Monastery of Moundon (history - architecture)

The Monastery of St John the Forerunner, widely known as the Monastery of Moundon, is situated on Mt Pelinaion at an altitude of 300 metres. Tradition has it that the monastery was originally built at Moundas, near the town of Volissos. But the original monks were dissatisfied with their proximity to society and decided to move their monastery to today’s isolated location. The monastery sits in a striking natural environment, ideally suited for calm contemplation, study and prayer. Looking from east to west from the monastery, visitors can spot the medieval castle-town of Volissos, the medieval settlement of “Ta Markou” and the later settlements of Diefcha, Pirama, Fita, Kipouries and Pityos. Moundon is thirty-one kilometres of scenic road from the island’s capital.

The monastery is mentioned in codices as the Monastery of St John the Forerunner of Moundon. Patriarchal Sigils, travellers’ journals and historiophile narratives of the island alike mention Moundon as the area where the monastery was built. But it’s also known as the monastery of Diefchon, or Diefkon (with the latter stressed either on the final or the penultimate syllable), from the nearby settlement of Diefcha. Another name by which it was known until the mid-19th century was the monastery of Volissos. A lively discussion has sprung up regarding the origin of the name Moundon. According to the most recent studies, the most probable origin is the adjective “moundos” (Greek for dull), used to describe the washed-out colours of the local vegetation.
It’s not known when the monastery was founded, but the oldest reference to it in written sources dates to 1574 and connects it with Patriarch Jeremias II. The monastery was renovated by the Hieromonk Iakovos Langadiotis. It remained a wealthy institution and a spiritual beacon throughout the Ottoman period, drawing many prominent Chiotes and intellectuals. Administratively, it belonged to the Patriarchal Exarchate of Volissos until 1859. Many Chiotes from the surrounding villages sought refuge here during the massacre of 1822. Nevertheless, the monastery suffered at the hands of the Ottomans, who pillaged it and slaughtered refugees and monks alike. The proverbial final nails in the coffin for the monastery were the destructive earthquakes of 1881, which flattened most of the structures. Ten years later, in 1891, only 16 monks were recorded living here. Despite these hardships, the monastery remained a bastion of Orthodoxy and historical continuity and continued to support -both financially and spiritually- Chiote efforts for liberation. In addition, in the wake of the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922, the remaining monks provided shelter and care for the dishevelled and hungry refugees who had fled to Chios.
The katholikon is a single-nave barrel-vaulted basilica. The frescoes date to the 17th century and were painted by the Chiote priest and painter Manuel Kalaronis. In fact, we even have an intact copy of a contract dated to 1620 between the Hegumens’ council and Kalaronis regarding the painting of the frescoes. It mentions that Kalaronis agreed to paint them in accordance with the style of the church of St Eleftherios of Chios. However, lack of funds cut short the work. A second effort two years later also failed due to lack of funds. Archival sources from 1622 mention a certain Neophilos or Theophilos Paradeisis as having undertaken to complete the job. More precisely, in 1622 the administrators of the Monastery of Moundon entrusted Paradeisis, a monk, with the task of raising funds to pay for his painting of the church within a two-year period. The decoration of the katholikon was ultimately completed in 1730 by the painter Konstantinos from Katarraktis. The archival documents connected with the monastery are an endless source of fascination: according to them, Parthenios, the Hegumen of the Monastery of Moundon entrusted the painting of the katholikon to the deacon Konstantis Katharachtousis. The written contract describes in detail the iconographic programme that the painter was to create, as well as the remuneration and its terms. It’s a fascinating and revealing glimpse into the economic hardships the monastery faced.
The surviving frescoes were created by an anonymous painter and may be dated to 1849, thanks to an inscription on the lintel above the main entrance. The iconographic program is lush and extensive, including scenes from the Dodecaorton, episodes from the Public Life of Christ and the Passion, Old Testament scenes, aspects of monastic life and depictions of saints. Visitors will find the fresco in the lower register of the southern wall that’s accompanied by an inscription which translates to “the life of a true monk” especially fascinating. Here, a crucified monk is flanked by Hades on the left and the world and Death on two distinct levels on the right. The whole composition has overt folk leanings.
The monastic complex is accessed by the main gate on its southern flank. It encompasses cells, an olive press, a fountain and cistern, and the belfry. The monastery was once fortified, as can be seen by the ruins of the rectangular tower and curtain wall that protected the central buildings in the past.
No monks live there today, while the only structure that still survives in relatively good condition is the katholikon. This historic monument celebrates on 29 August, when the church commemorates the beheading of St John the Forerunner. Visitors, whether devout locals or just tourists, flock to the place for the occasion.
The Holy Patriarchal and Stauropegic Monastery of Moundon is a prominent pilgrimage and a vital part of the local Byzantine heritage. It should be noted that the terms Patriarchal and Stauropegic usually signify that an Orthodox monastery belongs administratively to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

27b./67 Church of St James (Chapel of the Monastery of Moundon)
This small stone-built church is dedicated St James, Brother of Jesus, and was erected in 1745 by the brothers Meletios and Methodios, both monks. Thanks to the Sigils of Patriarch Jeremias II, we know that the monastery was renovated by the Hieromonk Iakovos Langadiotis before 1574. That’s also why the chapel is dedicated to St Iakovos (James in English). Its full name is the Holy chapel of St Iakovos at the Holy Patriarchal and Stauropegic Monastery of Moundon and it celebrates on 23 October.