Founded in the early 14th century, Agios Nikolaos Anapaphsas is a monastery in the Meteora notable for its unique construction and splendid frescoes by the 16th-century Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk.
History of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery
Hermits seem to have first occupied this rock in the early 14th century, as evidenced by remains of frescoes in the Chapel of St. Anthony. The present monastery was founded in 1510 by St. Dionysius, Metropolitan of Larisa, and Nikanoras, priest-monk and exarch of Stagoi. The name “Anapafsas” is of unknown origin; it may be the surname of an early monk or founder.
The monastery was abandoned by 1900 and fell into disrepair until it was renovated in the 1960s by the archaeological service. It was then inhabited by Father Palamas until 1982, after which the monastery closed. In 1997, priests of Kalampaka began to open the monastery to tourists every summer. Today, one monk lives at Agios Nikolaos, the abbot archimandrite Polykarpos Venetis.
What to See at Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery
Since the top of this rock is limited in size, the monastery buildings had to be extended upward instead of outward, rising three stories high. The small katholikon of St. Nicholas occupies the second floor. Its dome has no windows because of the floor built on top of it and it has an irregular floor plan in order to fit on the rock. A larger narthex extends to the west.
The frescoes of Agios Nikolaos are some of the most important in the Meteora, as they were painted by the celebrated leader of the Cretan school, Theophanes Strelitzas. He painted them in 1527, when he was probably a monk here. These frescoes are the first to bear the signature of the artist (“Ch.M.”) and are among his earliest works of this magnitude.
Depicting such scenes as the Passion of Christ, the Virgin Mary praying, Jonah and the Whale, the Liturgy of Angels and the Last Judgement, the frescoes demonstrate the characteristics for which Theophanes of Crete became famous: delicacy of line; vividness in imagery; and bright colors.
The first floor of the monastery is occupied by the tiny Chapel of St. Anthony, which contains some early 14th-century frescoes, and a crypt where relics and manuscripts used to be stored.
The third floor contains the old refectory, decorated with frescoes and recently renovated for use as a reception hall, the ossuary (for storage of bones), and the renovated Chapel of St. John the Baptist.