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. 700 years on, Catalonia rectifies marauders' damage to Greek monastery
ATHENS (AFP) Oct 07, 2005
Seven centuries after Catalan mercenaries seeking revenge against the Byzantine Empire rampaged through northern Greece in search of loot, the regional Spanish government of Catalonia has made amends by funding restoration work at a historic monastery damaged by the raiders.

Vatopedi Monastery, part of the Mount Athos religious community, will host on Sunday a ceremony at its 16th-century vestry after a two-year restoration of the building funded by the Catalan administration.

The process cost over 200,000 euros (238,000 dollars), a source close to the project told AFP.

Also known as Agion Oros ('Holy Mountain'), Mount Athos is considered one of Orthodox Christianity's holiest sites and is barred to women.

The ceremony is held exactly 700 years after Spanish mercenaries known as Almogavers, hired by the Byzantine Empire to fight the Ottoman Turks but subsequently falling out with the ruling Paleologi dynasty, swept through the region in 1305.

In Greek lore, the looting is predominantly linked to a branch of Almogavers known as the Catalan Company, who attacked after the presumed assassination of their leader Roger de Flor at the hands of Byzantine-paid killers.

"The Catalans broke into bands and rampaged through Macedonia, the Halkidiki peninsula and Mount Athos," Father Arsenios of Vatopedi Monastery told AFP.

Arsenios said the idea to fund a restoration at Vatopedi originated with a Catalan musician, Josep Tero, who visited Mount Athos a decade ago and was informed of the Almogavers' 14th century deeds by a local monk.

"The conversation was somewhat intense, and (Tero) was quite impressed with the tale," Arsenios said.

"He subsequently told his poet friend Carles Duarte, then general secretary of the Catalan administration, who decided to restore a building at Mount Athos (in return)."

The monastery of Vatopedi was chosen for the task because of its strong links to the Paleologi dynasty, the last family to rule the Byzantine Empire, Arsenios said.

The Vatopedi monks opted to restore the monastery's vestry, which houses religious ceremony items, icons, documents and gifts from Byzantine emperors dating from the 10th century AD.

The two-storey building, which is to become a museum, will also exhibit a 14th century copy of Ptolemy's 'Geography'. The monastery also possesses a 1453 document by King Alfonso V of Aragon placing Vatopedi under his protection.

The exhibit is to be inaugurated on Sunday, in a "family atmosphere" gathering attended by the Greek minister for Macedonia-Thrace and the Catalonia regional interior minister, Father Arsenios said.

"We don't intend to give the event a lot of publicity," he said.

The Spanish embassy in Athens is also expected to send a representative.

The Catalan Company eventually carved a larger part of Greek history for themselves, settling in Athens and creating a duchy that lasted for 77 years (1311-1388).

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