Photo by Amos Chapple via The Guardian
The Katskhi Pillar, a towering limestone monolith in the Republic of Georgia with the ruins of two Byzantine churches on top of it, has so many legends swirling around it that it’s hard to tell which ones are fact, and which are (admittedly very appealing) fictions. In this case, however, the truth of the matter reads a lot like fiction: a survey of the cliff a few years back revealed a pair of monasteries dating from the sixth to ninth centuries, where members of an ascetic religious order called the Stylites lived until around 1400. In the ruins of the churches, researchers found three hermit cells, a crypt, and a wine cellar. To this day, the locals of the village of Katskhi venerate the rock formation as the “Pillar of Life,” a symbol of the cross where Jesus was crucified, and some believe the monastery on the surface was once connected by a long iron chain to the dome of another nearby church.
The first mention of the ancient monastery was in the 18th century, when a Georgian scholar and prince described it thusly: “There is a rock within the ravine standing like a pillar, considerably high. There is a small church on the top of the rock, but nobody is able to ascend it; nor know they how to do that.”
For centuries, it was uninhabited. In the 1990s, a local monk named Maxim Qavtaradze moved in and began to restore the vertiginous churches himself. He enters and leaves via a 131-foot iron ladder; it takes him about 20 minutes to climb. Qavtaradze had been motivated to change his life after a stint in prison, and actually slept in an old fridge for his first two years, until some supporters built him a cottage.