local chroniclers of the Trézène region and the island of Póros, such as Vassílis Koutouzís, it was love at first sight. Balasha Cantacuzène was 36 years old at the time, she was born in 1899, fifteen years older than the young Patrick… in all his 20 years. She had just divorced her husband, a Spanish diplomat.

We met at the right time and fell into each other’s arms” – Fermor would later write. “It was instantaneous, we were made for each other. We left together and lived for five months in a watermill in the Peloponnese. I wrote, she painted. It was heaven!

The watermill whose location Fermor did not reveal was the one in Lázaros, in the middle of the lemon forest on the island of Poros, said after investigation Vassílis Koutouzís. “The inhabitants of the place who lived… close to lovers at that time, have a lot to say even today about this love“. Note here that Vassílis Koutouzís wrote these lines in the 2000s.

They looked like two little birds in love,” they tell us. “We were happy to see them, we helped them, we gave them the services they asked for,” one resident told us. “This tall young man, with a sometimes-abstract look, who knows, was thinking about what he was going to write.”

And she, a goddess who was 35 years old at the time! She painted the waterfall of the mill, the lemon trees, the islets facing Póros and the old Monastery. From there, there was a multitude of landscapes to work on. She even drew me, but I don’t know where I got that drawing. Then they left for Romania! And we were overwhelmed… But imagine our surprise when, after 5-6 years during the Occupation, Patrick came back as commando with other Englishmen. We were happy to see him! We asked him about Balasha, where is she, what is happening to her? “Who knows”, he answered and his words hid sadness.”

It was in Bucharest, with Balasha Cantacuzène, that the young Leigh Fermor made the overwhelming discovery of a Francophile and aristocratic milieu, also frequented by a confirmed writer and diplomat, Paul Morand,2 himself married to a former Romanian princess.

Moreover, at the same time, between the lines of history as well as those of love, less than twenty years after the Great War and in the midst of the economic and political turmoil of the mid-thirties, it was this same Paul Morand who encouraged the France to revive and maintain its historic friendship “with a nation that has been suffering for a long time and which, as a member of the Little Entente, has become a shining example of stability in the Balkans“. And as for the “participating observer” Leigh Fermor with all his references… To a culture condemned in fact, sometimes unspeakable, he would later write his elegy dedicated to a lost world.

All in all, the couple would spend much of their four years together at the family estate of Balasha in Moldavia, Romania, from where Fermor returned to England immediately after Britain declared war on Germany in order to enlist, mobilized as we know as a commando and intelligence agent, among other things, thanks to his knowledge of modern Greek and the country.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, parachuted into occupied Crete, 1942

Balasha Cantacuzène later found herself trapped behind the Iron Curtain. His entire estate was seized by the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu. It took more than a quarter of a century before she and Patrick Leigh Fermor saw each other again, and for that matter for the last time. It was in 1965 when, under his identity as a journalist, he was finally able to visit Romania. The Europe they knew had disappeared forever.

So much for the times, for the time of Leigh Fermor’s stays in Meteora, especially for his first voyage, made in the mid-1930s. And as luck would have it… He wasn’t the only one. On the German side, too, there is a certain amount of tourism… let’s say intelligence, is also developing for the Balkans.

As Jean-Paul Goergen points out in his historical work on German travel films of the period, “the culture of Germanness also included long-distance travel, still rare in the 1920s, which he interpreted in a nationalistic way“.

The desire for unknown and tempting distances is a common Germanic trait, but not in just anyone. In all its components, it has become as powerful as the German people. Just as foreign travel was seen as having political significance, so too were travel films, in the service of economic propaganda and national interests.”

It’s in that vein… Baron Fred von Bohlen, filmmaker and actor, presented in 1931 his film about a car trip in the Balkans “Kalambáka. The secrets of an unknown Europe” [Kalabaka, Die Geheimnisse des unbekannten Europas], followed in 1939 by the publication of a photo album book of the same title with the subtitle: “With my Car, my camera and me alone, 20,000 kilometers through the Balkans and through Iran”.

A report by a film pioneer, enthused by “the rich booty of the camera that included new things that have never been seen before captured“. Fred von Bohlen, who in those years was head of the cultural documentary section at the production company Hegewald Film, considered himself an amateur cinephile and a lone fighter. In a brief autobiographical note from 1930, he describes himself as his own cameraman, guide, interpreter, doctor and cook who undertook his travels unprepared, without great means and as an explorer, and filmed what he loved.

In any case, it is thanks to the sequences of the film Fred von Bohlen of 1931 and more precisely from its 55th minute, that we first discover that between the capital Tríkala and Kalambáka, the town located under Meteora, there was practically no road, and that to get there, von Bohlen had his car pass through the bed of the Peneus river, obviously in the summer period. The rest plunges us into the world of Meteora and its monks, the one exactly experienced by Patrick Leigh Fermor during his first visit. Europe… that they knew, now gone forever.

Subsequently, having visited the place towards the end of the 1950s, this time accompanied by his future wife Johan, nothing or almost nothing had changed in the monks, apart from the tragedies of the Second World War in this place, from 1941 to 1944, including the savagery of the Greek Civil War from 1944 to 1949, sad realities so furtively evoked by the author.

In the meantime, the first road between Tríkala and Kalambáka, although narrow, had been laid out in the late 1930s, while the road leading from Kalambáka to the monasteries was laid out in 1958 by the Greek army. Thus, for us current visitors, the collection “Roúmeli” by Patrick Leigh Fermor, published in English in 1966 and finally translated into French in 2019, shines with its understanding of a country that otherwise escapes the gaze.

According to a fair analysis, “like Jacques Lacarrière and his Greek Summer, Leigh Fermor captures a nation in the process of tipping over into modernization and mass tourism. A Greece without electricity but solar and which leaves more room for darkness. That this country has apparently disappeared is something that any European visitor can say, and that he is naturally lamented and nostalgic. But Leigh Fermor lived in Greece and does not fall into the odious position of an aesthete preferring immaculate stripping down to alleviating the suffering of such a poor country.”

Recounting his travels in Northern Greece, Leigh Fermor takes us among the Saracatsanes, Greek shepherds of the mountains, to the monasteries of Meteora, those prodigious rocky peaks that stand in the valley of the Peneus, in Thessaly, in several unknown villages, and even in Missolonghi in search of Byron’s slippers.

Here we are at the heart of the conflict of the Greek heritage, between the splendors of the ancient world and the remains of the Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations. Patrick Leigh Fermor sees even more archaic traces that he interprets as a historian or an ethnologist. Like Mani, this book is considered a masterpiece of travel literature. The observations that punctuate this wonderful introduction to Northern Greece have lost none of their relevance.

It must be said that Roúmeli’s pages, devoted to Meteora, are more than eloquent, of which here are some excerpts.

Under Meteora. Photographed by Joan Leigh Fermor, circa 1960

Greek summer is slowly dying. October was fading into November, but only the early hour of twilight, the sudden mists, the fresh air of the mountains, and the burning of the beech trees had given us a glimpse, as we advanced from Macedonia to the eastern flank of the Pindus, autumn and winter were well on their way. There, at the point where the river Peneus empties into the Thessalian plain and wanders down its broad stony bed, the plane trees had not lost a single leaf.”

Behind us rose the Pindus, the road branching off abruptly westward over the Métsovo Pass to Ioannina and Epirus. But to the east, the Thessalian countryside stretched from the foot of the mountain as softly as an inland sea: one could not see the distant shores of Mount Olympus, Ossa, and Pelion in the morning fog of autumn.”

In the frenzy of the imminent arrival in Kalambáka and amid the shrill cries in Vlach, as the migrants in the truck gathered their newborns, poultry and bundles, the Meteora went almost unnoticed.” 3

It was only as we got closer to the streets of Kalambáka that we were able to admire these formidable peaks and rock cylinders that rise perpendicularly for hundreds of meters towards the sky. Nothing stopped the vertical trajectory of the eye, except, here and there, an insignificant tuft of vegetation that rolled up from the rock face on a single stem; or the damp, straight trail of a spring’s overflow, shining like a snail’s drooling trail from eagle-haunted regions to the outskirts of a lurking village. A huge stone shaft stood just above our heads.”

In the background, separated by valleys filled with foliage, the pillars and stalagmites receded in aberrant disorder, rising, bending, and tapering to form frail solitary pedestals—at the top of one of them one could scarcely discern the tiny shrunken figure of the wall and steeple of a monastery, or else swelling and clustering like silent cohorts of stationary mammoths, meditating on the edge of the tundra“.

Under Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

For a long time we looked up in silence to the sky. Even the Kutzovalacs, accustomed to this phenomenon because of their migrations between their summer villages on the slopes of the Pindus and their winter pastures in Thessaly, seemed amazed. They only looked down at the cry of a villager friend who was making the month-long journey by road with the village’s herds. In fact, a tide of moving sheep invaded the streets, and the air was filled with gold dust, bleating and greetings at the top of their lungs in the strange Latin dialect of these black-clad shepherds.”

At the assembly of moustaches, crosiers and crossbars woven by hand, through the sheep of wool, a tall monk came forward. He towered head and shoulders taller than everyone else, and his top hat further enhanced his giant stature. “Here we are,” the driver exclaimed. It is Father Christophe, the abbot of Saint-Barlaam“.

It was Archimandrite Christóforos, whom Patrick Leigh Fermor had met. It should be noted that the archimandrite in the Byzantine rite Churches, and in particular the Orthodox Church, is an honorary title granted to the superior abbots of monasteries or to the popes of important parishes.

I have located in the Regional Archives of Thessaly domiciled in Larissa, the work of Ioannis Vlachostérgios, aptly entitled “The Abbots of the Varlaam Monastery 1517-2000”, or Barlaam according to another transcription, published in 2011, which informs us more about Archimandrite Christóforos.

Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

His lay name was Charílaos Máïs. He was appointed abbot of Varlaám by transmutation, from the nearby monastery of Siamádes, located in Pindus, an hour’s drive from Kalambáka, in September 1929. According to Varlaám’s records, Charílaos Maïs came to his monastery of origin in 1908, and he became a monk a month later.

In December 1930 it became definitively attached to Varlaám, and since then it has been the igumen of the monastery for several periods, between 1929 and 1958. We have few details about his departure from Varlaám or his death, but we do know that the igumen who succeeded him was appointed in 1961. Christóforos was in fact igumen during Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first stay in Meteora around 1935, as well as between 1958 and 1960, during his second visit to the place.

Could we spend the night in his monastery? Of course, and even two or three nights. He confirmed his agreement with a friendly pat on my shoulder, and a smile on his long Saturnian face made the coarse hairs of his fan-like beard glow. Half an hour later, on either side of his mare, we were heading west. From the pommel of the saddle hung on one side a satchel of provisions and on the other a bottle of wine surrounded by a wicker clisse“.

Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

In the middle, relaxed and at ease in the saddle, taking puffs from his short pipe, muttering or humming in a low voice to himself, rode our hospitable abbot. The greetings of the peasants who passed by, as we strolled westward, earned them mischievous replies or squire jokes, and sometimes a falsely threatening gesture, when the abbot did not cheerfully push them away with the end of his majestic cane.”

The shadows widened between the gigantic rocks and everything seemed soft and golden in the next village of Kastráki. Then the last houses disappeared behind us, and as we skirted the vast central tympanum of the conglomerate, a deep gorge opened up before us, which narrowed and climbed along a chasm between the mountains.”

The white walls of the Monastery of the Transfiguration appeared on a ledge, far above our heads, and soon the silhouette of St. Barlaam. Faced with such a height and such a distance, I felt my heart sink. It seemed impossible to reach this eagle’s nest… It was then that the sun fell below the jagged outline of Pindus“.

before us, the mountains turned blue-grey, cold, menacing, and sad, and it seemed as if the slightest trace of joy had disappeared from the world. These rocks à la Greco and La Mantegna could have served as a backdrop for the macerations of Saint Jerome in the desert, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane or the wilderness of the Temptation“.

As night fell, the road imperceptibly began to climb. At the foot of the rocky outcrop of St. Barlaam, an immense square cavity, encumbered with brushwood and stones, was hollowed out in the side of the mountain. “The dragon’s cave has been carefully laid out under the monastery,” the abbot told us, pointing to it in the half-light, with a placid and slightly grating laugh.”

The road turned into a narrow, paved ascent between crushing volumes of rock; It meandered among stone blocks and twisted plane trees before finally emerging into an oblique world from which the plain could no longer be glimpsed through the slightest gap“.

Scenes from Hell and the Last Judgment. Meteora, February 2024

We were now in the middle of this improbable geology. But a bend in the road took us out of our labyrinth until we discovered the brightest of moonlight; The mountains have suddenly lost their menacing and heaviness. Everything was silvery, light, magical, and miraculously silent. The plane trees were as motionless as the glittering precipices themselves, as if each of their leaves had been extracted from a precious metal, rolled and fastened with a thread to the branches of silver.”

Dozens of yards higher, the reception platform of St. Barlaam and the projecting tiles of its cornice jutted out into the moonlight like the prow of a galleon, from which, like an anchor at the end of its chain, hung a formidable hook. The smooth walls of the sheer cliff were not only perpendicular, but curved outward in several places, overhanging their base, and as destitute of ridges or holds as the crystal mountain of a fairy tale. High up, into the void, the monastery’s structure overflowed from its monolithic pedestal in a circle of projecting walls, canopies, and floors.”

The abbot tugged at the reins and uttered a roar, “Bessarion! he shouted, and the echo of the syllables reverberated as he died to the bottom of the valley. Far above our heads, on the ledge of the monastery, a pale, spectacled face peeked over the railing of a small house, and a barely audible greeting reached us through the air. “Pull down the rope and come and take care of the mare,” said the abbot in a thunderous voice. It took two minutes for the hook to reach us, pivoting on itself as the big steel cable spun by. Before steps were dug into the rock in 1932, there was no other way to access the monastery.”

The animal scenes. Meteora, February 2024

At the time, the visitor had to squat in a net who’s highest meshes were fixed above the hook, so that it floated gently in the air, winding and unwinding, as it was slowly hoisted up to the platform with the help of a winch. When he arrived, the net was grabbed with a gaff and lowered onto the terrace and the passenger was released. For centuries, a rope as big as a man’s wrist was used for this operation. A former abbot, who had been asked how many people were replacing her, replied, it seems: “Only when it breaks.”

When Father Christophe turned the wick of an oil lamp, I only partially remembered the details of the guest room where I had spent a few days four years before the war: the desk where a glass cup filled with visiting cards of visiting priests, prelates and Byzantinologists was placed. the sofa under the window, the faded Russian print of a panorama of Jerusalem. It seemed curious that such a humane and welcoming room, illuminated by the golden light of a lamp, could exist at such hostile heights and constantly swept by the wind.”

But Brother Bessarion was not long in cutting slices of apples and goat’s cheese to make a meze to decorate the ouzo with which the abbot filled our tiny glasses as soon as they were empty; When we all sat down together for a modest bean dinner, he uncorked the big carboy. The two monks barely had time to light their pipes before we were already immersed in a conversation about the war, the problems of Greece and the decadence of Orthodox monasticism.”

The most daring hagiography in terms of female nudity. Meteora, February 2024

They formed an interesting contrast: the shy little Bessarion, with his frayed cassock and flattened cap, a look of enthusiastic benevolence behind bottle-ends; and the great stature of the abbe, his mischievous and humorous glances, with the gigantic shadow of his thin, sardonic features on the wall, surrounded by a cloud of smoke. His words were imbued with verve and universal wisdom“.

His family had had priests in Kalambáka for centuries. Having departed from this traditional succession among the secular clergy, he had become a monk at St. Barlaam at the age of thirty-two; He was then ordained deacon and priest, and three months later promoted to the titles of archimandrite and abbot, which seemed singularly rapid. He was seventy-six years old now and had never been sick for more than a few days in his life.”

The remedy he advocated for colds and fevers was infallible, he said: he had only to spend five days at the top of the hills in the company of the flocks that belonged to the monastery, to drink wine in unlimited quantities, and to sleep every night in a shepherd’s hut made of branches to feel as strong as a giant again, he said, stretching out his huge hands in the gesture of Samson kissing the columns of Gaza.”

Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

He hoped that Brother Bessarion would succeed him at the head of the abbey. While stroking the majestic tortoiseshell tomcat that was dozing on his lap – there were two of them in the monastery, Makrý, who was now purring, and a small black female with a white snout, with a red ribbon around her neck, who was called Marigoúla – he described the place in winter, when the mountains are covered with a thick layer of snow that stalactites form at the end of the projecting woodwork. -Some are several meters long and more than fifty centimeters thick. When the thaw begins, they break off and tumble down the valley, resounding like cannon shots.”

From below, the light of the candles cast strange shadows on Bessarion’s waxy features, and sharply and deeply hollowed out the eye sockets, the strong nasal bridge, and the perplexed brow of Father Christopher, when, censer in hand, that magnificent colossus with splendid priestly vestments worn to the bone appeared behind the altar. His deep voice responded with grunts to Bessarion’s, which was higher-pitched. During a pause in the liturgy, the deacon rotated the pyramidal lectern on its axis, then he turned the pages and began to sing the panegyric of St. Demetrius.”

Makrý, the tomcat, crept slowly and stealthily into the church where he climbed the rood screen; The light coming from the central vault cast its elongated and solemn shadow on the flagstones. With agility he bounded on the high octagonal table, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, where the lectern was placed; After carefully wrapping his around his waist, he sat down to gaze at Page. Without interrupting his chanting, Bessarion pushed the cat’s raised paw away from the margin. As he continued to sing, he delicately stroked the small tortoiseshell head as the long liturgy” went on unhurriedly.

The strategic position of St. Stephen’s Monastery. Years 1946-49

The monastery of St. Stephen is the most accessible of Meteora; this is why it was probably the first of these formidable rocks to welcome an ascetic, a twelfth-century hermit named Jeremiah. A steep paved path led us obliquely; under a dark archway, from the entrance to the inner courtyard. Except for the rather young monk who had answered our call when we rang the bell, the place seemed deserted.”

The Church of San Charálambos, which dates from the end of the eighteenth century, seemed to us singularly bare and empty after the tumultuous frescoes to which we had become accustomed“.

Father Ánthimos had been abbot for several years; His benevolent face lit up at the slightest eulogy of his monastery. Towards the end of dinner, he told us that during the conflict, a few years before our visit, the monastery had been attacked by a group of ELAS snipers, perhaps because of the presence of a picket of three Feldgendarmes in the buildings“.

The invaders began by blowing up the iron gate near the bridge with a bazooka. Then they rushed in masse inside, seizing two Feldgendarmes whose throats they immediately slit. The third crossed the open space outside the monastery to throw himself over the precipice, but, hit by rifle fire, he met the same fate as his companions“.

The strategic position of St. Stephen’s Monastery. February 2024

The abbot was stripped of his clothes and beaten; His leg was shattered by a blow from the butt of a rifle, and his foot was left twisted at a strange angle. Moreover, this ordeal had obviously left him with other after-effects. With a towel, he sneaked his eye once he had finished telling his story! Then, with virtually no pause, he began a long narrative about the origin of the legend of the evil eye at the time when Solomon was building the great Temple in Jerusalem.”

Saint-Étienne is the easternmost Meteor; from the foot of its rock, the Thessalian plain spreads out towards the east over an extent uninterrupted by any eminence. Seen from the ledge of the monastery the next morning, it seemed endless. Its eastern limits were the haunt of the centaurs and Myrmidons of Achilles, and Trikala – invisible at the end of the inexorable road and bends of the river Peneus – sent his contingents to Troy. This plain has always been a battlefield. Caesar defeated Pompey on his southern frontiers, the Byzantines traversed it in both directions, the Bulgarians flooded it with a flood of Slavs, and the Vlachs proliferated there“.

So much for a small part of what Leigh Fermor says about his visit to Meteora. Almost 65 years later, in February 2024, in the so-called “low” season, we were able to talk at length with a monk about the place and as many doctors of Theology, which during the summer becomes impossible, as these monasteries-museums are now invaded by crowds of tourists.

Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

He had certainly heard of Charílaos Maïs, who had become the igumen Christóforos, but he was not aware of it… of the history of Makrý, nor that of Marigoúla. I told him about the anecdotes told by Patrick Leigh Fermor, he didn’t appreciate the presence of cats in the middle of the masses. “These animals are indeed blessed, but they do not show Logos, so they cannot participate in them, in short, communion. And currently in Varlaám there is not a single tomcat inside the monastery“. “I had seen them a few years ago,” I remarked. “Yes,” he replied, “but as some did not want their presence, we only kept them outside the walls.”

As before… Some didn’t want it, so that’s probably for the future… In the case of Greece, monasteries were clearly understood at the time.

And as for the monastery of St. Stephen, Agios Stephanos in Greek, the most accessible of Meteora, it is possible that the unfortunate gendarmes could have been Greeks and not Germans and that the episode, or rather their murder, would be to be placed in the macabre “anthology” of the deeds and gestures of the Civil War.

Regular army encampment under Meteora. Years 1946-49

In any case, the town of Kalambáka experienced several days of communist terror during the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Italian troops in the autumn of 1943, when it fell under the control of local forces of ELAS, the army of communist partisans. Terror, which was later even disavowed by the Greek Communist Party and some of the local party leaders punished, i.e. executed.

And when the Wehrmacht took over the town, following the actions of the partisans, they ended up burning Kalambáka to almost 80%. Then, during the prolongation of the civil war until 1949, the regular army, facing the communist contingent, set up its camp, precisely under Meteora, just as it again posted its gendarmes in front of the strategic position that is simply that of the monastery of St. Stephen.

Elsewhere in his text, which readers of his book will greatly appreciate, Patrick Leigh Fermor reports on the hagiography of monasteries, scenes from the underworld and the so-called Last Judgment, as well as this beautiful fresco of animals, at the monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsás. However, it does not mention this extremely rare hagiography and actually painting of the Protoplasts dating from the 16th century, to my knowledge, the most daring hagiography in terms of female nudity… evident throughout the Greek space.

The Meteora of Thessaly and Pindus. Works by Louis Dupré, 1789-1837

Fortunately, the renovation and restoration work currently being carried out by high-level specialists has allowed us to better review such masterpieces.

Just as we were able to mount the… Meteora hidden from our lucky participants of “Greece Differently”… But that’s a whole other story to uncover.

The Greek winter is dying fast again this year. As for the eternal Meteora, visitors out of season will have appreciated the cats that are adespots of the place, including those… now unbeatable outside the walls of the Varlaám Monastery.

Epigones, no doubt, of Makrý and Marigoúla… Thank God!

Of the Epigones of Makrý and Marigoúla. Varlaám, February 2024

* Cover photo: Meteora. Thessaly, February 2024

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  1. This abduction, however, had repercussions for the Cretans. The German General Müller immediately ordered the execution of any man present in the village of Anógia following several resistance operations, including the kidnapping of General Kreipe.
    In 1957, this operation inspired the film “Intelligence Service” by British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Dirk Bogarde played the role of Commander Paddy, who was the nickname of Leigh Fermor and David Oxley, that of Captain William-Billy, in other words, Stanley Moss. 
  2. Paul Morand, born March 13, 1888 in Paris 8 and died July 23, 1976 in Paris 15th, is a French writer, diplomat and academician. 
  3. Here the French translation is rather misleading. Instead of the term “migrants”, the term “semi-nomadic” should be adopted, in short, referring to the Vlach populations – Latin-speaking Greeks and the Saracatsanes – mountain Greeks, who carried out the transhumance of their herds and families twice a year and in both directions, between the heights of Pindus and the plain of Thessaly. Given the current context… Largely immigrationist, the reader present, especially young, can then interpret something else, even going so far as to be anachronistic. However, a little later in the text, everything is well explained by the author. 

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