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Sumela Monastery

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Overview

Sumela Monastery (Greek: Μονή Παναγίας ΣουμελάMoní Panagías Soumelá; Turkish: Sümela Manastırı) is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary located at Karadağ (Greek: Sou Melá, meaning “Black Mountain”)[1] within the Pontic Mountains, in the Maçka district of Trabzon Province in modern Turkey.

Nestled in a steep cliff at an altitude of about 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) facing the Altındere valley, it is a site of great historical and cultural significance, as well as a major tourist attraction within Altındere National Park. Due to an increase in rock falls, on 22 September 2015 the monastery was closed to the public for safety reasons for the duration of one year to resolve the problem; this was later extended to three years. It reopened to tourists 25 May 2019.[2] The Monastery is one of the most important historic and touristic venues in Trabzon.

 

Its not known when the monastery was founded, but the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism places the date around AD 386, during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I (375 – 395).[4][5] According to William Miller, Barnabas and Sophronios, two Athenian monks, founded the monastery. It became famous for an icon of the Virgin Mary known as the Panagia Gorgoepekoos, said to have been painted by the Apostle Luke.[6]

During its long history, the monastery fell into ruin several times and was restored by various emperors. During the 6th century, it was restored and enlarged by General Belisarius at the behest of Justinian.[4]

It reached its present form in the 13th century after gaining prominence during the existence of the Empire of Trebizond. While the Emperors Basil and John II had endowed the monastery richly, it was during the reign of Alexios III (1349–1390) that Sumela received its most important largess: according to legend, the young Alexios was saved from a storm by the Virgin, and was bidden by her to restore the monastery. A chrysobull dated to 1365 confirms the freedom and autonomy of the monastery, together with all of its hereditary lands and dependents; exempts them from all taxes, except for one biannual tax; and restores to it the serfs whom the tax-collectors of Matzouka had illegally taken from it, listing 40 of the serfs by name. At that time, the monastery was granted an amount annually from imperial funds.[7] During the time of Manuel III, son of Alexios III, and during the reigns of subsequent princes, Sumela gained further wealth from imperial grants. Following the conquest by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1461, it was granted the sultan’s protection and given rights and privileges that were renewed by following sultans. The monastery remained a popular destination for monks and travelers through the years.

In 1682 and for the following decades, the monastery housed the Phrontisterion of Trapezous, a well-known Greek educational institution of the region.[8]

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