On Wednesday 13 May 2020 the Benaki Museum welcomes the exhibition Robert McCabe– Katerina Lymperopoulou ‘The last monk of Strofades’. While museums in Greece remain temporarily closed, the public may experience the exhibition through unique shots of the works and the exhibition space at benaki.org/Strofades. As soon as museums reopen and until 13 September 2020, the exhibition will welcome visitors at the S. & E. Costopoulos Gallery at the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture.
The exhibition refers to the history of a monastic complex (a fortified monastery) of unique historical, architectural and cultural significance dating back to the 13th century. This complex dominates a secluded corner of the Ionian Sea, a small island – just one-third the length of a typical airport runway. It is the islet of Stamfani in the Strofades complex. Despite its diminutive size, the island has a unique history and preserves rich flora and fauna, thanks to its remarkable geological features.
According to ecclesiastical documents, the fortified monastery was founded by a Byzantine emperor, while a self-sufficient monastic community flourished there for centuries. Inside the defensive tower of the complex lies a church – a rare example of a fortified church in the Orthodox world –that provided protection from ruthless Turkish and Algerian pirates. Nowadays, this monumental complex poses a serious dilemma for Greece.
The monastery is in a critical condition and needs restoration works urgently after two catastrophic earthquakes in 1997 and 2018. The next earthquake could spell its end. In 1717 the governance of the monastery and the relics of St Dionysios, who consecrated the monastery, were temporarily transferred to the neighbouring island of Zakynthos, after the slaughter of monks during a raid. Could the complex return to life as a functioning monastery?
Robert McCabe’s photographs and Katerina Lymperopoulou’s research are accompanied by exceptional exhibits and by the words of distinguished scientists in paying tribute to the life of the last monk who lived in this hard-to-reach islet of Strofades, ‘sharing’ it with God for 38 years; a tribute is also paid to the last lighthouse keeper and to the ferryman, who carried supplies to the island. The exhibition is also a plea for help to save the Strofades island complex, as it constitutes a significant migratory bird station and the site of one of the most important forests in the western part of Greece.
The exhibitions hall explore the exceptional natural characteristics of the island along with the history of its inhabitants and is based on the book The last monk of Strofades by Robert A. McCabe and Katerina Lymperopoulou. A series of documentary photos by Robert McCabe, taken before the monastery was rendered in accessible, will be accompanied by a scale model of the Monastery dating back to 1910, photographs of the Monastery after the catastrophic earthquake of 2018, the restoration study of the monastic complex, and representative examples of the exceptional flora and fauna inhabiting the Strofades complex.
Curator: Eleni Athanassiou
Exhibition Design: Alexis Veroucas