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The Katskhi Pillar in Georgia.

Monk Lives Life of Solitude on This 131-Foot-Tall Rock with a 2,000 Year History

The Katskhi Pillar is the name given to a natural limestone column located in Georgia. On the top of this monolith is a monastery, which was built during the 1990s. Today, a solitary monk by the name of Maxime Qavtaradze lives in this monastery atop the Katskhi Pillar. Nevertheless, it has been established that the pillar had been used by Christian ascetics as early as the 6th – 8th century A.D. In a way, Maxime may be said to be continuing this ancient ascetic tradition, and may even be the last one to do so on top of the Katskhi Pillar.

Location and First Function of the Katskhi Pillar

The Katskhi Pillar is situated in Imereti, which is a region in the western part of Georgia. This pillar rises to a height of about 40 meters (131.23 ft.), and overlooks the small river valley of Katskhura. As the Katskhi is such a prominent feature in the landscape, it is unsurprising that people attached special meaning to it. Prior to the coming of Christianity, for example, the Katskhi Pillar was believed to have been used as a sacred site by pagans, as early as 2,000 years ago. The monolith was thought to represent a local god of fertility, and hence fertility rites were carried out there.

With the advent of Christianity, however, the Katskhi Pillar acquired a new function. The limestone column was no longer associated with fertility. Instead, it became regarded as a way to detach oneself from the world. The ascetic practice of living on a pillar / monolith has its origins in the figure of St. Simeon the Stylite, a 4th / 5th century holy man who decided to live on top of a pillar. St. Simeon did this so that he could get away from society, and devote his time to prayer.

The Katskhi Pillar and Christian Hermits

Between the 6th and 8th centuries AD, a small church, which was dedicated to St. Maximus the Confessor, was built on top of the Katskhi Pillar. Today, only the remains of this ancient church are left on the summit of the pillar. Whilst it was known that the Katskhi Pillar was used by Christian hermits over the ages, it was only during the 20th century that researchers explored the column. It was in 1944, that the Katskhi Pillar was first surveyed by scholars.

Constructions on top of the Katskhi Pillar.

Constructions on top of the Katskhi Pillar. ( Giorgiantour)

A more systematic study was carried out after 1999, and more light was shed on the structures that once occupied the pillar. For example, it was discovered that apart from the church, the Katskhi Pillar also had several cells for hermits to live in, as well as a wine cellar. Additionally, in 2007, a small limestone plate was discovered. This plate had an inscription in Asomtavruli (one of the three writing systems used to write the Georgian language), which was dated paleographically to the 13th century. The inscription revealed that a man by the name of ‘Giorgi’ was in charge of the building of three hermit cells. In addition, the inscription makes a reference to the ‘Pillar of Life’, which is another name used by locals for the Katskhi Pillar. According to tradition, the column has been venerated as a symbol of the True Cross, hence this title.

Katskhi Pillar cross.

Katskhi Pillar cross. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

The Solitary Hermit of Katskhi Pillar

Today, there is just one hermit living on the summit of the Katskhi Pillar. In 1993, a Georgian Orthodox monk by the name of Maxime Qavtaradze moved to the Katskhi Pillar after taking his monastic vows. At first, the monk slept in an old fridge, as there was nothing on top of the pillar to protect him from the elements. Later on, a derelict chapel was renovated by Christian supporters. In addition, a cottage was built for the monk.

Maxime has had a troubled past and felt that living on the Katskhi Pillar helped him move closer towards God and to let go of his past. Maxime spends most of his time on the top of the column. Daily provisions, for instance, are sent to him by supporters on the ground with a winch. Nevertheless, he does come down twice a week, via an iron ladder, to pray at a small monastery located at the base of the pillar. Whilst he is at the monastery, he also offers counsel to troubled young men who go there to seek his help.                        

Looking down at the iron ladder and small monastery at the Katskhi Pillar.

Looking down at the iron ladder and small monastery at the Katskhi Pillar. ( Aleksey Muhranoff/  travelgeorgia.ru)

Top image: The Katskhi Pillar in Georgia. Source: The Flying Tortoise

By Wu Mingren

References

Day, M., 2013. The monk who lives up a rock to get closer to God. [Online]
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/10291740/The-monk-who-lives-up-a-rock-to-get-closer-to-God.html

Hafiz, Y., 2013. Katskhi Pillar Monk, Maxime Qavtaradze, Renews Age-Old Tradition In Georgia. [Online]
Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/19/katskhi-pillar-monk-georgia-maxime-qavtaradze_n_3950192.html

Kaushik, 2013. The Katskhi Pillar, Georgia. [Online]
Available at: http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/05/the-katskhi-pillar-georgia.html

Nolan, S., 2013. Getting closer to God: Meet the monk who lives a life of virtual solitude on top of a 131ft pillar and has to have food winched up to him by his followers. [Online]
Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2384040/Maxime-Meet-monk-lives-life-virtual-solitude-131ft-pillar.html

Tawsam, 2017. Katskhi Pillar. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/katskhi-pillar

Traveleering, 2017. Katskhi Pillar: The Staircase to Heaven. [Online]
Available at: http://traveleering.com/katskhi-pillar-staircase-heaven/

Comments

This is the futility of a religion like catholicism or orthodoxy which is a spawn of catholicism. This poor fellow is of no use to God or to other human beings. What good is religion, if it does not lead to serving others?

How is sewage handled on top of the pillar?

when you discover that the flames of purgatory slowly get cooler as you get closer to the the exit with each passing prayer from the HERMIT... you will understand!

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