The orthodox hagiography (painting of murals) portrays a poetic world. This is what I believed until the moment when I entered the church of the splendid Moundon monastery, at the northwestern part of Chios island. And what did I see? One extremely vivid and beautiful “comic book” about the end of the world (as it is believed in the Christian religion with all the elements of Heaven, Hell, Demons etc).
Well,I must say, not exactly a “comic book”. But a vast collection of small, multicolored extraordinary murals which fill all the walls of the church.
A huge collection picturing thieves, rapists, traitors, murderers and an array of evil types who all suffer unspeakable martyrdoms parade in front of the visitor. Blood dampens the wall across at the picture of the “slaughter of infants”, while on another wall, we see a monk being crucified as Jesus Christ!
It is spring, sweet and warm. Outside of the monastery the smell of the plane trees is envigorating. All around the hills are green and full of yellow flowers. Everything looks shiny and happy. It’s the month of April.
But why did they name it “Moundon” monastery however? “Because in older times the monastery was a dark and humid place and the monks suffered from tuberculosis. It was a damp (“mounta” i.e.in Greek) place.” For this reason they called it Moundon,” tells me Giorgos Fokas, the guardian of the abbey and chairman of council the neighboring Dieycha village. He then opens the old rusty locks and shows me the way to a picturesque courtyard, surrounded by stone buildings.
Moundon monastery is the second most important historical monastery of Chios (after Nea Moni) and one of the most beautiful monuments of the island. Its intellectual presence dominated once this island and its economic power was spread all over northwestern Chios.
The existence of the two fortified towers places it’s building most probably well before 1566 and the beginning of the Ottoman domination of Chios, since after that the Turks would not allow fortified buildings in monasteries.
Here at the serene slopes of mountain Pelinaio, the Chios aristocracy cloistered traditionally from the 16th century. They were the sons of affluent families of the island, something that by the years created a big intellectual and artistic glamour in the abbey.
Eminent and wealthy men, with important education and prestige lived in the cells of the abbey following the difficult and hard steps of orthodox monasticism. The calm environment and the isolation next to the mountains of Amani and Pelinaio attracted those noble young men who studied, wrote and meditated here, far from the nuisances of life, but also far from the unpleasant coexistence with the Genovese masters of the island (and later with the Turks).
“ It must have been very pleasant to live here for the aristocracy to choose this place…” , I thought while walking among the ruins of the deserted courtyard. However, I still have a hard time to imagine how the Abbey was then. How was it with such a show of glamour? Today, it is so quiet and eerie, and I believe a little forgotten and melancholic. Tourists do not come here.
The Moundon Monastery today has no monks but it has an exceptional atmosphere. One of the most interesting mural collections of the island (and the Christian world I think…), exists in the old church. It was made with effervescent colors and an aroma of innocence that leaves the pilgrim astonished.
“… The spirit of truth comes out quietly like incense from the painted, meditative and sad faces of the Saints…” wrote the painter and author Fotis Kontoglou, for those murals.
It is indeed a very big collection of murals: 468 from the 475 (which had been painted in the year 1849) are saved. The unknown painter designed his pictures in a naïf style but tried to follow both the old Byzantine models and the western influences, that were very popular at the Cretan School of painting (since the 15th century). His murals present resemblances with post Byzantine murals and explicit Venetian models.
The icon painter portrayed a big crowd of sinners: thieves, liars, vagabonds, traitors, pimps, killers, drunkards, tyrant kings, and others. I watch them, shocked, as they are tortured eternally by Satan and various other demons.
Look at the photographs carefully. And remember that they are from a Christian orthodox church!
It is always worth it to pay a visit to Moundon monastery, regardless of the fact that is deserted. It is like a humble “Salute” at the noblemen of Chios that stood out there with their solitary spiritual discipline …
I drank a cool orange juice at the cafe in the small square of the neighboring village of Dieycha. Aristocrats do not live there anymore, only a few very hospitable farmers.
Where am I?
The Moundon monastery is located on the west part of Chios, quite near the large village of Volissos.
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