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Georgian Monk Builds Stairway to Heaven

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The towering Katskhi Pillar is about 10 kilometers from the mining town of Chiatura.

Come summertime, getting away from it all is the dream that haunts everyone. One Georgian Orthodox monk, though, has come up with a plan for a lifetime of escape atop a 40-meter-high rock column in central Georgia’s Imereti region.

In pagan times, the towering Katskhi Pillar, located about 10 kilometers from the mining town of Chiatura, was thought to represent a local god of fertility. With the arrival of Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, it came to represent seclusion from the hurly-burly of ordinary life.

A church was first built atop the rock between the 6th and 8th centuries -- no one knows exactly how or why. Stylites, early Christian ascetics who prayed and fasted on top of pillars, used Katskhi for their devotions until some time in the 15th century, when Georgia was struck by domestic upheaval and invasions by Ottoman Turkey. The remains of one unknown practitioner today lay buried beneath the church.

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Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.

Georgian Monk Builds Stairway to Heaven

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