THE KATSKHI PILLAR, a natural limestone monolith, rises 130 feet from the ground outside the village of Katskhi in Western Georgia. At the top sits a church, a crypt, three hermit cells, and a curtain wall. The original buildings date back to the 9th century but were abandoned around the 1400s, left to be shrouded in myth and legend.
The site remained undisturbed for nearly 500 years, until 1944, when researchers ascended to discover the ruins of an early medieval hermitage likely run by the Stylites — an ascetic branch of Christianity. The Stylites lived on top of pillars to avoid worldly temptation until the 15th century when the practice was stopped following the Ottoman invasion of Georgia.
Religious activity on the tip of this monolith was revived in the 1990s with the arrival of a single monk, Maxime Qavtaradze — a Chiatura native who climbed the monolith in 1993 because he wanted to be closer to God. Between 2005 and 2009 the buildings were restored with a state grant, and Maxime continues to occupy the monastery. Food and supplies are winched to the top of the pillar, but human traffic must use the iron ladder fastened to the stone.
Maxime’s only visitors are priests and a group of troubled young men who are seeking solace in the monastery at the foot of the pillar.
A photographer was eventually permitted to go to the top of the pillar but only after spending four days taking part in seven hours of daily prayers (including a four hour stint from 2am until sunrise). After making it to the top, Maxime told the photographer that he became a monk after a stretch in prison and decided he wanted to make a change.
The monk slept in a fridge when he first moved to the top of the pillar, but now has a bed inside a cottage.
Until recently you (and only if you’re male) could climb the iron ladder to the top, but now it’s been deemed inaccessible to the public and is an invitation-only affair. The site is still worth seeing from the ground, and at the base is a newly built church of Simeon Stylites surrounded by other ruins.
Source: Daily Mail