Travel: Omniscience of Meteora

The earliest ferry in this morning did not arrive until just before noon, so we slept in a little before hailing a taxi to bring us to the port.  After successfully rendezvousing with the crewman, and completing the license hand off, we headed to the airport to pick up our rental car. Unfortunately, the company mixed up our reservation, so it took us longer than anticipated to secure our transportation (2 hours). By the time we were on the road, it was around 2 pm.

2013-06-10 10.42.10We drove to Meteora as fast as we could (the average time is just around 5 hours), and arrived in the valley just before sunset.

The name, Meteora can be broken down into the greek word Μετέωρα, which translates to “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above.”

It may be logical to then extrapolate that this is the same origin from which we derive “Meteorite.” As one of the most significant Eastern Orthodox complexes in Greece (second to Mount Athos), it is a breathtaking view as all of the monasteries are carved into natural sandstone rock pillars.

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While the exact establishment of these buildings is unknown. A rudimentary monastic state, the Skete of Stagoi, formed in the late 11th and
early 12th centuries. This centered around the existing Church of Theotokos – “Mother of God.”

Athanasios Koinoviti brought a group of followers to the region in 1344, and from 1356 to 1372, they constructed the Great Meteoran Monastery on Broad Rock. – The common legend is that Athanasios did not scale the rock, but was borne there by an eagle.

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This was an ideal location for the monks, as it perched them above the reaches of political influence and interests. Only those within the complex had control over whom entered and exited as the only means of admittance was by climbing a long ladder or being hoisted by large nets, which the residents could draw up when threatened.

As the Byzantine Empire‘s 800-year reign over northern Greece became increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders in the late 14th century, the hermit monks found the naturally defensive rock pillars to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built.

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In the wise words of UNESCO,

“The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 metres (1,224 ft) cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley, symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.”

Today, only six of them remain; four house men and two are occupied by women.

Due to our extremely tight schedule, we were not able to reach the attractions until after visiting hours. We grabbed dinner at the nearby Kalabaka before heading further north to the foot of Olympus and spending our night in Litochoro. We also had to trim Delphi from our schedule due to the license confusion.

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Travel: Religious Artifacts and Moving Art

We touched on some deep religious moments when wandering through some lesser-known sites today. It’s incredibly moving to see the beauty of faith, which is blatantly prevalent when one travels though Europe. You can see the elegance and effort the owner, engineer, and architect invested in the creation of such magnificent buildings. You can see the care that each structural fragment of history is treated with, and how delicately they handle the religious art and artifacts.

It is a challenge for me to fully comprehend this, given how the world, and the experiences of my friends, and my own has shaped my pessimism, glass is half empty views on reality. This is not to say that I am not touched, I truly understand the allure of having faith, I just merely lack it myself. I will admit, it is sometimes a struggle when I visit these prominent examples of medieval faith, for I truly wish I had it too. :/. Today was no exception. 

*Interior pictures were not permitted (as usual) so I am sorry to say I cannot present these locations in their full glory.

The Convent de La Encarcion was founded in 1611 by Felipe the III and his wife, Margarita de Austria. It was intended as a retreat for titled ladies and is the sight of one of the most important catholic reliquaries in the world, storing more than 1500 saintly relics. These include skulls, arms encased in ornate hand-shaped containers, and bones from every part of the body.

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It is best known as the location of the blood of St. Januarius and of  St. Pantaleon. St. Pantaleon was a 4th century doctor-marytr. Legend foretells that if his ‘petrified vial of blood’ does not liquefy on his feast day (July 26 at midnight), great tragedies will occur.

The Monasteiro de las Descalzas Reales was originally the site of a medieval palace home to Charles I of Spain and Isabel of Portugal. Joanna of Austria, their daughter, founded this convent in the mid-16th century. Since this monastery was royally approved, a succession of titled ladies joined, bringing a host of artistic treasures with them. It is still functioning today and houses 23 shoeless nuns of the Franciscan order.

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In the reliquary, a chest is said to house wood pieces from Christ’s cross.

What are your thoughts on Faith? How do you keep it alive? If you don’t, Why do you not believe?

Travel: Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima

As a result of Saturday night, I woke up late and was unable to maintain our former schedule of events for the day. I spent the afternoon celebrating my friend’s grandfather’s birthday, and enjoyed a wide medley of traditional Portuguese food. This included cod, cauliflower and greens with piglet, rice with duck, and cake (of course). There was also lasagna, although clearly this is not of Portuguese origins :P.

It was delicious, and it was enjoyable to partake in a family celebration while listening to the conversations around me. I was able to pick up bits and pieces due to my background in Spanish. Some of her cousins did speak English and were kind enough to provide tidbits of information so that I could stay involved.

After, one of her cousins was headed to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, and was nice enough to let me tag along. Fatima is known for being the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to three Shepherd children in 1917. It is said that Mary predicted 3 events would come to pass, and only 2 have occurred to date.

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Franciso Marto

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Jacinto Marto and Sister Lucia

She patiently explained the history behind each aspect of the square, and accompanied me as I took in the sites of such a holy place. We entered the main cathedral, and paid our respects to the tombs of the three children.

 

 

After we exited, we went to light candles in prayer. Some individuals’ purchase was body parts or full wax figures; these are lit and melted by the church. Many see this as sacrificing part of yourself when you are praying for help from God.

On the ground along the square, is a long raised path that is paved in marble. Patrons of the sanctuary will sometimes walk, crawl, kneel, or lie down as they advance this tremendous distance to the chapel, which lies directly beside the tree where the apparition appeared. It is a painful process, and is seen as the deepest way in which to show reparation, devotion, and respect.

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 It is difficult to describe the emotions that I felt. Let me preface this by saying, while I believe in a higher power, circumstances of life have made it difficult for me to be a true believer of any singular religion. I was raised as a Catholic, and spent years as a child attending church in addition to attending a private catholic school. However, my dad is currently a practitioner of Buddhism and I have also attained some of those values as well.

In witnessing the devout attendees of the sanctuary, an overwhelming sense of sadness hit me. I was jealous. In their faces, it was clear that they believed without doubt in the power of God, Jesus, and the mercy of Mary. They were willing to experience pain, and sacrifice symbolic wax figures, in hopes of answers for their prayers. I truly wish that I could also feel this, believe this, and accept this higher power without question. Even when my travel companions went to confession, I refused, having not been in confession for more than a decade. I wanted to attend, but I didn’t know how I could start when it’s been so long since I have had faith.

Is there a religion that you believe in? What keeps your faith strong and persevering?