The Holy Church of Saint Andrew in Patras in Western Greece.
Visiting the impressive and historic monasteries of Western Greece offers a wonderful opportunity to experience and connect with the powerful faith and spirituality of the area.
The Regional Unit of Achaia has monuments and places identified both with religious worship and with historical events such as the start of the Greek Revolution of 1821. More specifically:
Holy Church of Agios Andreas (Saint Andrew)
One of the largest churches in the Balkans, the Holy Church of Agios Andreas in Patras is at the spot where Saint Andrew was martyred and where his tomb is also located. The church is in the Byzantine style with an area of 2,000 square meters (about 21,528 square feet) and a height of 46 meters (about 151 feet). Its capacity is 7,500 people and it attracts many international visitors, mostly from Russia and the Balkan countries. The Apostolic Tomb of Saint Andrew is a religious monument of international scope that should not be missed. The nave’s Byzantine iconography contains elements of a newer style that is particularly interesting for visitors. The feast of Saint Andrew is celebrated every year on November 30 and is a holiday for the city of Patras.
The Holy Monastery of the Great Cave is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Monastery is awe-inspiring, as it is located in the shadow of the steep rock of Helmos at an altitude of 940 meters (3,084feet). It was founded in the 4th century and was destroyed, set on fire, and repaired at various times.
In the museum of the Monastery there are many sacred and national relics such as official uniforms, manuscripts with excellent miniatures, precious golden crosses with wood from the Holy Cross, copper engravings, portraits, etc. In a special chapel there are many icons, as well as reliquaries with the bones of many saints and those of the founders of the Monastery. Most of the monastery is accessible to people with disabilities, while access to the monastery by road today is easy and comfortable from the Athens-Patras National Road, and by train via the cog railway.
The Holy Monastery of the Virgin Mary
was founded in the 10th century and the current church and cells were built from 1833 to 1836. The magnificent marble iconostasis made in 1852. The church houses the Panseptus Treasure of the monastery, the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary Gerokotissa on an imposing marble throne, as well as the remarkable icon of the Panagia, bearing the inscription “Mother of God, the true,” the only surviving icon with this name, which is a work of the 14th century. The icon was carefully cleaned and preserved by the Christian and Byzantine Museum of Athens in 1988-1989. The monastery celebrates on August 15 (and August 23) with crowds of the faithful flocking to it every year.
The Holy Monastery of Oblou is located in a mountainous, verdant location about 15 kilometers from Patras, above the village of Saravali. The historic monastery of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Oblou Monastery, derives its name from the Albanian word ‘obile’, which means ‘sweet’, a nickname given to the Virgin Mary by the Albanian-speaking population of the region. The monastery has a rich library with old books and documents, and important items, relics of saints, and two beautiful images of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child dating from 1730 and 1817. The images of Christ and the Presentation on the gilded iconostasis are a donation of the monks of the Monastery of the Great Cave in 1839, while the icon of the Ascension is a donation of the residents of Patras in 1849.
The church of Panagia Tripiti Aigiou is carved partly out of a vertical rock, in a landscape of outstanding natural beauty. The majestic and imposing church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary as ‘the Life-Giving Spring’. The name ‘Trypiti’, according to tradition, is due to the fact that the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was found in a ‘trypa’ (hole) in the rock, i.e. in a small cave, by a shipwrecked man who was also the first ascetic in this place.
The Holy Monastery of Agia Lavra is found in an idyllic location at the foot of Mount Velia, a little above the town Kalavryta. The famous monastery is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin. Its history is directly intertwined with the beginning of the Greek Revolution of 1821, specifically, the raising of the banner of rebellion and the swearing in of the chieftains of the revolution by Metropolitan Germanos of Old Patras.
The monastery has a rich library with rare books and documents, and a museum with unique items from the Greek Revolution. Among them, the very banner raised by the Metropolitan Germanos when he proclaimed the Revolution of 1821, a diamond-encrusted gospel – a gift from Empress Catherine of Russia, and the vestments of Germanos. It also has relics of saints and the reliquary of Saint Alexios, patron saint of Kalavryta, donated by the Byzantine emperor Manuel Palaiologos in 1398.
In the regional unit of Aitoloakarnania there are many historic monasteries honoring the Theotokos. The monasteries were selected for promotion with the main criterion of accessibility.
Some places of religious worship such as the post-Byzantine cells, the wax effigies of the Agia Paraskevi Monastery, the Mandra or the Cave of Our Lady of Eleousa, have not been registered as religious destinations for elderly tourists, however.
The centuries-old religious tradition of Aitoloakarnania is reflected in the icon of the Virgin Mary of Blachernae, especially on July 1st and 2nd, when the parish of St. George in Lepenos, celebrates with a procession to the sacred chapel of the Virgin Mary of Blachernae.
The procession is 700 meters away, east of the center of the village, which is considered a reasonable walking distance for elderly pilgrims. The chapel was erected at the beginning of the first decade of the 20th century and was the reason for the miraculous finding of the Holy Icon of the Theotokos.
The Church of Our Lady of Panaxiotissa is north of the village of Gavrolimni, in a lush location. The church, dating back to the end of the 10th century, is impressive with its impeccable stone and elaborate dome.
The Monastery of Katerini – Holy Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos, is located on the northern slope of Arakynthos in a densely forested area. The monastery is associated with the myth of a shepherd who lived there during the Ottoman occupation and its name indicates a toponym. Among the icons that are preserved is the Theotokos Odigitria. The monastery over the centuries has been a religious, national, social, and educational center, a place rich in charitable, revolutionary, economic, and intellectual activity. Of great interest are the exhibitions of painting, photography, hagiography, folk art, and local products that it organizes every year.
The monastery celebrates on September 8 the Birth of the Virgin Mary. It is a two-day feast as the inhabitants of the wider area visit to worship the miraculous icon of Our Lady, some crossing the length of the town of Gavalou on foot and others with animals. This route is of particular interest for those booking a religious tourism package during the first week of September.
Aghia Sophia Church Complex
From Myrtia, continuing to Thermos, we find the village of Aghia Sophia, with its abundant waters and water mills and its centuries-old plane trees. In the cemetery of the village, there is a complex of three Byzantine churches of the 13th century. The twin churches of the Taxiarches and St. Nicholas, as well as the ruined church of Aghia Sophia (30 meters north) were built during the administration of Thomas Nikiforos Angelos (1296) by his mother Anna Katakouzini. These monuments are of great interest architecturally, for the building material used – stones from an ancient temple of Artemis – and for the ancient and Byzantine inscriptions, including a 2nd century AD Roman era inscription built into the south wall of St. Nicholas.
The Monastery of John the Baptist is built in a beautiful natural environment and dates back to the 12th century. Among the points of interest are the wood-carved iconostasis dating to 1811 and a silver-clad Gospel of 1697 rescued from his rich library. In recent years, the Ministry of Culture has restored and configured the environment to make it accessible to elderly visitors.
Regional Unit of Ilia
Among the monasteries to visit in the Ilia Regional Unit is the 9th century Blachernon Monastery for women, dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin Mary with its wood-framed basilica, 18th century frescoes, and a rich library that includes relics of saints. Also on the premises are the graves of some of the Franks who once ruled the area. It celebrates its feast day on September 8 each year.
The Monastery of Panagia Skafidia is the earliest monastery of the prefecture, with the first church built on the site dating back to the 7th century. The monastery was built around the 10th century around the original church, and during the Venetian occupation the impressive medieval towers were added. In addition to its remarkable architecture, it also has many religious and historical treasures such as: sacred objects, chalices, relics, clothing, weapons, icons, coins, and the banner of the Monastery made from a hand-sewn icon dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Also of great significance is the monastery archive and the library with many manuscripts referring to liturgical, musical, hagiographical, and other themes, but also to the history of the monastery and its participation in the Greek Revolution of 1821. The space is easily accessible to travelers and elderly pilgrims.
Among the religious events that take place in the Ilias Unit are the following:
The Feast of Panagia Isodiotissa, Pyrgos Ilias September 8; the three-day festival for the celebration of Aghia Sophia in September in Andravida; at the Monastery of Panagia of Vlaherainas, between Kastro and Kyllini, on September 8; the religious festival of the Holy Spirit June 8 in the chapel of the Taxiarchon in Andritsaina, Ilia; religious events at the Holy Monastery of Skafidias, Ilia August 15; Feast of the Prophet Elias July 20 with a two-day festival and cultural events in Zacharo, Ilias; the Feast of Saint Nicholas, Katakolo, Ilia, December 6; and the Panigiri of Panagia in Kastro, Ilia August 15.
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