Few people are surprised today that some people prefer to live like hermits. However, the story of Maxim Kavtaradze, a Georgian monk and his current home is not like the others – his hermitage is in plain sight. His house is easy to see but difficult to approach. Maxim lives on the top of a 40-meter limestone monolith, towering in the middle of the gorge.
This limestone rock is called the Katskhi Pillar – after a small Georgian village located nearby. The nearest town is Chiatura. But around for several kilometres, there are forests and mountains – an insanely beautiful landscape. It is easy to believe that people and cities are too far from here to worry about them.
Now a rickety staircase leads to the top of the pillar. The climb from the ground to the very top takes about 20 minutes – and even then, only a person who is not afraid of heights is capable of this. Before the appearance of this staircase, people believed that it was physically impossible to climb to the top. Imagine their surprise when in 1944, having reached the top for the first time, mountain explorers discovered traces of an old temple, a wine cellar, a fortress wall and a small crypt with human remains. It turns out that once upon a time, someone lived here, in this place completely unsuitable for life.
Today, locals call the pillar the “Fortress of Loneliness”. In 1993, the monk Maxim lived on it. At first, he lived in a grotto under a stone column, and then donations for the revival of the temple began to be given to him.
In 1999, archaeological research began on the remains of structures at the top of the pillar. When the research was over, the construction of the church started – right on the site of the old temple. This church completely repeats the simple design of that first destroyed temple – a hall of 3.5 by 4.5 meters, laid out of stone. The new church was named after Maxim the Confessor.
Now, the Georgian monk Maxim Kavtaradze is 68 years old, and for the last 29 years, he has lived on the top of the Katskhi pillar. Twice a week, Maxim goes downstairs to pray with the locals and pick up his provisions. Access to the top of the pillar is usually closed – only individual priests and young men who pray twice a week with the monk Maxim at the foot of the rock have the right to climb.
In order for the photographer Amoch Chapple to be able to climb to the top of the Katskhi pillar, he also had to spend four days in prayers, two of which he had to fast. Only then was the photographer allowed to climb the rickety stairs that have hung here since that first expedition in 1944.
Apparently, the Katskhi pillar was considered a sacred place for several centuries before the conquest of Georgia by the Ottoman Empire. So we can say that the monk Maxim revived an ancient tradition.
Previously, Maxim worked as a crane operator, so he was no stranger to the height. “Here, above, in silence, the presence of God is better felt,” says the monk. He decided to live on top of the pillar after his release from prison.
“I was young, I drank, I sold drugs. Then he went to prison and realized that he needed to change his life. I drank with friends here in the vicinity and often looked at this rock. It is as if earth and sky meet here. I knew that monks used to live here, and I felt respect for them.”
During these 26 years, while Maxim lives at the top of the pillar, a lot has changed. Then, in 1993, there was absolutely nothing on the rock – the monk had to wrap himself up under a small stone canopy. Now there is a church, next to it is a small house where Maxim himself lives. At the foot of the cliff, a small settlement was formed, where the monk’s followers live. Men come here who have faced difficulties in their lives – as Maxim himself once faced. The church at the top of the Katskhi pillar is not the only one that was built in an inaccessible place.