According to news reports from Turkey, vandals have defaced priceless Byzantine frescoes in the Holy Monastery of Panagia Sumela in Trabzon, on the northeast coast of the country.
A Greek Orthodox monastery, Panagia Sumela is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and attracts many pilgrims and tourists every year on her feast day on August 15. Built back in AD 386, the striking monastery clings to a steep cliff of the Pontic Mountains at an altitude of about 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) facing the Altındere valley.
According to the reports, the culprits destroyed Byzantine frescoes, while the Panagia Sumela Monastery was closed for repairs. The monastery is most famous for an icon of the Virgin Mary known as the Panagia Gorgoepekoos, which is said to have been painted by the Apostle Luke. The Monastery is one of the most important historic and touristic venues in Trabzon. Recent visitors to the monastery shared alleged images, which were in turn shared on social media.
The history of the Turks is nothing more than a record of massacres, rapes, looting and destruction. The word “vandalism” (from the Vandals) could rightly be replaced by the word “Turkism”. It is more accurate!#Turkey#SumelaMonastery#SumelaDestruction pic.twitter.com/dpqOBo57Ux— Greeksburg (@Greeksburg) August 7, 2020
Turkish authorities deny the disaster, with the Deputy Director-General of Cultural Heritage and Museums of the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism Yahya Coşkun stating that there was no recent damage to the frescoes in the Monastery.
Recent photos (Tweet above) of the frescoes appear to show the frescoes having been defaced. Panagia Soumela is included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sumela, which is famous for its medicinal waters, is one of the most important pilgrimage places for Greeks. The site welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Given recent friction between Greece and Turkey, and particularly the transformation of Hagia Sophia, this latest event will probably turn into an international incident as well.