This past summer, CyI’s Associate Professor Nikolas Bakirtzis led the "Mount Menoikeion Seminar", an interdisciplinary workshop (see the recent news item from the Princeton University website) that brings together students and faculty from a wide range of disciplines and fields of specialization, for on-site study and discussion at the medieval monastery of Hagios Ioannis Prodromos, or St. John the Baptist, located in the foothills of Mount Menoikeion, near Serres in northern Greece. The monastery, founded in the 13th century, has been continuously occupied since. Today, it houses a sisterhood of thirty Greek Orthodox nuns who pray and work together to maintain the monastery’s grounds, cultivate its gardens and produce a range of homemade goods while they welcome a steady stream of visitors and pilgrims seeking a place of worship or solitude.
The seminar, which has been running continuously for 15 years, is organized by the Seeger Center in Hellenic Studies of Princeton University. The program's primary aim has been to provide an inspiring learning experience to its participants and to stimulate their direct involvement in field research working closely with faculty and expert specialists in various aspects of the complex cultural landscape of the region of Mount Menoikeion.
Nikolas Bakirtzis, Associate Professor at The Cyprus Institute and a graduate alumnus of Princeton’s Department of Art and Archaeology, created the seminar in 2005 after spending time at the monastery for his doctoral research and realizing the site's research and educational potential. “Since my first visit to Mount Menoikeion, I felt that the cultural complexity of the mountainous region and the warm and welcoming presence of the Prodromos sisterhood of nuns would make for a transformative learning experience” he noted. Bakirtzis continues to co-direct the seminar along with Dimitris Gondicas, Director of the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, and with the valuable assistance of Xenophon Moniaros. CyI collaborates with the seminar though the participation of faculty and students who have benefitted from this unique research learning experience.
Led by expert faculty, participants get to study and experience a living monument while following the monastery’s daily life. The nuns preserve the monastery’s founding Byzantine traditions and maintain an active role as a point of cultural reference for the region of Serres. Students also get the chance to participate and contribute to the daily chores of the community helping the nuns in the production of herbal medicines, gathering spices, cultivating crops, and making icons and embroideries.
Each year the seminar adopts a research theme aimed at providing a common thread for participants from different fields, primarily from the humanities, such as history, art history, archaeology, music, social anthropology, religious studies but also architecture and engineering. In 2019, participants explored the topic “Material Culture, Place, and the Creation of Memory” which helped to address the cultural landscape of Mount Menoikeion through the central role of narrative in the life of a medieval monastic community. Research topics varied widely, ranging from the role of light in holy spaces to the relationship between the monastery’s physical layout and the religious practices of its community.
Seminar's Program is available at: https://menoikeion.princeton.edu/