Sparkling white and built into a giant grey rock at a height of 300m, the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa in the Cycladic Amorgos island is the second oldest monastery in Greece.
Initially constructed in 1017 and built to its current form in 1088 by the Emperor Alexios Komninos, the monastery takes around 20 tranquil minutes to reach uphill and overlooks breathtaking views of the Aegean sea (and more specifically, Agia Anna beach below) and the rising mountain.
The 40m-high Monastery is especially known for its miraculous icon, which is carried through all the villages of the island every year, while the devout travel to the monastery from around Greece and around the world to pray to Panagia. The icon is framed by a thick layer of tamata (votive offerings) given to Panagia by those praying for her help.
The story of the icon
There are two stories relating how the icon was brought to the monastery: the first version says that it was found in a boat at the exact spot below the monastery is built today, placed there by a woman from the town of Hozeva in Palestine, who left it to travel across the sea. The story says that as they began to plan to build the monastery at that spot, various causes led the builders to gradually move higher and higher up until circumstances led them to build where the monastery stands today.
The second rendition says that the miraculous icon was brought to Amorgos by monks from the monastery of Hozeva in Palestine, which is located near Jericho, and that the monks fled from there. While passing through Cyprus, the monks were attacked by thieves and they broke the icon into two parts and threw it into the sea to prevent the thieves from getting hold of it. The two parts miraculously arrived at the rocky coast of Amorgos and joined together without there being any sign of having ever been broken in two. Others say that the monks travelled with the icon to Amorgos, where they built the monastery under the guidance of the Virgin Mary.
A visit to remember
Apart from the whitewashed beauty of the monastery itself, the incredible vistas one can take in while walking up there, the singularly meditative ambiance of the church itself and the reward of seeing the miraculous icon, the monastery also offers its visitors a warm welcome. The friendly priests here serve guests a tray of Psimeni, the local drink of raki cooked with local honey and spices such as cinnamon and clove, and loukoumia, and insist visitors try at least a few glasses of the heady tonic.
There is also a tiny display of wares for sale, including icons, prayer bracelets and small bottles of healing Myrrh that cannot be found elsewhere.
Every year, on November 21, the Monastery celebrates the day of Panagia, which honours and celebrates the Theotokos, protector of Amorgos island. Locals and people from around Greece come to assist at the ceremony and be part of this yearly religious event. The night before, many parishioners go to the Monastery and take part in the late-night religious service, and afterward sleep outside the monastery, known to be a unique and spiritual experience. After the service, there is plenty of food all share food that is shared as people celebrate their faith and commemorate Panagia, and this historical Monastery.
*Watch the video of Panagia Hozoviotissa here-
*Images by Alexia Amvrazi for Greek City Times (Copyright)