Osios Loukas Monastery
The monastery of Osios Loukas (Όσιος Λουκάς) lies on the west slope of Mt. Helikon, some 160km from Athens. The monastery is usually visited as a day trip including also Arachova (25km to the north west) and Delphi (35km on the north west), on Mount Parnassus.
This historic, walled monastery is situated near the town of Distomo, known for the massacre by Germans, that took place here in June 1944. It is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, along with the monasteries of Nea Moni on Chios Island and Dafni Monastery in Attica.
The monastery is very well preserved and there is a large car parking lot outside it. The visitor follows long steps leading to a big shady courtyard, outside the walls, where administrative buildings, a shop and a café are located. From here the visitor has great views over a small and fertile plane on the east of the monastery.
The Monastery is open from 08:00 am to 03:30 pm.
Entrance fee: €4 (€2, reduced).
It was founded in the early 10th century AD by the hermit, Venerable (Osios, in Greek) Luke (Loukas, in Greek) of Steiris, whose relics are kept in the monastery to this day. St Luke (not to be confused with the Evangelist author of the Gospel of Saint Luke), was a hermit who died on 7 February 953. The main shrine of the monastery is the tomb of St. Luke, originally situated in the vault, but later placed at the juncture of the two churches. The monastery derived its wealth (including funds required for construction) from the fact that the relics of St. Luke were said to have exuded myron (chrism), a sort of perfumed oil which produced healing miracles. Pilgrims hoping for miraculous help were encouraged to sleep by the side of the tomb in order to be healed by incubation.
The walled Monastery
The monastery is enclosed by a wall. The main gate of the monastery is located on the southwest corner, next to the bell-tower. After entering the gate, a marble fountain with fresh cold water is located on the left. The visitor is now in the main courtyard, which is surrounded by two-storeyed and three-storeyed blocks of cells (κελιά) to the north and the west. Some of the north cells have been transformed into a very interesting historic museum. On the lies the refectory (τραπεζαρία), a big building restored today, has been operating since 1993 as a collection of sculptures, where exceptional architectural artifacts are exhibited from the monastery and the region. Underneath the refectory (take the stairs on the right to its entrance) stands a reconstructed oil press room. On the east stand the two adjoining churches (St Luke and the Katholikon, or Church of Virgin Mary). Behind the churches there is another courtyard where the calefactory or warming house (φωτάναμμα) and other buildings are standing. In the bordonario or stable (bορδοναρείο), fully restored today, there are exposed wall-paintings of the 18th century, coming from the temple of Saint Spyridon Medeon, in the area of Antikyra. On the right of the calefactory stands the north gate of the monastery, outside of which the cemetery is located.
The Church of Virgin Mary
The smaller church, dedicated to the Theotocos (Church of Virgin Mary), was built in the 10th century, while St Luke was still alive. It is the earliest known example of the four-column, cross-in-square type and it has a spacious, two-column narthex on the west side and a portico. This portico actually connects the two churches. The walls are built in opus mixtum (part brick, part stone, part marble) and display curious pseudo-kufic patterns. The diaconicon and the arched portico between the diaconicon and the pulpit were decorated with beautiful wall paintings slightly later in date (11th-12th century) but traces of earlier frescos have also been revealed. The famous fresco of Jesus of Navi, discovered in 1965, dates from the 10th century and actually belonged to the facade of this church but was later covered by marble slabs when the wall became an interior wall of the catholicon. The interior of the church is distinguished by the rich sculptured decoration of the templon, the capitals, even the drum of the dome.
The katholicon (main church) is the earliest preserved specimen of the octagonal cross-in-square type of church, built in the first half of the 11th century. It has a large, tall cupola with a diameter of 9m. The domed central space is surrounded by two-storeyed constructions which were modelled as cross-vaulted chapels. A two-storeyed narthex was built on the west side. The church was built of large, ancient stone blocks and the external walls are very simple, without brick ornaments. The walls are veneered with marble slabs on the lower section and decorated with superb mosaics on the upper part and the upper floor. The mosaics represent the more severe and abstracted style of the Middle Byzantine decorative art and date from the first half of the 11th century. The Christ Pantocrator and Archangels in the dome belong to a later phase. The mosaic decoration of the walls was completed by contemporary wall paintings in the chapels of the west side. The marble screen was decorated with icons by Michael Damaskenos, dated to the 16th century.
Agia Varvara crypt
The katholicon is built over a large crypt, shaped as a cross-in-square church, with groin vaults forming the roof. It is dedicated to Agia Varvara (St. Barbara) and contains three tombs: the one in the north wall is the tomb of Osios Loukas. The roof and much of the walls are covered with wall paintings, dated to the first half of the 11th century.
Outside the walls
At the NE of the monastery, is located the cemetery with its small church.
Some 50 meters to the west of the complex, lies the small Church of the Transfiguration, which can be reached via a path that starts from the car parking.