Shifting Sacred Spaces: Prodromos Monastery after the Fire

by Emily Spratt

It was impossible to be prepared for the experience of returning to the monastery after so much destruction has occurred. While I expected the atmosphere to be riddled with grief after the loss of the most community-focused buildings, entering the sacred grounds on Mount Menoikeion was as vibrant and positive as it always has been, attesting to the shared strength of the nuns whose individual personalities vivify the monastery. Event though the very places which brought the members of the spiritual and secular communities together (the reception rooms, the kitchen, the refectory, and the abbess’s quarters) no longer exist, the social life of the monastery has shifted in accommodation to the structural losses.

Now the nuns gather with congregants from Serres on the side of the Katholicon and in the museum-library spaces. Although the changed use of the social space is jarring when expectations of the former meeting places are remembered, the same feeling of community already radiates from these new places with transforming functions. Just as the monks once utilized the refectory adjacent to the main church, the new social zones may actually be beginning to mimic older patterns of use. Indeed, the nuns have been long preparing the old dining spaces for re-use and although they were planning on moving the refectory and kitchen into this area in the near future, the destruction from the fire has made the completion of these plans urgently critical.

Until the refurbished refectory is complete, the nuns are resigned to cook and eat in the bakery building, which lies just outside of the monastery’s walls. While the bakery always was in harmonic operation with the monastery, it was distinctively outside of the walls. Now that the nuns prepare and eat their meals outside of the sanctioned sacred space, this perimeter has shifted accordingly. When I lay my sleepy head down for a minute after lunch on a wall that used to be considered within a secular zone, a nun was quick to remind me that I was still at the monastery. After we discussed the question of the monastery’s borders, the nun informed me that the community wished that they could move the gate above the bakery on the mountain as the sacred precinct now fully encompassed this area. The shifting sacred borders and new functions of space at Prodromos, after the fire, attest to the adaptability of the community in the face of a disaster and the complicated life cycle of a monastery.

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