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8 June 2022

Georgia’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the Katskhi Pillar

Simon Stylites was a 5th century Christian mystic, later celebrated by Tennyson for having spent decades meditating on the top of a pillar. In Katskhi, Georgia, you’ll find a chapel in the sky, refashioned for latter-day Stylites.

Georgia’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the Katskhi Pillar

Katshki Pillar’s naturally eroded ‘column’ of limestone, around 40m high, is topped by a tiny hermitage and refuge. Image: Robert Fowler/Shutterstock

As a child, I remember being fascinated by the 5th-century Syrian saint, Simon Stylites – who, according to our Religious Education teacher, decided to spend 37 years on the top of a column. His professed desire to seek a meditative sanctuary was undermined by the many curious onlookers who hounded him, wondering what on earth he was playing at. To my teenage self, it all sounded so mad that I imagined Simon as having out-Monty-Pythoned the Life of Brian centuries ahead of himself. And frankly, I assumed that something had been lost in translation. Surely nobody really did that, did they?