Monastery’s History

Numbered amongst the most ancient monasteries to be founded on the Athonite peninsula following the appearance of the first organized coenobitic communities, the Monastery of Karakallou has already traversed a thousand years of monastic life and continues into its second millennium of history. From the very onset, the Monastery was consecrated in honor of the Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul. It appears to have been established at the close of the 10th century or the opening of the 11th, given the existence of historical documents from 1018 referring to an already organized ruling monastery with clearly defined territorial boundaries.

Although information about the first centuries of the monastery’s history is scant, we do know that it was the beneficiary of Emperor Romanos IV Diogenis circa 1070 and was led by abbots who were so eminent that they were selected among the representatives of Mount Athos to the Emperor of Constantinople. In the years following the fourth crusade of 1204, Frankish pirates who plagued the shores of the Holy Mountain also plundered and desolated the monastery, taking the abbot and entire brotherhood as captives. In this difficult plight Saints Simeon and Savvas, the founders of the Monastery of Chilandar, came to their aid.

The  monastery essentially began to flourish at the end of the 13th century, during the reign of Emperor Andronicos II the Palaiologos. This time period is also associated with the presence and spiritual relationship that developed with Saint Athanasios I Patriarch of Constantinople, who was a reformer of monastic life and a precursor to the hesychastic movement. Thus in the 14th century the Monastery was renowned as one of the important hesychastic and ascetic centers on the Holy Mountain, a meeting place for a variety of representatives of hesychasm, such as Saints Germanos Maroulis and Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos.

Although the Ottoman conquest of the Holy Mountain in 1424 had an immediately negative impact on the Monastery of Karakallou, the repercussions were short-lived. At the dawn of the 16th century, the monastery was recovering financially as were the other monasteries of Mount Athos. The monastery complex, including the main church and the fortification on the shore, was rebuilt chiefly through the gifts of rulers from Moldavia. There was also a positive demographic shift, apparent not only in the  increasing number of monks in the monastery, but also in the surging population of monks in the surrounding skete. Among the skete-dwellers of that time was Saint Dionysios of Olympus who labored there in asceticism around the year 1520.

The monastery’s flourishing during the 18th century is especially striking in terms of renovation and reconstruction of the monastery’s buildings as well as the completion of extensive iconographic projects. Within the course of approximately half a century, the monastery was literally embellished with frescoes in the main church, the narthexes and the chapels as well as with the production of an estimable number of portable icons by the renowned and eminent iconographer Dionysios of Fourna. Simultaneously, by means of the monastery’s new dependencies, its spiritual influence shown forth from Ismailio on the shores of the Danube to Milopotamos of Crete, Plagiari of Kallipolis peninsula, the Peloponnese and the isles of northern Aegean (Thassos and Aghios Eustratios).

During the Greek Revolution of 1821 the Monastery of Karakallou played an active role in the struggle to cast off the Turkish yoke, for which it would pay a heavy price. Already among its monks was numbered a new martyr, the monk martyr Gedeon (†1818).

During the 20th century the Monastery was fortunate to have had gifted spiritual personalities at the abbatial helm. Perhaps, the most important of these figures was the Elder Kodratos, who was one of the most famous spiritual guides both within and outside of the Holy Mountain during the time of the First World War.

Although dwindling numbers clearly appeared to threaten Athonite monasticism with an uncertain future in the mid-twentieth century, that trend has been reversed in last decades. From the 1980s onward, the monastery has not only been reorganized and renovated through the systematic endeavors of the brotherhood, but it has also been reconnected with the hesychastic spirit that was the hallmark of Karakallou more than seven hundred years earlier.

► Monastery’s Saints