Maxime Qavtaradze is literally close to the heavens. The 59-year-old monk lives atop a stone pillar in Georgia, scaling a 131-foot ladder in order to leave and enter his lofty home, reports CNN. Photographer Amos Chapple ascended the cliff to photograph his life there.
The Katskhi Pillar has long been venerated by locals in the area, though it's been uninhabited since around the 1400s. When climbers ascended for the first time in centuries in 1944, they found the ruins of a church and the 600-year-old bones of the last stylite who lived there. The stylite tradition is believed to have begun in 423 when St. Simeon the Elder climbed a pillar in Syria in order to avoid worldly temptations, but the practice has since fallen out of favor. However, Qavtaradze is a modern devotee.
Though isolated, he is not a total hermit, coming down once or twice a week to counsel the troubled young men who come to the monastery at the bottom for his help. After all, he was once one of them. Though he now lives at the top of the world, Qavtaradze found his vocation when he was the lowest he's ever been, doing prison time after he "drank, sold drugs, everything" as a young man.
He took monastic vows in 1993, and has been working to rebuild the monastery complex, chapel, and hermitage for the last fifteen years, according to the makers of "The Stylite," a documentary about Qavtaradze and his community.
See the amazing photos here:
Qavtaradze surveys the view from the top of the Katskhi Pillar. He says, "It is up here in the silence that you can feel God's presence."
The pillar stands around 40 meters high.
Qavtaradze reading inside his cottage atop the pillar. For the first two years he slept inside a fridge to protect himself from the weather, but now he has a bed to rest on.
His favorite spot on the pillar. The monk can be glimpsed from the ground sometimes.
Sergo Mikhelidze and a friend delivering lunch via a winch, the mechanism which transports everything up to the pillar except for human beings.
Qavtaradze making the 20 minute climb to the top of the rock after praying with others in the monastery at the foot of the cliff. Once he is too frail to use the ladder, he intends to remain at the top until his death.
Sergo Mikhelidze and Irakli Kurashvili say prayers in their dormitory, located at the base of the rock. Mikhelidze is considering becoming a monk or priest, and is staying at the monastery for three months to determine whether he will commit.
An interior view of the chapel that rests at the top of the pillar.
Qavtaradze worked as a crane operator in Soviet times, and thus has never been afraid of heights, which comes in handy now.
Sun falls on the church and the monk on top of the rock, who can be spotted next to the church at his favorite spot.
The crypt under the chapel holds the bones of the previous stylite who made his home there.
Qavtaradze intends for his remains to be placed in the same crypt once his time comes, staying rooted to his spot on top of the pillar even in death.
At the pillar's base lies a chapel named after St. Simeon, considered the first stylite. Troubled young men gather here to find help, and are required to pray for around seven hours per day in order to remain in this religious community.
Irakli Kurashvili, divorced at the age of 22, came to the monastery to seek God's mercy and Qavtaradze's wisdom. He said, "Maxime has done so much for me. It is too late now for me to become a monk like Maxime, but I am considering becoming a priest."
Mountains surround the pillar, which has been considered a sacred place since pre-Christian times.
Qavtardze stands by his simple cottage. Though the home may be humble, the view is certainly grand.
Sun falls on the pillar on a clear evening.
For more information, watch the trailer for "The Stylite," an independent film directed by Stephen Riehl: