The Esphigmenou Monastery is located on the northeastern coast of the Athos Peninsula close to the Monastery of Chilandari. It is ranked eighteenth in the hierarchical order of the twenty monasteries located on the peninsula.
Esphigmenou monastery has existed since the 10th century, although Athonite tradition attributes its founding to Empress Pulcheria, the sister of Emperor Theodosius II, in the 5th century. The origin of the name for the monastery is uncertain. The name of the monastery came from a founding monk who wore a tight belt or from the name of the site upon which the monastery was built. The monastery is built near the sea as at the time it was built the sea was safe from foreign attackers. Manuscripts, however, record serious raids in 1047 and 1534. The 1534 raid was the most severe and was preceded by a fire in 1491.
In between the raids and fire Esphigmenou was favored by the emperors in Constantinople as imperial chrysobulls record the acquisition of property for Esphigmenou in Prolakas, Sloutarass, Krosouvo, Vrasta, Thessaloniki, and Constantinople. Also, Esphigmenou is noted as being the home, in 1310, of St. Athanasius who was Patriarch of Constantinople and of Gregory Palamas, in 1335, who was Archbishop of Thessalonki.
In the 17th century, Esphigmenou entered into a period of decline due to serious financial difficulties. The monastery began a recovery during the following century. This recovery was aided by Grigorios, Metropolitan of Melenikion who made payment of the monastery's debts his main project.
In early part of the 19th century, Theodoritos of Lavra, as the abbot of Esphigmenou, reorganized the monastery as a coenobium and began the construction of a new katholikon in 1806 on the site of an earlier church built in 1010. He built other new buildings such as a new refectory as well. Between 1821 and 1832 Esphigmenou ceased to exist as a monastery as the Ottoman Turkish army commandeered and used the monastery buildings as barracks during the Greek war for independence. With the departure of the Turkish forces, the monastery was restored by Agathangelos Ayiannanitis. The rebuilding effort continued until 1870 and resulted in the construction of the monastery's modern buildings. These included the addition of a exonarthex on the katholikon, construction of the bell tower and a number of chapels and the southern gateway.
The katholikon is dedicated to the Ascension of Our Lord. There are two chapels in the katholikon and seven outside of it.
The monastery library contains 372 manuscripts and over 8,000 printed books. Among the treasures held by the monastery, Esphigmenou's most treasured possession is the icon of Our Lady Eleousa. In addition to relics of saints, the monastery possesses the so-called cross of Pulcheria and a large part of the tent used by Napoleon. The tent remnant is used as the curtain for the sanctuary door in the katholikon on the feast day of the Holy Ascension.References:
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