Our next stop was the highlight of the trip -- the Monastery of Osios Loukos in Steiri, founded around 960 by Osios Loukas (St. Luke), an ascetic monk who is not to be confused either with the Evangelist or the Surgeon, of Crimea. At its height in the 12th century, the enormous monastery had 800 monks. Today, it has just three, who co-exist along with the Archaeological Service, and millions of visitors. We arrived around 12:45 and stayed for about an hour and half, during which time we saw countless buses full of tourists, including some from Japan. The monastery is rightly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The monastery has three main churches. The first church, dedicated to the Panagia, dates from around 960. The main church, seen above, dates to around 1010, and is dedicated to St. Luke. Finally, a third church, dedicated to St. Barbara, was built directly underneath the main church during the monastery's height around the 12th century. The first and second churches are connected by a passageway, where the full relics of St. Luke are kept for visitors to venerate. The relics are said to have exuded myrrh and been the conduit of many miraculous healings.
Here we are inside the main church, listening to one of the guides from the Archaeological Service. The monastery's height met a swift and sudden end with the Franks' Fourth Crusade in 1204. At that time, Boniface of Montferrat, the new king of Thessaloniki, came to Central Greece, expelled the Orthodox monks and installed Catholic ones, who stripped the monastery. Then the Prince of Achaia, Godfrey II Villehardouin (1218-1245), sacked the remaining treasures of the monastery and took them to Rome. At the time of the Duchy of Athens-Thebes (1205-1308), the de la Roche family considered the monastery to be theirs. The Catalans, after their victory in Kopais (15 March 1311) and their occupation of Levadia, sacked the monastery again.
But when the Italian scholar Cyriacus of Ancona first visited the monastery in 1436, he found the monastery in good shape. During the Ottoman period, from 1460 (when Levadia fell) until the day of liberation, the monastery struggled for existence. Despite all this, the French explorer Jacob Spon, who visited the monastery in February 1676, wrote that it was "thriving and beautiful," while the English traveler George Wheler, who also visited that year, was so attracted that he wanted to become a hermit there.
After the area was liberated from the Turks in the 19th century, the Greeks themselves did what the Turks were unable to do -- close the monastery. It remained in the hands of the Archaeological Service until the 1980s, when a local priest cut the locks on the door to the church, and went in and "illegally" celebrated Liturgy. After that incident, a compromise was found whereby the monastery could once again function as a real monastery.
All the marble on the floors, and the naturally colored marble on the walls, as well as the mosaics, are all original. In some areas of the church, the mosaics were destroyed, but many are intact. They are considered the work of the same school that did the mosaics in Agia Sophia in Constantinople.
At some point in history, an earthquake caused the dome to collapse, along with the original mosaics there. The dome you see above is frescoed, dating to the 17th century, while the mosaics all around and in the apse are original, dating to the 11th century.
Here we are in the crypt Church of St. Barbara, which was built around St. Luke's original cell (which was also where his disciples buried him).
Behind the main church, we explored some buildings, whose original use was not immediately clear. There was also an old sundial behind the building in the photo above.
A passageway along the south side of the main church, with the entrance down to the crypt off to the left.