Hosios Lukas Monastery is on the way to Delphi from Athens (about 152 km northwest), and takes about two hours by car. One of the advantages of renting a car is visiting sites like Hosios Lukas, which most bus tours bypass on their way to Delphi. Upon our arrival at the Athens airport (from Naxos Island) we rented a car from Auto Union through Economy Car Rentals, a European car rental consolidator. They met us at the airport upon our arrival and drove us to their off airport office.
The monastery is just south of the town of Distomo, and about a 15 minute detour from the main route between Athens and Delphi. The monastery is an excellent example of Byzantine architecture and is known for its gold mosaics, wall paintings of the Katholikon (main) church, and 11th century frescoes in the crypt. Unfortunately, some of the mosaics were destroyed in an earthquake in 1593, but even so many remain. In addition, the monastery’s beautiful exteriors are a mix of red brick and huge stone blocks (from the nearby ancient Greek site of Steirion).
The site is on the slope of Mt. Elikon overlooking a green valley with high peaks all around. The monastery is still inhabited by a few monks.
The monastery was founded in 961, and is named for Luke the Hermit (born 896 AD), who was from nearby Delphi. When he was 49 years old, he settled on the spot of the current monastery, and lived there until his death in 953. He became famous for his prophecy of the liberation of Crete from the Arabs, which was realized within 20 years of his prophecy. His tomb is in the crypt below the main church. We are able to walk into the crypt and wander through the paintings without supervision.
Most of the monastic buildings visible today date from the 11thcentury or later. The Hosios Lukas church became a model for other Greek churches of the period. A second smaller church, called Church of the Panaghia (Church of the Virgin Mary, or Church of Theotokos) is connected to the main church on the northeast corner. This church was started during Lukas’ lifetime, but was not finished until two years after his death. While it has a more austere interior, it still has some great wall paintings. In the connection between the two churches are relics of Loukas, including his hand bones.
Other interesting buildings are near the northeast entrance to the monastery, around the courtyard–including a stable, monk cells, and a hearth room blackened by soot from the warming fires over the centuries.
Hosios Lukas is only about 30 minutes from Delphi and well worth the stop. There is no entry fee and relatively few visitors, which made the visit very enjoyable.
References: The Monastery of Hosios Lukas, Brief Illustrated Archaeological Guide, by Paul Lazarides, Hannibal Publishing House, Athens (no date given).
Fodor’s Greece Travel Guide, 2010.