The seven-storied monastery of Simonopetra is the most daring building of the Holy Mountain and a marvel of monastic architecture. The monastery was founded by Saint Simon who lived on Mount Athos about the middle of the 13th century. The story goes that Simon, who lived a hermit’s life in this area, saw a light burning on the rocky ridge on Christmas night. He interpreted it as a command to build a monastery on that spot. Many monks, some of whom had been his disciples, offered their assistance, others their personal fortunes. Tradition further says that the first volunteers were so frightened by the dizzying heights that they decided to leave the site, abandoning the work in the middle.
Just as they were preparing to leave , Simon sent his servant Isaiah with drinks for the faint-hearted monks. On his way Isaiah slipped and fell tumbling over the projecting rocks. To the amazement of the horrified laborers, his fall was broken, and he stood upright quite unharmed on a tray. Thus according to the legend, the builders were encouraged by the miracle and carried the job to completion.
Simon called the monastery “New Bethlehem”. It was later that the foundation was named after its founder and the rock on which he had built. The first building were made possible by the generous donations of the Serbian ruler Ugliesa in 1362. Thanks also to other donors, the monastery began to prosper. In the third Typikon of the Holy Mountain (1394) it occupied the 23rd place.
Later, however, a series of disasters curtailed this prosperity. A fire destroyed all the buildings, the treasures and the archives in 1581. The rebuilding was ravaged by a second fire in 1626.In 1891 third fire completely razed the monastery, including katholikon and library. The monks escaped only at the last minute and were able to save only the holy relics. Simonopetra was rebuilt with alms collected on visits to Russia and the new seven store wing, on which building has already commenced in 1864 under the abbot Neiophythos, was added.
The monastery of Simonopetra is coenobitic, and ranks 13th in the Athonite hierarchy. At the moment it is prosperous and supports about 60 monks.