St. Gerasimos is the patron saint of Kefalonia, so the Monastery of St. Gerasimos is a sacred place for every citizen of Kefalonia. The relics of the Saint are kept in a glass case which is placed above the Saint’s tomb. Gerasimos (1506–1579) came from the aristocratic and wealthy Notaras family. He was ordained a Monk at Mount Athos, went to Jerusalem for 12 years, spent some time in Crete and Zakynthos and arrived on Kefalonia in 1555. He spent the first 5 years in a cave in the area known as Lassi. He subsequently cultivated the area where the monastery of Saint Gerasimos now exists near Valsamata. He established a monastery which cared for the poor people and became a center for charity. Saint Gerasimos is believed by natives of Kefalonia to protect them and heal them of illness. Many natives of the island name their children after Saint Gerasimos as a tribute to the saint who protects them. The body of Saint Gerasimos is guarded and protected in a glass casement at the monastery as it has never decomposed. After his death, his body was buried twice and exhumed intact, thus leading the church to ordain him as a saint. Kefalonians throughout the world still revere and pray to him. In 1953, immediately after a powerful earthquake on the island of Kefalonia destroyed 90% of the island, there were many claimed sightings of Saint Gerasimos throughout the island who is believed to have comforted and tended to the injured trapped inside homes and buildings. During the feast of Saint Gerasimos on August 16th, his body is passed over ill and sick persons for the purpose of healing them. His body is also displayed in the church during liturgy at the monastery on many occasions.
MONASTERY OF THEMATA
The Monastery of Themata was probably built during the 9th or 10th century. The monastery celebrates on the first Tuesday after Easter because of the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary called “Panagia Damaskini” (Virgin Mary of Damascus), nowadays called, in the monastery, “Panagia Thematiani” (Virgin Mary of Themata). The miraculous icon of Virgin Mary of Themata is recorded as one of the oldest icons in the Hellenic geographical area (ca. 12th century). The monastery possesses a small piece of St. John Chrysostom’s relic. There are many traditions about the name of the Monastery. Throughout the history of the Theme of Cephalonia, the Monastery played a particular spiritual, religious and administrative role. The Byzantine Theme of Cephalonia was administrated by the “General of Cephallenia”, who ranked 14th on the hierarchy of the Officers of the Byzantine Empire, according to the Byzantine by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. For a period, the Theme of Cephalonia was merged with the Theme of Longobardia under the Byzantine General of Cephallenia, with Cephalonia as the headquarters of the Theme. Saint Cosmas of Aetolia visited the monastery and teached there in 1777. The Monastery was destroyed in 1953 Cephalonia earthquakes. The only things to be spared were some marble elements, the wooden iconostasis, precious icons and manuscripts. It was built from scratch between 1970 and 1974. In the modern compound of the monastery, on the right of the “Catholicon” (the main church) we find a two-story newly built building with 16 rooms, which include the Abbot’s house, the offices of the Monastery and the cells of the monks. On the ground floor, we can find the monastery’s modern refectory, the kitchen and a small Abbot’s room. In the yard, someone can see the two-story newly built sacristy, the renovated after the earthquake cells and the bakery of the monastery. The memory of the presence of the late Metropolitan Bishop of Cephalonia Ierotheos Vouis is still alive here; he was a monk in the Monastery and helped to rebuild it after the 1953 earthquake. The Holy Monastery owns app. 200 hectares of land with 20 water tanks. It also owns two other monasteries, the Holy Monastery of the Birth of Virgin Mary of Palaiochersos in Erissos, and the Holy Monastery the Birth of Virgin Mary in Fiskardo, which today is the seat of the parish of Fiskardo.
MONASTERY OF ATROS
The Monastery of Atros is dedicated to the Birth of Virgin Mary and is the oldest monastery of Cephalonia and a historical listed monument (Greek Government Gazette 1123/Issue B/29-8-2001). It celebrates every year on September 7 and on this day, many pilgrims flock there with piety, since the feast day is an important one in the area of Pronnoi, and the celebration of which is deep-rooted in the historical and religious tradition of the area. As for the history of the Holy Monastery, according to a written testimony in records of the Latin Episcopate of Cephalonia, which survived to present day, the monastery dates back to 1264. However, according to older testimonies, its history starts ca. 9th century. The monastery initially was a men’s monastery but around 1500 converted to a women’s monastery. The nuns due to the fear for Turkish raids abandoned the monastery in 1598 and moved to the inland of Pronnoi area. In the year 1600, the monastery operates again as a men’s monastery, as still remains today. The most characteristic building of the Monastery is the medieval defensive tower, a typical element of monastic architecture. The construction of the tower was imperative due to the pirate raids, numerous during the Middle Ages. Of the other buildings of the monastery the Catholicon (Main church) stands out, in which the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary is kept. The architectonic style is that of the single-nave basilica. In the apse of the High Altar, survive wall hagiographies paintings of byzantine style, a fact that implies that all the whole of the Catholicon was painted. The monastery suffered many damages and desolations during the 1636, 1766, 1867, but mostly during the 1953 earthquakes. Other important buildings of the monastery include the Abbot’s house and the cellars. The Abbot’s house was built east of the Catholicon and served as the Abbot’s house and as a quest-house (archodariki). These buildings were destroyed during the 1953 earthquakes. In the south of the Holy Monastery, we can see the guesthouse with a sign with the year of its foundation (1906), when Abbot of the Monastery was Saint Clemes Fokas. The monastic cells are of course an important part of the compound, situated at the right of the guesthouse, in the west side, where the central entrance of the monastery is also situated. In the yard, we can see two older buildings, the stable and the bakery. During the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in the historic monastery of Atros, Saint Clemes Fokas practiced an ascetic life and vested in spiritual light. He was from Tsakariano (Pyrgi) of Cephalonia and he is a contemporary Saint of the Church of Cephalonia.
MONASTERY OF KATHARA ITHACA
On the top of Homer’s Mt. Niritos the Monastery of Our Lady of Ithaca, Panagia Kathariotissa. Written records dating back to 1696 refer to a reconstruction of the Monastery. However its life started long before that and is lost in the tradition of Ithaca. Sheperds from Ioannina come to our island feeling from the cruelty of the Turks who had enslaved the host of aour country Greece. They settled in the area called Mazas, just opposite the Monastery. The grief was great when they found out that they had left back in their homeland their miracle-working icon of Virgin Mary. One night they saw a strong light coming from the spot where the church stands today. In order to reach the place they started weedind and set fires to clean (Greek: katharisan = cleaned) the land from the wild vegetation. In awe they saw that icon miraculously stood there untouched by the fire. They built a small church at that place and placed the icon there. As he years passed a monastery was built dedicated to the Navity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, celebrating on 8th September. Kathariotissa is the Glory, the Pride and the Saint Protector of Ithaca island.