Outstanding Christian monasteries around the world

Below are listed some of most important, impressive and beautiful Christian monasteries of the world, as arranged by region and year of foundation:


Saint Catherine's Monastery, Egypt
Saint Catherine’s Monastery / Vyacheslav Argenberg, , / CC BY 2.0
  • Paromeos Monastery – Egypt, Beheira. Coptic monastery, possibly the oldest monastery in world, founded in 335 AD, destroyed several times but rebuilt and active. Contains numerous historical and art values.
  • Monastery of Saint Anthony – Egypt, Red Sea. Coptic monastery, oldest continuously operating Christian monastery in world, built in 356, with important artwork and library.
  • Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai – Egypt, South Sinai. Ancient, continuously operating Christian monastery, active since around 381 AD. Monastery built between 527 – 565, hosts extremely important library of ancient writings.
  • Debre Damo – Ethiopia, Tigray. This monastery from the 6th century is accessible only by rope up a vertical cliff. Here is located oldest Christian church in Ethiopia, where as construction materials are used obelisks of Axum state.


Geghard Monastery, Armenia
Geghard Monastery / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Geghard Monastery – Armenia, Kotayk. Unique structure – partly carved in adjacent cliff, richly ornamented. Founded
    in the 4th century.
  • Mar Saba – Palestine, West Bank, Betlehem. Founded in 439 AD and still active. Located in dramatic setting, on steep cliff of canyon.
  • Monastery of the Virgins – Palestine, Jerusalem, Temple Mound. Remains of Early Christian monastery, which was founded in the 4th century AD and abandoned in 614. Nuns, which entered this small monastery, never left it and were buried here.
  • Mor Hananyo Monastery – Turkey, Mardin Province. Founded in 493 AD, seat of Syriac Orthodox Church from 1160 to 1932. Monastery got 365 rooms – one for each day of year.
  • David Gareja monastery complex – Georgia, Kakheti, part in Azerbaijan. Amazing complex of cells, churches etc. hewn in cliff face. Development of monastery started in the 6th century.
  • Deir Mar Musa (Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian) – Syria, Rif Dimashq. Syriac Orthodox monastery from middle of sixth century, located in dramatic setting. Church contains very impressive artwork – frescoes from the 11th – 12th centuries.
  • Rabban Hormizd Monastery – Iraq, Nineveh. Most important monastery of Chaldean Church, established in 640 AD.
  • Haghpat Monastery – Armenia, Lori. Monastery established in the 10th century, contains unique architecture and art values – including some of the best and intricate stone carvings.
  • Vardzia monastery – Georgia, Samtskhe-Javakheti. Very impressive cave monastery in thirteen floors, founded in 1185. Served as protection from Mongols, includes also cave churches.
  • Stella Maris Monastery – Israel, Haifa. Worldwide centre of Carmelites on Mount Carmel. Rebuilt in 1836 in site where hermits settled already in the 12th century.


Lérins Abbey, France
Lérins Abbey, France / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Farfa Abbey – Italy, Lazio. Benedictine abbey, it’s history starts around 370 – 380 AD. Later destroyed, restarted activity sometimes around 681. Huge importance in history of Italy, numerous architecture and art values.
  • Lérins Abbey – France, Alpes-Maritimes. Large, fortified Cistercian monastery on island, active since the 5th century. One of development centres for Western European monasticism. Oldest buildings from around 1073.
  • St. Maurice’s Abbey – Switzerland, Valais. Enormous monastery encompassing whole town. Started to develop around 515 AD.
  • Monte Cassino – Italy, Lazio. Monastery established around 529 AD, seed of Benedictine order. Destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.
  • Wettingen-Mehrerau Abbey – Austria, Vorarlberg. Enormous Cistercian monastery, history goes back to 611 AD. Largely rebuilt in the 18th century in Baroque and Rococo forms.
  • Bangor Abbey – United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Down. Established in 558 and developed as centre of knowledge, centre of missionary trips to other areas of Northern Europe. Not active as abbey anymore.
  • Iona Abbey – United Kingdom, Scotland, Iona island. Once one of the largest religious centre in Western Europe, established in 563 and served as a centre for spread of Western Christianity. Here are buried 48 kings of different Western European countries.
  • Reichenau Abbey – Germany, Baden-Württemberg. Important Benedictine monastery, established in 724.
  • Nonantola Abbey – Italy, Emilia Romagna. Benedictine monastery, founded in 752, one of most powerful abbeys in Europe up to the 11th century.
  • Ottobeuren Abbey – Germany, Bavaria. Founded in 764. This abbey has a church which is one of the most ornate Baroque and Rococo buildings in world, built in 1737-1766.
  • Mont Saint-Michel – France, Basse-Normandie. Unique monument of culture – small island covered with monastic buildings. Started to develop as monastery in the late 8th century, main cathedral is from the 11th – 12th century.
  • Meteora monasteries – Greece, Thessaly. Six (earlier – 14) unique monasteries on natural sandstone pillars. Inhabited by hermits since the 9th century, first monasteries established in the 14th century.
  • Ohrid Saint Panteleimon monastery – North Macedonia, Southwestern. Most sacred Christian site in the country. This monastery was established in the late 9th – early 10th century. This is the location where Glagolitic alphabet start to spread, here is also a unique collection of more than 800 medieval icons.
  • Einsiedeln Abbey – Switzerland, Schwyz. Enormous Benedictine monastery with history starting in the late 9th century, pilgrimage site. Contains important Baroque and Rococo artworks.
  • Cluny Abbey – France, Saône-et-Loire. Building of extreme importance to Western Europe leading monasticism since the 10th century and shaping the development of European christian society. Development started in 910, highest influence was gained in the 11th – early 12th centuries. Over the time was developed enormous complex of buildings, only small part remains today.
  • Great Lavra of Athos – Greece, Macedonia. The most important monastery in Monastic State in Athos peninsula. Founded in 963, contains important libary. Very important monuments of history and culture are also other 19 monasteries of Holy Mount Athos.
  • Pannonhalma Archabbey – Hungary, Győr-Moson-Sopron. Enormous fortified Benedictine monastery which was established in 996. Monastery contains extremely important archives.
  • Rila Monastery – Bulgaria, Kyustendil. Largest monastery in Bulgaria, founded in the 10th century, spiritual and cultural centre of Bulgarian nation in medieval times. Rebuilt several times.
  • Abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata – Italy, Lazio. Enormous Basilian monastery, founded in 1004, contains important library.
  • Kiev Pechersk Lavra – Ukraine, City of Kiev. Outstanding Orthodox monastery, started as cave monastery in 1015, developed as a centre of Eastern Orthodox church. Numerous valuable buildings and artwork.
  • Monastery of Camaldoli – Italy, Tuscany. Place of origin for Camaldolese order, founded in 1023.
  • Bachkovo Monastery (Petritsoni monastery) – Bulgaria, Plovdiv Province. Important site for Bulgarian, Georgian and Armenian culture, established in 1083. Contains valuable frescoes.
  • Grande Chartreuse – France, Isère. Head monastery of Carthusian order, enormous complex of buildings behind fortification wall. Established in 1084.
  • Melk Abbey – Austria, Lower Austria. Founded in 1089, developed into important intellectual centre. Beautiful Baroque architecture.
  • Cîteaux Abbey – France, Côte-d’Or. Founded in 1098 as the first Cistercian monastery, preserved valuable buildings and traditions.
  • Abbey of Fontenay – France, Côte-d’Or. Cistercian monastery, founded in 1118, one of most influential European monasteries in the 12th – 13th centuries. Well preserved.
  • Maulbronn Abbey – Germany, Baden-Württemberg. Best preserved Cistercian monastery in Europe, founded in 1147, consists mainly of Romanesque – Gothic buildings from the 12th – 14th centuries.
  • Abbatia Lubensis – Poland, Lower Silesia. Enormoys Cistercian monastery with 223 metres long Baroque facade, developed since 1150.
  • Poblet Monastery – Spain, Catalonia. Important and large Cistercian monastery, founded in 1151, well preserved.
  • Alcobaça Monastery – Portugal, Leiria. Cistercian monastery established in 1153, enormous and beautiful complex of buildings, earliest example of Gothic architecture in Portugal.
  • Santes Creus – Spain, Catalonia. Fortified Cistercian monastery, established in 1158 and is one of best preserved in Europe.
  • Studenica Monastery – Serbia, Raška. One of the largest and most interesting Serbian monasteries, established in 1190. Fortified, contains different art values.
  • Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe – Spain, Extremadura. Established in the late 13th century, since 1389, as Hieronymites took it over and made it their principal house – the most important monastery in Spain up to 1835. Numerous values of art and architecture.
  • Visoki Dečani Monastery – Kosovo, Gjakova. Large Serbian monastery containing the largest medieval church in Balkans and biggest collection of medieval Serbian frescoes. Founded in 1327.
  • Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra – Russia, Moscow Oblast. Spiritual centre of Russian Orthodox Church, founded in 1345. Numerous valuable buildings.
  • Vadstena Abbey – Sweden, Östergötland. Established in 1346 by St. Bridget, here started Bridgettine Order.
  • Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery – Russia, Vologda Oblast. Founded in 1397, once the most important monasteries in Russian North. Enormous, interesting complex behind high walls.
  • Solovetsky Monastery – Russia, Arkhangelsk Oblast. Main centre of Christianity in Russian North, impressive complex of buildings. Established in 1429, most part of buildings from the 16th century, fortified.
  • Jerónimos Monastery – Portugal, Lisbon. One of most beautiful buildings in Portugal, Hieronymite monastery from 1450, built in 1552 in Manueline style, richly decorated.
  • Voroneţ Monastery – Romania, Suceava. Possibly the best known Moldavian painted monastery with an ornate church which is covered with frescoes inside and outside. Monastery was constructed in 1488 in local style – unique fusion of Gothic, Renaissance and Byzantines styles.
  • El Escorial – Spain, near Madrid. The enormous Spanish royal palace, also one of largest Christian monasteries. Completed in 1584.
Nun in Voroneţ Monastery, Romania
Nun in Voroneţ Monastery, Romania / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Described Christian monasteries

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General description

Monastery is a building or complex of buildings where live, work and pray monks or nuns – people practising religious asceticism.

Christian monasteries have proven to be a very significant element in history, influencing politics, science, architecture and art. Often monasteries themselves serve as collectories of written works, art and crafts.

Short history of Christian monasteries

Mont Saint Michel, France
Mont Saint Michel / Féron Benjamin, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The idea behind the monasticism is certainly older than the Christianity. Predecessor religion – Judaism – had influential sects whose members practised ascetic lifestyle and Christianity started exactly as one such sect. During the first centuries Christians were persecuted and thus often forced to live ascetic life.

Christian monasticism started in the 3rd century when Christianism became widely adopted, tolerated and finally – when it became state religion.

Coptic monasticism

Oldest existing Christian monasteries are located in Egypt. It is considered that the oldest one is Monastery of Saint Anthony southeast from Cairo, in desert, founded in 356 AD. Of quite similar age are monasteries in Wadi El Natrun (Nitrian desert, Scetes) – between Cairo and Alexandria – such as Paromeos Monastery. Monasticism in Egypt has maintained Coptic Church with its distinct tradition and the latest stage of ancient Egyptian language which now is used as liturgical language.

Monasteries of the comparatively easily accessible Nitrian Desert in the 4th – 6th centuries served as a model for later European monasteries. Special role plays personality of Coptic ascete Saint Anthony who to large extent developed and popularised the concept of Christian monasticism.

Monasticism in Eastern Christianity

In Eastern Europe and Near East monasteries developed as comparatively isolated, self sustaining communities.

Some of the most influential monasteries are located on Mount Athos peninsula of Greece, forming here a Self-governed Monastic State of the Holy Mountain – though adhering to legislation of Greece. This peninsula is available only by water and here up to this day exist 20 monasteries.

In spite of traditional isolationism monasteries have played significant role in the development of national identity for such Balkan nations as Greeks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbs and others. Art and literature in these monasteries has turned into one of symbols of these nations. Such role to larger or lesser degree is played by Rila Monastery (Bulgaria), Studenica Monastery (Serbia, Raška) and also Meteora monasteries (Greece, Thessaly).

Monasticism in Southern and Central Europe

First Christian monasteries in this region followed soon after the ones in Egypt and were established in the area of present day France in the 4th – 5th century. Among the first ones could be mentioned Tours Marmoutier Abey (France, Indre-et-Loire) established sometimes around 372 AD. This monastery much later – in the 11th – 16th centuries became very important and influential. Lérins Abbey (France, Alpes-Maritimes) was established around 410 AD and later, after numerous raids built as strong fortress. This monastery was important location where Europeans learned about monasteries and were inspired next ones. Around 529 there was established Monte Cassino monastery (Italy, Lazio) where St.Benedict of Nursia wrote the Benedictine Rule – one of cornerstones of Western monasticism. Monte Cassino developed into collectory of knowledge and art.

In the Middle Ages monasteries were seen as morally and legally strong entities and this led to (it would be somewhat unexpected by early founders – ascetics) enormous increase of their wealth and weight in worldly issues. Nobility often bequeathed their properties to monasteries and thus monasteries got also numerous serfs supplying monks with the necessary food and other accomodations.

Importance of monasteries in mundane issues slowly started to fade in the 11th – 12th century, and certain role here is played by increasingly popular mendicant orders refusing ownership of properties and other valuables (e.g. Franciscans).

Irish and Scottish monastic tradition

At the end of the 5th century first monasteries apeared in Ireland. Here Christianity developed in a specific, locally adapted form. First influential monastery was Kildare Abbey (Ireland, Kildare) established by St. Brigitte sometimes around 470 AD. Irish monasteries with their distinct, highly developed teaching and traditions left large impact on Christians in Northern Europe. St. Columba and other missionaries spread this practice elsewhere and other important monasteries founded by them were Bangor Abbey (Northern Ireland, County Down, founded in 558 AD), Iona Abbey (Scotland, Iona Island, founded in 563 AD), Lindisfarne Abbey (England, Northumberland, founded around 635 AD.), Marmoutier Abbey (France, Bas-Rhin, established in 659 (?) AD).

Irish and Scottish monks created influential monasteries also as far as in Germany (Scots Monastery, Regensburg in Bavaria, established around 1070 AD), Switzerland (the influential Abbey of Saint Gall, St.Gallen, started in 613 AD) and Italy (Bobbio Abbey, Emilia-Romagna, 614 AD).

Other articles

Wondermondo has defined several other categories of religious structures:

Recommended books

Great Monasteries of Europe

This remarkable book is a comprehensive examination of the art and architecture of European monasteries, from early Carolingian examples in the eighth century to a modern structure by Le Corbusier in 1960, featuring an authoritative text and more than five hundred stunning, full-color photographs.

Monasteries And Monastic Orders: 2000 Years of Christian Art and Culture

How did the monks, nuns and hermits live? What rules did they agree to obey? To what extent were they able to uphold those ideals in reality? What was the relationship between the monasteries and wordly authorities? And what was the source of the power that the religious orders were able to exercise in political affairs at various times?

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