The Byzantine monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece and the Byzantine art in the Balkan Peninsula

The Monastery of Great Lavra on Mount Athos (Greece) founded in AD 963.
The main church of the Lavra Monastery.
Interior of the Lavra monastery.

The great monastic colony of the Mount Athos in Greece includes some of the great western Byzantine monasteries ever known. The “Holy Mountain” of Athos forms a promontory on the coast of Thrace and was precisely along the sea shore of this peninsula that the ancient Byzantine monasteries were built. These Athonite monasteries house rich collections of well-preserved Byzantine and medieval artifacts, rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value. The oldest of these monasteries is called “The Lavra” founded by St. Athanasius the Athonite (963 AD) and its library keeps the richest collections of Greek manuscripts in the world. Another monasteries built years later include the monastery of Vatopedi (2nd half of the Xth century) and the Iviron monastery founded by the Iberian monks from Georgia (between 980-983).  Besides these monasteries 12 more were built, thus forming a true independent monastic republic known today as Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. The whole history of Byzantium from the X century is reflected in the monasteries of Athos. The basic layout of these monasteries is characterized by a square precinct with the different rooms surrounding a central courtyard where the main church was built.

The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos built during the second half of the 10th century.
The Holy Monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos, built between 980-983 AD.
The Panagia Portaitissa also known as the Iviron Theotokos, an icon of Virgin Mary in the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos. ca. 999.
The Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God or Cathedral of Tarnovo (Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria) ca. 11th–12th century.
Cathedral of Gračanica, XIIIth century (Kosovo, Serbia).
Assumption of Mary, a fresco from Gračanica Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Curtea de Argeș (early 16th century) in Curtea de Argeș, Romania

The Byzantine Empire promoted the evangelization of the Balkan countries and even of some other countries located in the eastern part of Central Europe. Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, both of Thessaloniki, preached Christianity in Moravia and Bohemia since 863. With Serbia and Wallachia (today modern Romania), Bulgaria was a brilliant province of Byzantine art since before the fourteenth century, when the type of Byzantine church with Greek cross floor plan crowned by domes spread throughout Europe. As examples from this type of Byzantine church are the Bulgarian Cathedral of Tarnovo, the Serbian Church of Gracanica, and the church of Curtea d’Arges in Wallachia.

Pietà fresco in the church of Nerezi or St. Panteleimon (Gorno Nerezi, Republic of Macedonia), XIIth century.

The mural painting was well developed in Serbian art in earlier centuries, as it is manifested in the wonderful frescoes of the Nerezi church or St. Panteleimon (1164), the Studenica monastery (1205), and the Mileseva monastery (ca. 1235).  Frescoes of similar quality are found in the Bulgarian cathedral of Tarnovo (1186) which originated the “Tarnovo Artistic School” an important and influential branch of the Bulgarian fine arts between XIIIth and XIVth centuries, and in the Church of Boyana (1259).

Crucifixion, fresco from the Church of the Holy Virgin at the Monastery of Studenica, ca. 1208 (Kraljevo, Serbia).
The White Angel, fresco at the Mileseva monastery, XIIIth century ( Prijepolje, Serbia).
Fresco of St. Yavor and St. Yuda from SS Peter and Pavel Church, Tarnovo, representing the Tarnovo Artistic School.
Constantin Tikh of Bulgaria and Eirene of Nicaea, fresco at the Boyana church, ca. XIIIth century (Sofia, Bulgaria)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s