Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mountains and Monasteries for the Soul

"THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God. 
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; 
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil 
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;      
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil 
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 
"And for all this, nature is never spent; 
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;         
And though the last lights off the black West went 
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— 
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
          (Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The Grandeur of God." 

 In a Google search I did yesterday I came across a place I had not heard of before: Meteora in Greece. If you have read my prior blog entries you know that I am interested in sacred geography and also in architecture. Meteora is a place where geography and architecture meet to provide a sacred place that seems magical.
In an appointment I had today, the person I met with mentioned several places he and his wife had traveled to and one of those places was Meteora! Now how strange is that? I read and gathered some images last night of a place I had never heard of and the very next day I meet someone who has been to that place.

Wikipedia says: "The Metéora... (lit. "middle of the sky", "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" — etymologically related to "Meteorite") is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos.
"In the 9th century, an ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles...They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some of which reach 1800 ft (550m) above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors. Initially the hermits led a life of solitude, meeting only on Sundays and special days to worship and pray in a chapel built at the foot of a rock known as Dhoupiani."
The article says that by the end of the 14century, 20 monasteries were built. "Six of the monasteries remain today. Of these six, four were inhabited by men, and two by women. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants. The monasteries are now tourist attractions."
As I look at the photos of Meteora, atop high perches, I am reminded of the function of mountains in many religions. One draws closer to God on a mountain (because God is in the heavens). (See my entry on mountains HERE)  But I detect another function of the mountain, especially in Meteora: these places could be places of solitude and silence. I could well imagine making a silent retreat in a place like Meteora, except it is a tourist attraction now and its silences and times of liturgy by the Orthodox monastics may be disturbed.
The architecture of the place looks like those buildings I so enjoy: it has many nooks and crannies, rooms and balconies. This kind sacred architecture speaks to the soul. I may not have  been to Meteora, but I have been to other places, usually ancient places, where buildings were erected on mountain sides or tranquil places and one could wander through spacious places and discover a stairway leading to a chapel as I experienced in San Damiano, or a magnifient vista like in LaVerna, Italy.
An Adoration Chapel at the top of a flight of stairs I discovered staying
 in the San Damiano Friary in Assisi Italy
From my visit to LaVerna, Italy at the Franciscan Church
We have beautiful places of nature in the States; but for sacred architecture like in the places I just mentioned, usually we must go to monasteries, as I did recently at St. Meinrad’s in Southern Indiana, where I spent a year of preparatory studies in 1982 before going into the seminary in South Florida. Or we hope to find it in our churches. What are we looking for? As the Catholic poet Hopkins put it, we seek the grandeur of God; we seek the "deep down things." Such places remind me of the importance of taking time and place to spend some time in silence, even if in my ordinary geography and architecture at home.
Perhaps you may enjoy the following two videos about Meteora:
HERE (3:53 minutes)) and HERE (4:25 minutes)