SOLYGEIA, Greece – When Greek Orthodox nun Lidia arrived alone at the deteriorating convent of The Assumption of the Virgin at Sofiko 40 years ago, she did not have the knowledge or the experience to undertake its renovation but knew she was up to the task.
“I have dreamt about this place in detail, so when I first arrived here I knew I had to try to fix it as I envisioned it,” she told New Europe, while walking with a tray of full Greek coffee cups and homemade glyka tou koutaliou, the traditional Greek spoon sweets that she prepared from the fruits of her monastery garden.
Sofiko is a small town in Solygeia, near Corinth, in Greece’s Peloponnese Region. The hills surrounding the town also are lined with pine trees that belong to the Sofiko Forest, one of the area’s major sources for the production of pine resin or pitch.
The town played s leading part in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks in 1821 and there are many historical churches and monasteries in the area with rare architecture and religious paintings.
The 12th Century convent, known as Kimiseos tis Theotokou in its original Greek form, is situated at a crossroads where the road from Epidauros meets the road to Sofiko and is built with materials from the great Ancient Greek temple of Aphrodite.
“I came here 40 years ago. The convent was in… well, you can also see in the pictures the condition that it was in. After many years of effort, it has become as you see it, having a different appearance, which is what I wanted,” the nun said. “It has a long history and many people have passed through here, many saints, many people left their lives, their prayers.”
Solygeia also consists of the communities Korfos and Agelokastro. After a scenic route over the mountain, the coastal village of Korfos appears ahead with beaches that surround the piney slopes of the mountain. The village is known for its good climate, plethora of small hotels, and fish taverns. A recent population increase is due to the continuous reconstruction of tourism facilities and cottages that belong to both locals and foreigners.
Giorgos Goumas, a former captain in his late 50s, who is also the mayor of Korfos, is very proud of his village. “We are about one hour and fifteen minutes from Athens. We’re very close Epidauros. We’re a nice small village. A lot of tourists come here, especially in the summer, and we’re living from tourism. We have small, beautiful hotels and many fishing boats. We have things to spend your time – you can rent boats and visit our monuments. The most important of that is the Panagia of Steiri, which is a very important church. I want to tell people that we have very good hospitality and you must come to Korfos,” Goumas said before driving a few kilometres to the north of Korfos, where the Byzantine church of the Dormition of the Virgin at Steiri is located.
The church dates to the second half of the 11th century and has been declared a protected historical monument since 1951. Its name is connected to Hosios Loukas Steiriotis, or Luke of Steiris, the 10th century Byzantine saint and founder of a famous namesake monastery in Boeotia, a region in central Greece and home to the ancient city of Thebes. Loukas Steiriotis lived in Corinthia for 10 years from 918-928 C.E. and the local Church Dormition of the Virgin has has religious paintings dating from 1668.
South of Korfos, the main road leads to the bay of Seloda, where a fish farm with the same name is presently situated.
Back at the convent, nun Lidia, who was once a medical student, said philosophically that people come here to pray but you don’t have to be a saint to pray. She smiled, saying: “We’re all saints.”