Relics and icons of Kefalonia
Impressive religious relics and icons on view.
For those who tire of lying on sun-soaked beaches on their Kefalonia holiday, there is an impressive range of monasteries to visit.
Kefalonia is big and mountainous and the public bus service is not great so you will need your own transport. And the monasteries are not particularly close together so the holiday visitor will probably have to allow a day for each monastery visit.
The Monastery of Agios Gerasimos
The most important monastery on Kefalonia is that dedicated to Agios Gerasimos, the patron saint of the island. It is found in the valley of Omalon, near the capital port of Argostoli, where his bones are kept in a silver casket. On his feast day in August, the monastery is heaving with pilgrims. It is said he was born in Corinth and spent 12 years as a monk in the Holy Land and another five on the island of Zakynthos before arriving on Kefalonia in 1560. He lived in a cave before founding the monastery where he died in 1579 and was canonised in 1622 after reports of many miracles connected to the saint's relic and icons. The monastery has a small chapel and a well said to have been dug by Gerasmos himself and a trap door to the cave where he is said to have spent most of his life.
Monastery of Agios Andreas
Also home to a saint's remains is the Monastery of Agios Andreas, just above the village of Svoronata village. The monastery was founded in Byzantine times but adopted by Andreas in 1579. The building is not only beautiful from the outside, it also has some very fine some fine artefacts in its small museum, including what purports to be the foot of Agios Andreas and also the shroud of Gregorios the Fifth. It also contains some very fine frescoes and important paintings.
Monastery of Panagia Atrou
The Monastery of Atrou is the oldest on Kefalonia dating from the 8th century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It has a long and difficult history having been damaged, destroyed and rebuilt at least 17 times. War, earthquakes and fire have taken their toll but it is still very beautiful, sitting on a green hill with a fine medieval tower. The journey to Atrou is as delightful as the visit, about seven kilometres out of the east coast port of Poros, in an area that has some of the best walks on Kefalonia.
Monastery of Our Lady Themata
This monastery can be found buried in forest near the resort of Agia Efimia on the slopes of Kefalonia's second highest mountain of Agia Dinati. It was built in the 11th century and, according to local legend, the people prayed to a miraculous icon of the Virgin Themata ('Matters' in Greek) to get answers to their problems. The monastery has an extraordinary carved wooden iconostasis and many old icons including the 'Themata' icon which is carried through the streets of nearby Pournarodasos around Easter.
Monastery of Kipoureon
This monastery is located on the west coast of Kefalonia on the Pail peninsula, about 15km from Lixouri. It's dramatic position on a cliff about 90 metres above the sea makes it one of the most impressive sights on Kefalonia. It started life as a church but was extended the 17th century and dedicated to the Annunciation of Virgin Mary and the Elevation of the Holy Cross, when 80 monks lived here.
The monastery is said to have piece of the 'true cross', donated by a Russian prince and other relics include a glass bottle myrrh once owned by Agios Demetrios in the 7th century and the miraculous icon of Agios Paraskevi, from destroyed monastery at Tafion.
Church of the Virgin Mary Lagouvarda
Not actually a monastery, but built on the site of one, is the church of the Virgin Mary Lagouvarda in the village of Markopoulos. Local tales tell of the monastery being under attack from pirates in 1705 and the nuns turning into snakes to evade capture. It is said the nuns return on the Virgin Mary's feast day of August 15th each year disguised as snakes and bringing good luck A large number of harmless snakes do actually surround the church at this time of year and then mysteriously disappear.