A travel through time
The Byzantine monastery of Osios Loukas, erected in a natural landscape unspoiled by buildings or other human maid disruptions, is still a vibrant monastic community with great vigor. The core of the community is founded by Hosios Loukas himself when he dwells on the slopes of the Helicon in 946. With the aid of Krenotes, general of the Thema (provincial division) of Hellas, a church dedicated to St. Barbara is built at the site. After the saint was deceased in 953, his cult soon expanded, attracting a large number of believers at the monastery.
The two katholika are predominant in the imposing complex, which develops gradually through time. The earlier church is dedicated to Virgin Mary and the later one to Hosios Loukas. During the Latio and Ottoman periods (13th c. and thereafter) the monastery goes through adverse circumstances. In its recent history, major destruction is caused by the Ottoman troops during the Greek Liberation War (1823) and by the bombarding during the World War II (1943).
Life and work of Hosios Loukas
Hosios Loukas Stiriotis (from Stiri) is one of the important reformers of monasticism during the 10th c., among Athanasios the Athonite, Nikon Metanoeite and Clemes of Sagmatas. According to his Life – a 10th c. text by an anonymous monk – he was born in Kastorion, the Boeotian Thisve. As a young man he enters monasticism in Athens, while he also practices ascetic life in the broader area of his birthplace. In 946 he ends up in ancient Stiris, where he founds the first nucleus of the present monastery, where he remains until his death. Endowed with many talents and with the gift of prophecy, he draws together near him a number of students and he is admired and accepted among the local population and the officials of the Thema of Hellas, which has its seat in Thebes. After his death he becomes very popular because he predicted the liberation of Crete from the Arabs in 961.
Donors and Dedicators of the Monastery
The Hosios Loukas complex is the oldest and best preserved of the important Middle Byzantine monasteries in Greece (Monastery of Daphni in Attica, Nea Moni of Chios). It is a work of large scale and an excellent specimen of Constantinopolitan art.
According to the tradition, the two churches were built with imperial donation( Romanos II, Basil II). However, the members of local aristocracy depicted on the monastery mural decoration, and especially the ones from the Theban family of Leovachos, testify for their decisive role in the construction of the complex. With their contribution the monastery becomes a grand pilgrimage site renown in the whole Byzantine world. The close relations of the Leovachos with the monastery and the Hosios confirm the fact that many of the early abbots come from this family.
Layout and Space Organization
The Monastery of Hosios Loukas followed the organization of Byzantine monasteries imposed by the communal life and their fortress-like character. The complex consists of buildings arranged closely together, surrounding a spacious courtyard in the middle of which stand the two Katholikon churches. The buildings housed the monks cells and auxiliary facilities for the needs of living. At the same time, their continuous outer walls functioned as the defensive perimeter of the complex, reinforced with towers on the most vulnerable points, most of them known today only from archival sources.
The monastery is accessed through two gates in the east and southwest of the complex. Today, the visitor enters from the southwest, through a gate that in the past led to the gardens, while the eastern one was the main entrance to the site. From here the pilgrims were able to admire the particularly elaborate eastern façade of both katholikon churches, and have direct access to the places of worship ( the Crypt and the ciborium of the Hosios)
The monastery, a small fortified town
The monasteries were the miniature of a Byzantine city. Their buildings bear witness to the various activities of daily monastic life. The historical and continuous use of the buildings in the monastery of Hosios Loukas resulted in multiple interventions, therefore they do not retain today their original form.
The monks cells are housed in three-story wings on the west, north and southeast side with open arcades towards the courtyard. The bell tower rises next to the southwest gate, built on the ruins of a Byzantine chapel. The two-story building south of the katholikon churches hosted at first floor level the refectory (dining room), where the monks dined while listening to the synaxarion of the day. The ground floor housed an impressive olive press, suggestive of significant oil production.
A large underground cistern (water tank) served the water needs of the monastery. In the fotanamma, in the northern part of the courtyard, the monks gathered to warm themselves during cold nights. It is a room supported by columns and roofed with cylindrical vaults, with small ventilation openings for the smoke. The vordonareion (stables) was located next to the main eastern gate. In this two-storied building, the ground floor was intended for the animals, while the first floor housed the mule drivers and fodder. Finally, the small cemetery church of Agios Charalampbos, built on the 10th c, with material from the nearby ancient town of Stiris, lay just outside the eastern gate.