The patron Saint of Kefalonia island, Agios Gerasimos, has been a source of solace and strength for locals and pilgrims that arrive to the island to receive his grace every year. His holy relics are kept in a glass relic-case in the magnificent, highly ornate Saint Gerasimos church in the Omala area.
Saint Gerasimos is celebrated on two special feast days, 16th August – the anniversary of his death and today, the 20th October, which commemorates the day his bones were removed from his tomb.
Today is one of the most significant days for Kefalonia and all Kefalonians living on the island or abroad. Today, everything revolves around the commemoration of the Restitution of Agios Gerasimos’ Sacred Relic. The ceremonies take place at Agios Gerasimos Convent at Omala, with participation of clergy, nuns and many officials.
The ceremonies proceed with Great Vespers and Matins officiated by the Metropolitan. The Saint’s Praises are chanted, around 1 am, followed by the Divine Liturgy. The Metropolitan departs around 2 am. On October 20th, an Archieratic Liturgy and Litany of the Sacred Relic take place.
Thousands of people from the island and all across Greece come to pay their respect to Agios Gerasimos during the two days. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, the Sacred Relic is taken back to the smaller church and placed in its larnax.
A celebration is also held on this day in Agios Gerasimos Church in Lixouri where the Saint’s Icon is litanised through the town in the afternoon. A prayer is said at the main square and the Metropolitan addresses the congregation and the officials. The coffin is moved under the shadow of a plane tree, which was planted by Agios Gerasimos himself. The ceremony is followed by a big festival with traditional and local music, dancing, food and wine.
Agios Gerasimos was the offspring of the noble family of Notaras and his great-grandfather was the last Prime Minister of the Byzantine Empire. After being educated in the most respectable institutions of the time, Agios Gerasimos was ordained a monk at Mount Athos and then travelled to Jerusalem where he stayed for twelve years. In 1555 AD he arrived in Kefalonia and spent five years in a cave in Lassi as a hermit.
In 1560, he moved to the plateau of Omala where he renovated the existing chapel and founded a convent which he named “New Jerusalem”. Nowadays the convent is more well-known as the convent of Agios Gerasimos and is the most sacred place on Kefalonia, The journey from Argostoli to the convent is 11 km. To reach it you pass by the village of Rosata where you can have a stop and enjoy the view of Lixouri and Argostoli. Then, you drive through the Robola zone and the villages of Fragata and Valsamata as well. After the plain of the 40 wells, you arrive at the convent.
The convent is built in a stunning location surrounded by vineyards. The new church was built after the earthquake of 1953. Inside the church the saint’s relics are kept in a silver relic case.
Inside the old church, there is the entrance of the Saint’s hermitage. It can be accessed through a medium-size hole, but surprisingly enough everyone can go through despite their size. It is also worth saying that even though visitors might need to kneel while in the hermitage, they allegedly don’t get dirty from the muddy floor.
Because of the Saint’s popularity, this church is a global pilgrimage and many people are gathered annually to honour the Saint’s memory. His relic is opened to the public five times a year. On 16th August or 20th October, two litanies take place to take the relic to the old plane tree near the church that the saint planted by himself.
Today’s commemoration also highlights the traditions and cultural heritage of the beautiful island of Kefalonia.