The monastery was founded
during the 13th century by Simon the Athonite, who was later sanctified by the
Eastern Orthodox Church as Osios Simon the Myrrohovletes. Tradition holds that
Simon, while dwelling in a nearby cave, saw a dream in which the Theotokos
instructed him to build a monastery on top of the rock, promising him that she
would protect and provide for him and the monastery. The original monastery was
called by Simon "New Bethlehem" and is to this day dedicated to the
Nativity of Jesus.
In 1364, the Serbian despot
Jovan Uglješa funded the renovation and expansion of the monastery.
Russian pilgrim Isaiah
wrote that, by the end of the 15th century, the monastery was Bulgarian.
In 1581, Simonopetra was
destroyed by a fire, in which a large portion of the monks died. Evgenios, the
monastery's abbot traveled to the Danubian Principalities hoping to raise funds
to rebuild the monastery. The most important donor was Michael the Brave,
Prince of Wallachia, who donated large portions of land as well as money to the
monastery. The monastery was also burnt in 1626, and the last great fire
happened in 1891, after which the monastery was rebuilt to its current form.
During recent centuries,
the monks of the monastery were traditionally from Ionia in Asia Minor.
However, during the mid 20th century the brotherhood was greatly thinned out
because of a great reduction in the influx of new monks. The current
brotherhood originates from the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron in Meteora as
in 1973 the Athonite community headed by Archimandrite Emilianos decided to
repopulate the almost abandoned monastery.
The monastery consists of
several multi-storeyed buildings, the main being in the place of the original
structure, built by Simon. The main building has been described as the
"most bold construction of the peninsula". The monks of Simonopetra
traditionally count the floors from top to bottom, thus the top floor is the
first floor and the bottom floor the last. The monastery is built on top of the
underlying massive rock, and the rock runs through the lower floors.
The expansion and
development of Simon's original structure almost always followed one of the
monastery's great fires. Following the 1580 fire and with the funds gathered by
abbot Evgenios, the western building was erected. The eastern building was
built following the 1891 fire mostly with funds raised in Russia.