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Katskhi Pillar: A hermit has lived on this rock for almost 30 years

Just looking at it makes you dizzy: A tiny church stands on top of a 40-meter-high rock pillar in central Georgia. / Katskhi Pillar

You can only get up there by ladder – if the only resident gives their permission. / Katskhi Pillar

It was probably in the 7th century AD when monks built a small church on the narrow limestone monolith of Katskhi near the Georgian town of Chiatura. The monks followed the tradition of the so-called Stylites – saints who lived on pillars to escape the temptations of the world. However, this practice died out with the Ottoman invasion of Georgia in the 15th century.

Over the following centuries the Katskhi pillar was left to its own devices and the church fell into disrepair. It was not until 1944 that a group of mountaineers scaled the monolith again for the first time – and discovered the bones of a former pillar saint in the ruins.

For 30 years, a hermit has lived on Katskhi pillar

In 1993, the Katskhi pillar received an inhabitant for the first time: The orthodox monk Maxime Qavtaradze (now 66) decided, according to a report in the British “Daily Mail”, to lead a life along the lines of the pillar saints and moved to a height of 40 meters. “When I was young I drank, sold drugs, all that stuff. When I ended up in prison, I knew that the time had come for a change,” says the former crane operator in an interview about his unusual path. He has now lived on the rock for almost 30 years. Between 2005 and 2009, volunteers rebuilt the former church ruins and built a small hut.

Nobody can get up that easily

It’s total hermitage that the orthodox monk leads on the Katskhi pillar, which is just 10 by 15 meters wide. Villagers send him food and water by cable pull. Only twice a week does Maxime Qavtaradze leave his rock to pray at its foot in the community of other monks. The descent down the steep ladder takes about 20 minutes each time. A small religious community has now settled down below, and pilgrims who have heard of the Georgian pillar saint often stop by.

Only Maxime’s rock is so easy for no one to climb. The rock is taboo for women anyway, after all the feminine charms could distract the orthodox monk from his spiritual tasks.

One has already made it to the top: the New Zealand photographer Amos Chapple was allowed to photograph the modern pillar saint for a CNN photo series a few years ago. Before that, however, Chapple had to remain in prayer at the foot of the rock for four days before the monk gave him permission to climb.

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