KOSTAS and the yummy world

KOSTAS and the yummy world

Osios Loukas Monastery

June 2019


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 Arachova (25km to the northwest) and Delphi (35km on the northwest), on Mount Parnassus.

This historic, walled monastery is situated near the town of Distomo, known for the Germans' massacre 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. 

From Athens to Osios Loukas Monastery.

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. The visitor has great views over a small and fertile plane on the east of the monastery. 

The shady courtyard outside the walls. At the background stands the clock tower next to the main (south) gate to the monastery.

The shady courtyard outside the walls.

The Monastery is open from 08:00 am to 03:30 pm.

Entrance fee:  €4  (€2, reduced).

The view from the cafe.

The view from the cafe.

Brief History

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 that produced healing miracles. Pilgrims hoping for miraculous help were encouraged to sleep by the side of the tomb to be healed by incubation. 

Mosaic of Osios Loukas (St Luke) inside the katholikon of the Monastery.

The monastery and its buildings. P=car park; 1=courtyard outside the walls; 2=café & shop; 3=South (main) entrance; 4=clock tower; 5=fountain; 6=oil press court; 7=west cells wing; 8=north cells wing and history museum; 9= Church of Theotocos (Virgin Mary); 10=katholikon; 11=crypt; 12=refectory-museum; 13=vordonario-art gallery; 14= calefactory (fotanamma); 15=north gate; 16=cemetery chapel; and 17= Church of the Transfiguration.

The walled Monastery

A wall encloses the monastery. 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 fascinating historical museum. On the east 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 main entrance (south) to the walled monastery.

The main courtyard inside the walls. The west cells wing is on the left, the north cells wing at the background and the Katholikon on the right of the picture.

The fountain located just after the main entrance, inside the walls.

Reconstructed monk cell at the history museum (north cells wing).

The refectory.

The refectory, restored today, has been operating since 1993 as a collection of sculptures.

The oil press located under the refectory.

Inside the oil press room.

The bordonario (stable) seen through the NE monastery gate. The bordonario, fully restored today, houses a religious art gallery.

Inside the bordonario.

The calefactory or warming house (φωτάναμμα) at the north part of the monastery.

Inside the calefactory.

The Church of Virgin Mary

The smaller church, dedicated to the Theotokos (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 (11th-12th century). Still, 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 this church's facade but was later covered by marble slabs when the wall became an interior wall of the catholicon. The church's interior is distinguished by the rich sculptured decoration of the templon, the capitals, even the drum of the dome. 

The entrance of the church of Theotocos (Virgin Mary), and the portico.

The portico of Theotocos (Virgin Mary) church.

The NE side of Theotocos (Virgin Mary) church.

The dome of Theotocos (Virgin Mary) church seen from inside.

The dome of Theotocos (Virgin Mary) church seen from outside.

The SE side of Theotocos (Virgin Mary) church. The church seen adjacent to it (on the left of the picture) is the katholikon.

The catholicon

The catholicon (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 modeled 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. Contemporary wall paintings completed the mosaic decoration of the walls in the chapels of the west side. The marble screen was decorated with icons by Michael Damaskenos, dated to the 16th century.

The Katholicon facade.

The apse above the Katholikon entrance.

The katholikon dome.

The SE side of the katholikon.

The iconostasis and the sanctuary of the katholikon.

The main entrance of the katholikon seen from its nave (the main room).

The frescos of the katholikon Dome.

Mosaics in the katholikon.

Mosaics in the katholikon.

Agia Varvara crypt

The catholicon 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 on the north wall is Osios Loukas' tomb. The roof and much of the walls are covered with wall paintings dated to the first half of the 11th century. 

The entrance to the crypt (left). The Osios Loukas tomb inside the crypt (top right) and frescos (bottom right).

Inside the crypt.

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.

The Church of the Transfiguration.

The chapel of the cemetery.