Monasteries and Churches

Glykfylousa Panagia (Our Lady of the Sweet Kiss) sits on top of a giant rock in the center of the town of Petra . You reach the top of the rock by climbing the 114 steps carved into the stone. From the church the view of Petra and the surrounding sea and countryside is spectacular extending all the way to the coast of Asia Minor. A beautiful legend concerning the building of the church on this high rock has come down to us: In days of old a storm bought a religious captain to the shores of the area. One morning the captain noticed that the Icon of the Blessed Virgin, which he always had with him, was missing. He looked for it everywhere but to no avail. That evening he saw a strange light shining seemingly suspended between sky and earth. He climbed up the rock and found his icon placed before a lighted lamp. He took it back to his boat but again it disappeared and again he found it on top of the rock. He decided to build a small church there since that was obviously the wish of the Blessed Virgin. The first church was built in 1609 and the present one in 1747. There is a great celebration there on August 15th. Below the rock is the tiny Church of Agios Nikolaos. Inside, the small church is decorated with 16th century wall paintings that are colorful and inspirational and worth a trip to the village.

Leimonos Monastery, Lesvos Many of the old Monasteries of Lesvos are still in use. Some have become destinations for pilgrimages while others carry on the spiritual tradions of long ago. Leimonos Monastery , (pictured on left) built in 1523 is a large cluster of buildings between Kaloni and Filia. It is an important spiritual center on the island with a museum, a library and social services. Overnight stays are possible. They have a festival here celebrating Ag. Ignatious on the second weekend of October. Nearby the Monastery of Metochi is being used as a scholarly and spiritual retreat with courses and seminars (in English) about the important questions of life such as Love, Peace, Good and Evi.

A modern day phenomenon is the developing Monastery of Agiou Raphael in Thermi. People come from all over Greece to the shrine of the Newly Sanctified Martyrs of Raphael, the Father Superior of the destroyed monastery, of Nikolas, the deacon, and the young Irene, all three of whom died as martyrs at the hands of the Turks in 1463. A miracle was responsible for the discovery of the bodies of the saints, by Angelos Rallis, who donated the land for the monastery. This monastery is constantly visited year-round by pilgrims searching for a miracle. The complex has rooms for overnight stays. There is a celebration here on the Tuesday after Easter.

In Agiassos the Virgin Mary is venerated and everything revolves around the miracle working icon of the Blessed Virgin Vrefokratousa and the Church of the Panagia. During a two week period leading up to the 15th of August, which is the Holy Day of the Virgin Mary, pilgrims begin flocking to the town not only from Lesvos but all over Greece, slowly building up to a carnival-like atmosphere, peaking on the eve of the feast day. There is another festival on September 14th commemorating the day when the Holy cross which Mytilinians brought back from Jerusalem after it was consecrated on Golgotha. Agathon's Cross was made with wood from the True Cross and is kept in the museum of the church. The church is surrounded by shops selling icons and religious items as well as some of the best cafeneons on the island.

In Mandamados at theChurch of Taxiarches , the miracle working saint of the island is woshipped. The carved icon was made by a monk using mud and the blood of his fallen comrades after being miraculously saved by Saracen pirates. The church celebrates on the third Sunday after easter with a festival that includes the slaughtering of a concecrated bull whose meat is shared among the worshippers. Another religious celebration is held here on the third Sunday after Easter.

Ypsilou Monastery (pictured on left) is built on the crater of a dormant volcano. This monastery was built in 1101. It houses some remarkable gold embroided stoles and bible covers from 1588. It is located on the road to Sigri right past the turnoff to Eressos. From it's heights you can see the coast of Asia Minor and all of the western portion of the island. There are signs all over that tell you that photographs are not allowed so this picture is about the best I could do. If you are visiting the petrified forest be sure to stop here too.

There are two spectacular churches in the village of Vatousa, one in the main square and the other by the school, which is the older one and is usually locked. You may be able to get the key from someone in the town hall or one of the cafeneons if you ask.

The Perivoli Monastery (pictured at right) sits in a beautiful green valley between Vatoussa and Antissa. It is serene and the caretaker is happy to show you around. Perivoli means garden. The monastery has some very important wall paintings from the sixteenth century though the church itself was built in the 1300's. There are picnic tables in the grove of trees outside the outer walls of the monastery. The caretaker is a very charming guy who speaks some English and talks Greek in rhymes. Because of it's location the monastery seems almost forgotten but it is well worth the visit even if just to talk to the caretaker. This is my favorite monastery on the island and one of my favorites in Greece. The road between Vatoussa and Antissa has an unfortunate odor due to the cheese factory that dumps its waste into the stream and for this reason many people try to get past the area as quickly as possible, espeically those who can't roll up the windows because they are on motorbikes or in an open jeep. Some see the sign for the monastery but don't stop fearing the road into the valley will just bring them closer to the cheese smell. But the monastery has so far escaped and even the smelly cheese factory would have a problem overcoming the scent of the flowers, plants and trees in full bloom.

Pithari MonasteryThe monastery of Pithari , founded in the seventeenth century is also close to Eressos. Surrounded by a grove of oak and sycamore trees in a dramatic gorge, it's an enjoyable walk there but you can also get there by car. The monastery is dedicated to the Taxiarchis (archangels) whose panagiri day is November 8th. There is a disciplinary center for the clergy there. Recently they have added a lake. Yes: a lake. An enormous lake that supplies the agricultural valley of Eressos with water. You gotta see it to believe it. You will think you are in the Swiss Alps. I spoke to the Bishop of Mytilini and he told me that I should let people know that the monks would love visitors. You can get there by following the signs on the road from Eressos to Mytilini though it is a much easier drive if you go from the road between Skala Eressos and Mesotopos.

The tiny Church of Saint Andrew in Skala Eressos sits on a quiet shaded road next to the cathedral of Saint Andrew and the ruins of the ancient basilica of the same name. The saint himself, whose body lay in repose for many years until returned to his native Crete in the nineteenth century, died in a shipwreck off the coast of Eressos. The church is also next to the archeological museum. There are many churches around the island which celebrate on the name days of their patron saints. If you ask in the town you are staying in they will tell you when these festivals (panagiris) take place. Some of the more remote villages have interesting festivals with aspects that seem to have remnants of pagan times. Some festivals have horse races as part of the festivities and attract all sorts of people selling anything from icons to bootleg pop music CD's. The bigger festivals put up posters around the island.

In Mytilini there are several important churches including the Cathedral of Saint Athanasios whioch was built at the end of the 16th Century and has a secret underground tomb. The sacred relics of Saint Theodore, hung by the Turks in 1795 are kept here and his martyrdom is celebrated February 17th and also on the 4th Sunday after Easter. The saint has been credited with saving the island from a plague in 1836. The largest church in Mytilini is Saint Therapon (photo) built in 1860, which is just behind the habor road in the market. Supposedly the church sits on top of an ancient temple to Apollo. Both churches are full of Byzantine icons and impressive wood-carvings and gold. Also nearby is the Church of Saint Theodore a triple-aisled baslica and the church of Saint Nicholas, a converted mosque.

One can't have a web-page of churches in Lesvos without mentioning the beautiful little church of the Panagia Tis Gorgonas (The Mermaid Madonna) or also known as Panagia Ton Psaradon (The Madonna of the Fishermen), made famous in the wonderful book The Mermaid Madonna by Stratis Myrivilis, one of Lesvos and Greece's greatest writers. His books are a facinating study of the people and life in Lesvos in the early 20th century and are excellent reading companions. Every village has at least one main church and a number of smaller ones and there are also small churches scattered around the countryside. Some of the churches in the traditonal villages are as impressive or more so than those mentioned here. Exeptional churches are in the villages of Megalohori near Plomari and there are two beautiful old churches in Vatoussa.

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