An article in the Daily Mail today reports on a Georgian monk, Maxime Qavtaradze, who lives atop a “pillar” above his monastery. The “pillar” seems to be a rather wide chunk of rock, with a little hut and a chapel on the top.
It takes a strong mind and a lot of willpower to become a monk and feel closer to God.
But one man has taken his devotion to new heights, literally.
Maxime Qavtaradze, a 59-year-old monk, has lived a life of virtual solitude on top of a pillar high above his Georgian monastry for 20 years.
When he wants to leave Katskhi Pillar, he spends 20 minutes getting down a 131ft ladder.
Supplies are winched up to him by his followers and he only comes down twice a week to pray with his followers.
But having worked as a crane operator before taking his orders in 1993, Maxime has always had a head for heights.
He said: ‘It is up here in the silence that you can feel God’s presence.’
His only visitors are priests and a group of troubled young men who are seeking solace in the monastry at the foot of the pillar.
A photographer called Amos Chapple paid a visit to Stylite monk Maxime but was not at first allowed up onto the pillar.
Instead he had to spend four days taking part in seven hours of daily prayers including a four hour stint from 2am until sunrise.
When he finally was granted permission to scale the ‘dicey’ ladder to the top, he was worried that it might be too dark to get back down.
After making it to the top, Maxime told Amos 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.
The Katskhi Pillar was used by stylites, Christians who lived on top of pillars to avoid worldly temptation until the 15th century when the practice was stopped following the Ottoman invasion of Georgia.
For centuries the 40 metres (130ft) high pillar lay abandoned and locals could only look up at the mysterious ruins at its summit.
Finally, in 1944 a group led by the mountaineer Alexander Japaridze made the first documented ascent of the pillar and discovered the remains of a chapel and the skeleton of a stylite who had perished there.
Shortly after the collapse of communism, and the subsequent resurgence of religion in Georgia, Maxime decided to live atop the pillar in the way of the old stylites.
He said: ‘When I was young I drank, sold drugs, everything. When I ended up in prison I knew it was time for a change.
‘I used to drink with friends in the hills around here and look up at this place, where land met sky.
‘We knew the monks had lived up there before and I felt great respect for them’.
In 1993 Maxime took monastic vows and climbed the pillar to begin his new life.
‘For the first two years there was nothing up here so I slept in an old fridge to protect me from the weather.’
Since then Maxime and the Christian community in the area have constructed a ladder to the top, rebuilt the church, and built a cottage where Maxime spends his days praying, reading, and ‘preparing to meet god’.
As a result of the interest in the site there is now a religious community at the base of the pillar.
Men with trouble in their lives come to stay and ask for guidance from Maxime and the young priests who live at the site.
The men are fed and housed on the condition they join the priests in praying for around seven hours per day, including from 2am-sunrise, and help with chores.
Maxime usually climbs down from the pillar once or twice a week for night prayers and to speak with men who seek help and guidance.
Speaking about his isolation, Maxime comments: ‘I need the silence. It is up here in the silence that you can feel god’s presence.’
The Katskhi pillar is a limestone monolith located in the village of Katskhi in western Georgian region of Imereti, about 10 kilometers from the mining town of Chiatura.
In pagan times, before the advent of Christianity, the towering Katskhi Pillar was thought to represent a local god of fertility.
With the arrival of Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, the rock came to represent seclusion. The locals call it the Pillar of Life.
At the summit of the Katskhi pillar, are the remains of a small church built between the 6th and 8th centuries. The church was probably built by the Stylites, who were early Christian ascetics who stood on top of pillars and preaching and praying.
The only written record of the Katskhi pillar occur in the text of an 18th-century Georgian scholar, who noted the church for its inaccessibility.
There are a raft of gorgeous photos on the article. Here are two of them: