A modern pillar-hermit?

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:

georgian_stylite1 georgian_stylite2