Byzantine Monks in Calabria

Saint John Therestis

The history of Byzantine monasticism in Calabria, the southernmost region of Italy, dates back to the 6th century, when the Byzantine Empire ruled over the area. The monastic movement flourished under the protection of the Byzantine emperors and the local dukes, who granted the monks lands, privileges and autonomy. The monks followed the rule of St. Basil the Great, the founder of Eastern monasticism, and practiced a life of prayer, asceticism and charity. They also contributed to the preservation and transmission of the Greek language and culture, as well as the Orthodox faith, in a region that was increasingly influenced by Latin and Roman Catholic elements.

Cattolica, Stilo

The most famous and influential Byzantine monastery in Calabria was Stilo, founded in the 7th century by St. John Theristus, a disciple of St. Basil. Stilo became a center of learning and spirituality, attracting many monks and pilgrims from all over the Byzantine world. The monastery also produced several saints and writers, such as St. Nilus of Rossano, St. Bartholomew of Simeri and St. Nicodemus of Mammola. The monastery’s main church, the Cattolica, is a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and art, decorated with splendid frescoes and mosaics.

Other important Byzantine monasteries in Calabria were Rossano, Corazzo, San Marco Argentano, Santa Severina, San Demetrio Corone and San Giovanni Theristis. These monasteries formed a network of spiritual and cultural exchange, fostering a distinctive Byzantine-Italian identity that still survives today in some communities. The Byzantine monastic tradition in Calabria declined after the 11th century, due to the Norman conquest, the Papal claims and the Islamic raids. However, some monasteries continued to exist until the 16th century, when they were either suppressed or latinized by the Catholic Church.

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