By Carolyn Shields
Visio Divina is all about praying with sacred paintings, but imagine visiting one of these monasteries where you walk amongst walls that were built, protected, and preserved by prayer? We had fun compiling this list of monasteries that will take your breath away.
Monastery of Panayia Piatrissa
Numerous miracles have been reported at this monastery tucked along the Grecian shore. Dedicated to “Our Lady of Healing,” the monastery is primarily used to celebrate the Nativity of Mary, the feast day commemorating the birth of the Virgin Mary, which occurs annually on September 8th. On this day, thousands of pilgrims visit…and you can even spend the night here!
2. The Meteora Monasteries
These six Eastern Orthodox monasteries are what remain of the twenty-four monuments of prayer. Meteora means “suspended in air” in Greek, which is an apt description since they are perched atop 1200-ft tall crags of Thessaly’s “Stone Forest.” They still house several monks in residence and a few nuns in another.
Not only has Mont St. Michel been called “the castle on the hill,” but there’s an entire city on the island! If you don’t arrive or depart in time, the tide might just play with your travel plans. Built in 708AD, this perfectly preserved medieval town (complete with a drawbridge and natural quicksand), this monastery in France has been preserved for over 1,300 years.
4. St. Catherine’s Monastery
Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt is situated at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Orthodox monastery has been called the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, although the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, also lays claim to that title. The monastery was built by order of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565) at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush. The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library.
5. Abbey de Beauport
One of the finest preserved surviving examples of the religious architectural fervour, the Abbey de Beauport was constructed in the 13th century overlooking Paimpol bay. The French Revolution saw the dissolution of the abbey and it became in turn a town hall, residential accommodation, school and cider press. Today, the grounds surrounding the abbey extend over 297 acres and shelter a variety of fragile and threatened ecosystems.
Sümela is a 1,600-year-old ancient Orthodox monastery, constructed on rocks reached by a long winding stone stairway through a nearby forest, located 3,900 ft up a cliff in Turkey’s Altindere Valley. Officially abandoned in the 1920s, the monastery now acts as a museum; however, in 2010, an Orthodox Mass was conducted for the first time since it closed.