The ruins of the Sumela Monastery

The Sumela Monastery is among the most magnificent Christian monasteries I have visited in the Near East, and there is a lot of competition for magnificence in this great category of monastic facilities. The monastery is located in beautiful mountain foothills, a short bus ride from the major Black Sea Turkish port Trabzon. Two Athenian monks during in the fourth century had visions and founded the monastery on the cliff’s face. It was run by Greek Orthodox clergy until 1923, having received special dispensation from Ottoman rulers because of the place’s sacred status.

During the violent period of ethnic cleansing following the war between Greece and Turkey after World War I, which saw up to 2 million Turks and Greeks change borders, the monastery was abandoned. I could not find an accurate account upon first look of who actually was responsible for the defacing of what should be a World Heritage site, but the ancient facility provides a good example of cultural devastation, particularly along religious lines. (For details on what happened to many Christian sites in Turkey following the creation of the modern Republic of Turkey, I would recommend reading William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, in which he talks about the upheavals in Turkey during this time and later.) I strongly recommend anyone in Turkey take time to visit this very special place. You cannot help but feel something other-worldly here. I did, despite the obvious damage done to the ancient art and buildings.

Recently, Turkey’s government has allowed a few Greek Orthodox services at the monastery. That is a great sign of reconciliation and progress, I believe, between Christians and Moslems in this great country, Turkey.


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