Religious Tourism in Kythira
The monastery of Agia Moni is built on one of the highest mountains of Kythera and overlooks not only the coast of the Peloponnese but also the whole island. During the period of “Dekapentismos” the monastery cells are open to reside and there are many visitors coming to Kythera at the time. The Monastery celebrates on the 6th of August, the day of the Savior. The current church was built in 1840, and is dedicated to the Madonna (Virgin Mary). Kolokotronis made a promise to the Madonna that if the Greek revolution succeeded he would return and help rebuild it. The icon of the Madonna was found by a shepherd in 1766 and has the image of the Madonna on one side and that of Agios Georgios (St. George) on the other.
The memory of Agia Elessa is celebrated on the 1st of August. The view from the monastery is fantastic, especially at sunset, as it is built on one of the highest points in the south of the island. From the mountain of Agia Elessa one can see Melidoni beach and almost the entire island. The monastery is built at the place of Agia Elessa’s martyrdom. Elessa was the daughter of Elladios from the Peloponnese. She came to Kythera and became a nun as her father did not accept the Christian faith. He chased her in the island and killed her in 375 AD. The later single-nave church was built in 1871. In the years that followed the cells and the three-story bell tower on the northwest side of the monastery were added. Similar to the other monasteries on the island, many believers reside here during Dekapentismos.
It is the largest monastery in Kythera! Located in the area of Mirtidia in the west of the island, it is built on a natural rocky opening among many myrtles! The icon of Panaghia Mirtidiotissa is the island’s most precious relic and the patron of all Kytherians.
Tradition has it that a shepherd dreamt of an angel pointing at the area he kept his sheep where, inside a myrtle was an icon of the Madonna. The shepherd woke up alarmed. In the morning he went there, found the icon and took it home, in the neighboring village of Kalokairines. At night the icon would disappear and return to the myrtle. The shepherd saw the angel again, telling him that the icon had to stay there, close to the myrtle; so the shepherd built a small chapel next to the myrtle and placed the icon there, naming it Mirtidiotissa.
Up to this day the chapel, called the old Catholic, houses the icon along with the offerings of visitors, the huge candles made by the priests of the era and some other small icons. When the icon was found it didn’t have its current dimensions, those were acquired later when placed on a wooden frame. In 1837 artist Nicholas Spithakis added the gold dress. Only the two faces are still visible on the ancient icon, even their features cannot be distinguished anymore. At the lower part of the golden lining, the three miracles of Mirtidiotissa are depicted: the miracle of the icon’s discovery, the cure of the paralytic and the miracle of rescuing the fortress of the town of Kythera by a lightning strike in 1829. Just above the old Catholic, the major basilica church was built in 1857. North and south of the later Catholic are the cells where believers reside during the fasting period of the first fifteen days of August (Dekapentismos).
An admirable work within the monastery is that of the 26m limestone bell tower, with arched patterns on the facades of all four floors, created by artist Nickolas Fatseas. All the monastery projects were led by the monk Agathangelos Kalligeros. During the pirate raids, the icon was kept in the homonymous church inside the fortress in the town of Kythera for security reasons. The major religious tradition of Kythera is the icon’s procession from Mirtidia to Chora, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The procession lasts 15 days, passing through most of the island’s villages before it arrives in Chora and there are many believers following the icon throughout the whole period! Myrtidiotissa celebrates on the 24th of September, the date of the icon’s finding.
The Monastery of Osios (Holy) Theodoros lies within a verdant area between the villages of Logothetianika, Aroniadika and Pitsinades. It is the place where Osios Theodoros, the island’s patron saint, lived as a monk in the10th century AD. Osios Theodoros was from Koroni and came from Monemvasia to the island to live ascetically. He was raised and educated in Nafplion, where he got married and had two children. His great desire to become a monk led him first to Rome and then to Monemvasia. From there he came to Kythera around 921 AD and lived in the ancient church of Agioi Sergios and Bakchos. He died in 922 AD; his relic was found by Monemvasian sailors a few years later. The Monastery was built in his honor at the place of his burial during the period Georgios Pachis from Monemvasia was the governor of Kythera. The Bishop of Kythera, Athanasios Valerianos, renovated the temple around 1630, making a few alterations: he added a bell tower over the main entrance and built in a shield with an inscription indicating his name. During Venetocracy the monastery of Osios Theodoros was the seat of the diocese. The grand roman-style building in the courtyard served as a boys’ school in the years of British rule; it is the famous peer tutoring school of Osios Theodoros.