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Literature

A Moving Story in Photographs: The Last Monk of the Strofades

October 12, 2019

The light and beauty of Greece has been a source of inspiration since the dawn of time. Tourists flock to the more well-known islands, but there are still some remote places where the winds and surf still carve out their signatures in stone. The Last Monk of the Strofades: Memories from an Unknown Greek Island by Robert A. McCabe and Katerina Lymperopoulou transports us to one such place, the windswept Strofades in the Ionian Sea, to share with us the story of the last caretaker of the ancient monastery, an architectural and historical treasure now in danger of destruction and succumbing to the elements there.

The story is told in photographs by the renowned American photographer and Philhellene Robert McCabe, which beautifully capture the Strofades, two small, flat, windswept islands rising out of the sea. Known to the ancient Greeks as the home of the frightening harpies, the mythological half-human and half-bird personification of storm winds, the islands are not at all very well-known to most modern Greeks, let alone the millions of tourists from around the world who flock to Greece and its more popular destinations every year.

On the larger of the two islets, Stamfani, stands a massive fortified monastery, founded as early as the thirteenth century, for centuries a refuge for honest seafarers and a target for pirates and Turkish raiders. In its heyday, this imposing compound was home to some forty farmer-monks, who kept the entire island under cultivation. By 1976, however, it was home to just one monk, Father Gregory Kladis (1937–2017), who alone tended the monastery until 2014. Today, the monastery which was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1997, lies empty and in danger of complete ruin.

The book is intended to tell the world about the Holy Monastery at Strofades, and encourage its preservation. At its core are the words of the last monk himself, Father Gregory, who guides the reader through his historic monastery―its chapels, refectory, mills, bakehouse, and living quarters―and the natural beauties of its island setting, as depicted in McCabe’s superb photographs. The testimonies of the boatman who brought Father Gregory his supplies, as well as the lighthouse keeper who was once his only companion on the island, lend texture and context as do essays on the history, geology, and architecture of the Strofades, and architectural drawings that reconstruct the monastery’s phases of construction.

The volume is the result of a years-long collaboration between more than a dozen researchers and friends of the Strofades. Readers will undoubtedly be moved by the remarkable and unforgettable story of the islands’ last monk and the fate of the historic monastery which will hopefully result in the preservation of the monastery for future generations.

Robert A. McCabe was born in Chicago in 1934 and started taking photographs in 1939 with a Kodak Brownie given to him by his father, who published a tabloid newspaper in New York. McCabe’s sixteen published photo books include the Abbeville titles Mycenae: From Myth to History, Mykonos: Portrait of a Vanished Era, The Ramble in Central Park: A Wilderness West of Fifth, and Weekend in Havana.

Katerina Lymperopoulou has more than three decades of experience as a journalist for the leading newspapers in Greece. Her marriage to a native of Zakynthos has connected her closely with the Ionian islands and the Strofades.

The Last Monk of the Strofades: Memories from an Unknown Greek Island by Robert A. McCabe and Katerina Lymperopoulou. is available online and in bookstores.

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