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Panagia Sumela Monastery Undergoes Restoration Work

Sumela Monastery
The Sumela Monastery. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Restoration work has been carried out in the historical Sumela Monastery to erase the names and love quotes on frescoes of unknown people who caused immense damage to the famous and historical frescoes of the monastery.

The Holy Monastery of Panagia Soumela is a Greek Orthodox monastery on the Pontic Mountains, located in the Maçka district of Trabzon Province in modern-day Turkey. The monastery has been included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and it is considered to be of vital historical and artistic value.

The monastery was opened to visitors this year after six years of restoration work.

Restoration of Sumela Monastery unearthed hidden spaces

According to reports, four thousand tons of rocks were cleaned, a 300-meter walkway was maintained, and historical aqueducts, as well as the entrance and stairs, were restored. Moreover, industrial climbers covered and strengthened the slopes with steel nets against unsteady stones. The restoration team also worked on interior areas.

During restoration, hidden spaces in the monastery were unearthed. The ten chapels, bell tower, guesthouse, monk and student rooms, cellar, and similar structures to the right of the Main Rock Church were opened to visitors.

Panagia Sumela
Credit: Herbert Frank / CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

As part of the restoration, special work was also carried out on frescoes that were destroyed by leaking surface waters. Currently, work is still being carried out to erase names and love quotes engraved on frescoes.

According to Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Tamer Erdoğan: “Now it is time to work on the landscaping, lighting, and, most importantly, the frescoes in the monastery. The frescoes have been destroyed. The Culture and Tourism Ministry has a team of experts from Istanbul, Trabzon, Gaziantep, and Ankara. This is very delicate work. They carry out their work just as a surgeon treats his patient very meticulously in a surgery. It will take time to fix the frescoes that have been destroyed due to natural conditions and human factors…The most prominent work is carried out on the Virgin Mary-Child Jesus figure inside the monastery. We will unearth the frescoes and present them to the visitors.”

Sumela Monastery a symbol of Pontic Hellenism

Panagia Sumela
Credit: Jean & Nathalie Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Monastery of Panagia of Sumela is a symbol of sixteen centuries of Pontic Hellenism. According to tradition, in 386, Athenian monks Varnavas and Sophronius were led to the inaccessible mountain peaks of Pontus after the revelation of the Virgin Mary in order to establish her solitary abode. There, in the cave of the steep lower slope of the mountain and at an altitude of 1063 meters, the sacred icon of the Virgin Mary the Athiniotissa was purportedly brought by angels.

In 1923, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and an independent Turkish Republic was founded. After 1923, the Sumela Monastery was abandoned following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey as laid down in the Treaty of Lausanne and thieves as well as Turkish troops have raided the Monastery because of its wealth of art objects. The monastery was later set on fire, presumably by radical Islamists and the wooden parts of the Sumela Monastery were destroyed. In the following years, treasure hunters continued damaging and pillaging the remaining parts of the monastery.

However, before the enforced exodus in 1923, the monks hid the icon of the Virgin Mary, the gospel of St. Christopher (a manuscript copy of the four Gospels), and the cross of Trabzon Emperor Manuel Komninos in the chapel of St. Barbara.

In 1930, those who migrated established a new monastery, which they determined would be the new Panagia Sumela Monastery on the slopes of Mount Vermio near the town of Naousa in Macedonia, Greece. Some treasures from the old Sumela Monastery were transported to the new one in Greece.

In June 2010, Turkey allowed the Ecumenical Patriarchate to hold a divine liturgy to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, 2010 in the Panagia Sumela Monastery. It was the first time in eighty-eight years that the monastery was reopened as a church after having been converted into a museum.

The principal elements of the complex are the Rock Church, several chapels, kitchens, student rooms, a guesthouse, a library, and a sacred spring revered by Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The inner and outer walls of the Rock Church and the walls of the adjacent chapel are decorated with frescoes. Frescoes dating from the era of Alexios III of Trebizond decorate the inner wall of the Rock Church facing the courtyard. The frescoes of the chapel which were painted on three levels in three different periods are believed to be from the beginning of the 18th century.

During restoration that took place from 2015 to 2017, a secret tunnel was discovered which leads to a place believed to have served as a temple or chapel for Christians. In addition, unseen frescoes were discovered depicting heaven and hell as well as life and death.


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