Bivongi, the “Terrasanta” of Greek Orthodox monasticism in Calabria

Schermata 2016-02-03 alle 11.46.47

Lying on the right side of the Stilaro valley (Byzantine valley of Stilaro), on a plateau at the foot of Mount Consolino, not far from the town, the monastery, with its Byzantine-style structure and the Katholikon dating back to the eleventh century, is one of the most important spiritual places of greek-orthodox cult in Italy. Its foundation, at the peak of the flowering of Byzantine monasticism, is owed to the Greek monks of Mount Athos, at the time when Calabria was part ecclesiastic under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Basilica is dedicated to Saint John Theristus (The Reaper), a monk who came to this area from Palermo in the ninth century, soon earning an aura of holiness. Its architecture provide evidence that it is Norman Byzantinian. The first is evidenced in the corner pillars connected by four arches supporting the dome. The second, however, is seen in the outside walls made of stone and brick. External pilasters of the apse also forming pointed arches represent Arab-inspired architectural elements seen in Byzantine churches. Finally, the dome is based on a cubic base, the height of the four windows becomes octagonal.

Over the centuries, including higher moments of splendor and periods of decline, partly due to Latinization of worship, the monastic area that between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the most important, was the Basilian monastery in Calabria.  It has always been an important place of spirituality and study, until it is finally sucked into oblivion and compromised by consequences of neglect from the end of ‘600s.

After many long years of neglect, the spotlight shined again on the Holy Monastery of St. John Theristis at the end of the seventies when the restoration began, reopening their door to Orthodox worship again with thanks to the return of the Greek monks of Mount Athos that will remain until the beginning of the new millennium. Now the monastery (Mănăstirea Sfântul Ioan Secerătorul) falls under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy.