At The capital of Mount Athos, Karyes, the historical cell of St. John The Forerunner of Koutloumouiou Monastery can be found. This cell was built by the great teacher of Orthodox Iconography, Hieromonk Dionysios of Fourna (1670 – 1746).
The Hieromonk Dionysios was born in the town of Fourna in Euritania Greece. He was born in the year 1670, his father was the Priest Panayiotis Chalkias. When his father died, the young Dionysios was forced to leave for Constantinople at the ages of 12 years, for work. He stayed in the city for 4 years and at the age of 16 he departed Constantinople for Mount Athos. In Karyes, he completed his schooling and was taught Byzantine Iconography. He was also tonsured a monk and then a Hieromonk in Karyes. In the year 1711, he began building his Cell in Karyes and the chapel, which he dedicated to St. John the Forerunner, he also did all of the Iconography for the chapel, including all of the frescoes and movable Icons. From 1724 to 1728, Dionysios returned to his home town of Fourna, where he and his students completed all of the Iconography and frescoes in the cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Lord, which was later destroyed by the Turkish occupiers prior to the war of Independence in 1821.
In 1729, Hieromonk Dionysios returned to Mount Athos where he studied the works of Panselinos and Theophanis the Cretan in depth and achieved to be recognised as one of the most significant Iconographers of his period. In this period, with the help of his student, Cyrillos of Chios, he wrote his renowned book, Ermineia of Iconography and its sources.
In 1734, he was forced to leave Mount Athos, and established himself in his home town of Fourna, where he was immedialtely involved with the building of the Monastery of The Life Giving Fountain. Next to the Monastery he built a school for general studies and a workshop for Iconography, of which according to Sergios Makraios, the “full of wisdom” teacher of the generation, Theophanis, elevated the school to a higher education establishment in 1755. The school continued operating until 1784. Many students of the school became great teachers and enlighteners of the occupied nation.
In all of this time until 1744, he visited Mount Athos and Constantinople from time to time. From all of his works, after the earthquakes of 1966, only 4 Icons remain in Fourna, Christ Enthroned, St. John the Forerunner, The Life Giving Spring of 1733 and Apostles Peter and Paul from 1725.
The book “Erminia (Interpretation) of Iconography and its sources” (Ερμηνεία της ζωγραφικής τέχνης και αι κύριαι πηγαί αυτής) became the basic manual for Greeks and people of other ethnic backgrounds in the dissemination and renaissance of the Byzantine Iconography from the beginning of the 18th century and onwards.
The Elder of the Cell, from 1982, Hieromonk Anastasios in an older interview, tells us the following:
We grew up with this book (referring to Erminia). “When I went to Athens as a student and lived in the suburb of Agia Paraskevi, I used to take the bus from Asklipion, across the road from the bookshop Spanos.” “One day I went into the bookshop and the first book I bought was Erminia.” “It cost me 22 Drachmas.” “I don’t know why I bought it, it was just to read I guess.” “(In Chalkida, Before I came to Athens, my brother George and I began learning Iconography and colour combinations from Mr. Antonis).” “I read this book as if I was studying the books of the Holy Fathers, the Holy Bible or poetry.”
Excerpt from the book:
"Πέτρα τετράγωνη και μεγάλη και εις αυτήν σινδόνι απλωμένον και επάνω ο Χριστός κείμενος ύπτιος, και η Παναγία επάνωθέν του γονατισμένη φιλεί το πρόσωπόν του. Και ο Ιωσήφ φιλεί τους πόδας του και ο Θεολόγος την δεξιάν του..." κτλ. Είναι ένα ποίημα! Και όμως πρόκειται για μια περιγραφή: πώς να ζωγραφίσειςτον"Επιτάφιοθρήνο".
(A sheet spread on a rectangular rock and Jesus lying on it, the Virgin Mary above Him on her knees kisses His face. Joseph kisses his feet and the Theologian His right side) How to sketch the Epitaph.
“With this excerpt, our friend, musical producer and director Alkinos Ioannides shocked.” “When he came to the Cell, we gave him a flyer with excerpts from the book, which we had published at the time.” “ The next day he came back to the Cell and said: What have you done to me Father?” “And continued repeating the above excerpt like a poem by heart!”
“For an Iconographer, the entire book is a simple guide in order for him to create an Icon. For a scholar it can be something else, a poet could find what he is looking for, a Theologian could find his own depth.”
Further to this, Elder Anastasios, makes a shocking revelation to us:
“24 years ago, I was in the garden of the Holy Cell, turning the soil.” “The day was quite warm and from the effort of this physical labour I felt myself having a lack of energy.” “ Whilst in this state, I looked up and saw an old monk coming from the scale of the church, holding in his hands a book or scroll and brushes, a very short distance to where I was standing.” ”When he placed his hand against the wall of the church, the brightest light shined in that place.”
“When we cleaned the old rendering from the stone built wall, in the in the place where I had seen this old monk touch the wall, we found a loose and upright stone.” “When we removed the stone, we found the skull of the Hieromonk Dionysios of Fourna.” “His students had brought it with them from Fourna, where Hieromonk Dionysios had died, and placed it at the foundations of the chapel he built, around the place where the Holy Altar is.” “This is the first time I have spoken about this publicly; however you will find a reference to this in our minutes from our Cell meetings.”
Currently, Elder Hieromonk Anastasios and Monk Prodromos reside at the Holy Cell, continuing the tradition of the Arts and publishing many works under the name Erminia.
Last spring, my friend Giannis Konstiotis, the writer of the blog http://agioritikesmnimes.blogspot.com/, visited the Holy Cell and shared his photos from his visit.
To obtain works published by the Holy Cell, click here.