Pilgrimage Tourism – The Arcadian Monasteries
The Arcadian Monasteries and Churches are not just religious destinations; they are also cradles of civilization. Devotional art reaches its apogee with outstanding samples of architecture, icon painting (hagiography), woodcarving, etc.
The Arcadian Monasteries are the most famous in Greece, second only to the Monasteries of Mount Athos and the Meteors.
Tourists are attracted to visit the Arcadian Monasteries, not only because of religious faith, but also for their architectural and historical aspects.
Monastery of Philosophos
The Monastery of Philosophos, one of the most famous Arcadian Monasteries, lies in the western part of the Lousios gorge and was founded at the middle of the 17th century. The new Monastery has replaced the older Byzantine Monastery.
The “catholicon” (main church) is a cross-in-square domed church of the composite, four-column type, with plain facades and poor brickwork decoration. The wall paintings inside the church are dated to 1663 and are the work of Victor, a representative of the Cretan School. The church has also an impressive wooden-carved iconostasis.
The new catholicon was built by the monks of the new monastery and was painted at the expense of Mavraidis Pasha from Stemnitsa. From the mid-17th to the mid-18th century the new monastery housed the school of the Gortyn clergy, which was attended by important people of the Church (e.g. Patriarch Gregory V).
Between 1834 and 1836 the monastery was abolished with the decision of the Bavarian regency, its property was confiscated and sold to individuals. Today, the monastery is used as a convent for monks, and is a department of the Monastery of Timios Prodromos (St. John the Forerunner) at Stemnitsa.
The story of Saint Theodora is breathtaking and, in many ways, similar to that of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc). During the Byzantine era, at the time of the Saint’s life, each family had to contribute one man to the army or alternatively hire a mercenary to represent it.
Theodora’s family was poor and had no male representatives, so Theodora masqueraded as a man and joined the army! At first, the “young soldier” was distinguished for “his” virtue, until a young girl fell madly in love with “him”. Because Theodora did not reciprocate the love, the girl reported her to the senior officers and claimed that Theodora molested her and left her pregnant… So, Theodora was sentenced to death.
Shortly before she died, she whispered a prayer: “may my body turn into a temple, my blood into water and my hair into trees”. And so it happened!!!
In the place where Theodora drew her last breath there is now a small chapel, on top of which are seventeen towering oak trees. The roots of the trees are not very visible either on the ceiling or on the sidewalls. There is also, plenty of fresh running water leading to a river, under the church.
Monastery of Panaghia Malevis
Construction of this spectacular monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, began in the 7th century AD.Here we experience a deep feeling of devoutness as we gaze upon the Icon of the Virgin Mary, hand-painted by Luke the Evangelist.
The Monastery of Malevi is one of the oldest monasteries in the region of Parnonos Mountain.
Because the honor and veneration of the Theotokos was especially important for the monastics, many of the monasteries were founded in memory of the Birth of the Theotokos, her Dormition, or others to her honor.
Dormition of Virgin Mary at Kernitsa
Located 3km from τηε ωιλλαγε Nymphassia, it is one of the oldest monasteries of Gortynia.
The monastery’s catholic is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (with an icon of the Virgin Mary found inside the rock).
Monastery of Kandila
Located in the northeast extremities of Arcadia, 38 km from Tripoli and 15 km from Levidi, perched inside a cave on a majestic rock, the monastery of “Panaghia tis Kandilas” dominates the site of ancient Orchomenos. Before it lays the plain of Kandila and Levidi, which stretches westward and to the northern foothills of Mount Mainalo.
The rock rises in the serene landscape of the so-called “Argon Field”, inside the narrow valley of Orchomenos, between Mount Oligyrtos and Mount Trachy.
The ancient Arcadians named this part of the valley “Argon Field” because it was impossible to cultivate, since rainwater gathered here in winter months turning the plain into a lake. The mountains north of Kandila provide a single narrow pass making it one of the better-protected entries into Arcadia since antiquity.
Monastery of St Nickolas Kaltezon
The Monastery of “Aghios Nicolaos Kaltezon” is located in southern Arcadia, thirty kilometres from Tripoli, eleven kilometres from Kato Asea, and 2.5 km from the village of Kaltezes, which means ‘wells’ in Slavic.
The village lays 680 metres above sea level, near the ruins of an ancient city, the so-called Paliochora, which include ancient fortifications and a medieval settlement around the fortress of Saint George (Fortress of Paliochora), with houses, sanctuaries, and other installations.
East of the village, the toponym “Tis Elenis to Pigadi” (Eleni’s Well) suggests that the Eleneia beauty contest took place there in antiquity.
The monastery was built on a small plateau of strategic military importance. Founded in the late eighteenth century, it has been operating as a nunnery under the Metropolis of Mantineia and Kynouria since 1920 and still hosts four nuns.
Panaghia Eleousa and Vlacherna Monasteries
Now situated between Levidi and Vytina in Mantinea, 940 metres above sea level, the village of Bezeniko (modern Vlacherna) has changed location several times in the past.
According to tradition, the village was originally built below the Eleousa monastery, near the site of Spilia (or Metochi), where the remains of houses and a square building dubbed Agiorgis (Saint George) by the locals are still visible.
Traces of settlements are also preserved at the sites of Vardaioi and Livadi, where local tradition places the farmstead of a Turkish notable and several events of the Greek War of Independence. An old Slavic toponym, “Bezeniko” was later replaced by “Vlacherna”.
The majestic scenery created by the slopes of Mount Mainalo on the west and the plain of Orchomenos on the east is the setting for two monasteries, Panagia Eleousa and Vlacherna.
The Panaghia Eleousa monastery is located south of the village, below the Bezeniko Castle. The Vlacherna monastery is located northeast of the village, atop Mount Kastania (possibly ancient Mount Knakalos).
Tucked away in a fold of Mount Mainalo, surrounded by pine trees and almost invisible, the rock monastery of Panaghia Eleousa was a refuge in difficult times, particularly during the Greek War of Independence and Ibrahim Pasha’a appearance in the Peloponnese (1826).
A footpath, which begins at the village and follows the Arapissa gorge, leads after a 45-minute walk to the monastery’s first steps. A dirt road has replaced the footpath making it possible to reach the monastery by car.
On the way up to the monastery, near the modern monument of local hero Alexis Nikolaou or Levidiotis, the derelict church of Panaghia Kataphygiotissa stands inside an impressive cave. This single-nave church follows the cave’s contours. Its walls are partially preserved, and traces of wall paintings are visible in situ. Little is known of its foundation.
With the help of the locals, the parish priest tends to the small church and occasionally holds services.
Near the city of Tripoli, almost next to ancient Mantinea, the visitor of the Arcadian Monasteries will encounter an original church, that of Aghia Fotini.
The architecture and its materials, make this church unique as it blends elements of ancient Greek culture and Byzantine art. The building is a live example of the transition from the Twelve Gods of Ancient Greeks to Christianity.
The church was completed in 1978 and over the years has become one of the most famous sights of the area.
Many more religious buildings are located in the gorge of Lousios. They include churches, monasteries, hermitages as well as secular buildings such as water-mills, gunpowder-mills, tobacco-mills etc.
It is worth mentioning the Monastery of “Timios Prodromos”, dated to the end of the 16th century, the Monastery of “Aimyales”, the old and new monastery of “Atsicholos” and “St. Andrew” at Gortyna.
Where to stay
The alfa-certified Seleni Suites Boutique Hotel at Vytina of Arcadia, an ideal hotel for organising your visits in the Arcadian Monasteries and Churches, is built according to the “monasterial” architecture.
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