Inside the "Holy Monastery of Myrtidia" is the symbol of Kytherian tradition and legacy: the icon of Panagia Myrtidiotissa (the Madonna of myrtle), symbol of orthodox faith for thousands of Kytherians ever since it was discovered. Emigrants always remember this symbol that binds them to their birthplace, making it the guardian angel of every Kytherean. The monastery is located in the western part of the island, a few kilometers from the village of Kalokairines. Visitors are immersed in the holy atmosphere of this place which, through divine power, provides peace, love and harmony.
According to the legend a shepherd was walking his sheep in the area. One day, as he was taking his animals to a drinking point, he saw an icon of the Virgin Mary near a small myrtle tree. He took the icon home but when night came the icon made its way back to the small tree. During the shepherd's sleep an angel visited him in his dreams and told him that the Virgin Mary would like him to build a small church next to the myrtle tree. This small church can still be visited today: it is located below the current church of Panagia Myrtidiotissa, which was built in the 19th century. The monastery includes many cells.
In Kythera there is a custom known as the "fortnight". Every summer, between the 1st and the 15th of August (the day of the assumption of the Virgin Mary) hundreds of devotees go to the three main monasteries of the island (Panagia Myrtidiotissa, Agia Elessa and Agia Moni) and remain there during that 15-day period, fasting and abiding by the monastery's program. Should you wish to try this custom please check with the Metropolitan Church of Kythera.
On your way to Panagia Myrtidiotissa don't forget to visit the "Stavros", a large cross offered by a sailor, which overlooks one of the western hills of Kythera. The view from up there is breathtaking. You can also drive (rough road) to the west of the monastery of Myrtidiotissa, where you will come across the tiny church of Agios Nikolas o Krassas, which according to the legend was built with earth mixed with wine. The sunset here is considered the most beautiful in Kythera. Should you wish you can also spend the night in Limnaria, northwest of Myrtidia.
On a mountain resembling a ship, above Livadi, is a monastary called Agia Elessa. It owes its name to a woman who became a martyr on the spot where it was built. She was the daughter of Helladios, a rich Peloponnese lord. Thrown out of the house by her father for converting to Christianity she took refuge in Kythera. But Helladios found her and killed her on this mountain in 375 A.D. The current monastery was built in 1871 on the spot where she was killed, on the ruins of another church. It has a small basilica and includes some twenty cells. Agia Elessa is celebrated every year on the 1st of August, when Kythera started the custom known as the "fortnight" (see section on Panagia Myrtidiotissa). The position of the monastery provides a magnificent view on the largest part of the island, and particularly the southwest coast.
The monastery of Agia Moni is located east of Kythera on the hills above Diakofti. On the 23rd of September 1767 a shepherd by the name of Viaros found an icon of the Virgin Mary in a bush which had the inscription "the only of all hopes", as well as a representation of Agios Georgios. Nikiforos Mormoris, bishop of Kythera, visited the area and decided to build a monastery there.
In 1803, Theodoros Kolokotronis, one of the captains of the Greek Revolution of 1821, was in Kythera with the Alvanakis family. In his "Memoirs", Kolokotronis wrote: "I once went to a celebration of the Agia Moni monastery. It was a large monastery and was destroyed the first time the Turks arrived on the island. It was surrounded by a hedge of dry wood and the church's roof was made of temporary branches. I promised that if the Virgin Mary helped us free our country from the tyrant I would restore it to its initial state of 1803. She did indeed help us, and in the course of the second year of the revolution I kept my promise and repaired the monastery...".
In the 19th century the monastery was refurbished and extended. The magnificent church tower made of sandstone (porus) was built in 1848. The church is a basilica with a single nave. Make sure you take the time to look at the spectacular façade. From the monastery's courtyard you can admire the view of Kythera's eastern coastline as well as the Peleopoli valley. From the back of the monastery you can see Diakofti and Cape Maleas. Between the 1st and the 15th of August devotees come here and remain in the monastery following the tradition of the "fortnight" (see section on "Panagia Myrtidiotissa"). The celebration of the church of Agia Moni takes place on the 6th of August.
Agios Theodoros is the protector of Kythera. He was born in Koroni (southern Peloponnese) around the end of the 9th century. He grew up in Nauplie where he married and had two children. However, his greatest wish was to become a monk. He visited Rome and later on Monemvasia (a medieval citadel in the southeastern part of Peloponnese) and found refuge in a cell. Around 921 A.D. he went to Kythera, when the island was practically deserted as its people had been driven away by Cretan pirates. Agios Theodoros stayed there as a monk in the monasteries of Agios Sergios and Vakchos. He died on the 9th of May 922. Shortly after some seamen found his body and buried him on the site. The old aforementioned monastery was rebuilt between the 12th and the 13th century by Monemvasian architects, who dedicated it to Agios Theodoros. Throughout the centuries the new temple was transformed into a monastery and was renovated in 1630 by Kythera's bishop, Athanasios Valerianos. The monastery is located outside the village of Logothetianika. Inside there is also a British school that has been restored and is used today as the monastery's museum. Nearby are some traces of an old temple devoted to Asclepios, god of medicine.
Agios Giorgis sto Vouno
A small set of two churches built at the top of a mountain located between Avlemonas and Agia Moni. One of the two churches is devoted to Agios Giorgis, hence the name. It is a small church the size of a large bedroom, with a tiled roof and tessellated floor dating back to the 7th century A.D. The other church is in the Kytherean style and is dedicated to Panagia Myrtidiotissa and Agios Nikolaos. Archaeological digs revealed that in this place, during the Antiquity, there was a Minoan "peak temple". This site is also recommended for the view. If the air is not too humid (a rare thing in the summertime) you can see the mountains of Crete. To find the only road that leads to Agios Giorgis you need to take the road to Diakofti.
One of the largest Christian temples on the island. It is located at the heart of the village of Livadi and its current shape (after five construction phases) is that of a Latin cross with a small cupola in the middle. There are three different levels of superimposed frescoes: the first level dates back to the 10th-11th century, the second is from the 13th century, and the third includes meta-Byzantine frescoes from the 16th century.
Agios Dimitrios in Pourko
Located in Pourko, between Livadi and Agia Elessa, this group of four churches located in the same structure is quite unusual. The four churches form a sort of rectangle with a single entrance on the west side. The southern church is dedicated to Agios Dimitrios, the northeastern one to the Virgin Mary, the northern one to Agios Nikolaos and the southeast one to the Archangel Michael or to Agios Vassilios. The architecture is unique. The churches show three levels of frescoes and the most interesting level is the second one, painted by someone called Dimitrios. An inscription doubling as a signature can still be distinguished: "By Dimitrios, humble archdeacon of Monemvasia, who sinned."
Located in the village of Arei. This is a small church shaped as a Latin cross, with no nave and an octagon-shaped dome. It is believed to have been built in the 13th century. On some of its walls we can still see superimposed levels of Byzantine and meta-Byzantine frescoes.
This church is located in the Byzantine capital of Kythera, today known as Paleochora. It is shaped as a cross and has a small cupola, but the wall paintings are no longer there to be seen. It was built in the 13th century by architectural technicians from Monemvasia. Its distinguishing mark is the roof, featuring sheets of shale from Kythera.
Agios Ioannis o en Krimno (Saint-John on the cliff)
This small church is located on a cliff 60 m high above Kapsali. It was built in a hollowed-out space in the cliff, and there are two cells and a kitchen in the cave above. These constructions were joined to the church in the 17th century, and this small monastery was renovated in 1725 as mentioned by the inscription on the way in. According to the legend this is where St. John started writing the Apocalypse before making his way to the island of Patmos.
This monastery was built in 1825 by Father Megalokonomos on a site called “Kseroulaki” near the village of Drymonas. According to the legend the priest was trying to collect a sum of money in order to build this monastery. One day he decided to go to Constantinople (Istanbul) to seek help. There, he came across a pirate who told them he had hidden a treasure on the beach of Melidoni not far from Drymonas, and explained to the priest how to find the exact spot. Back in Kythera the priest did indeed find the jar that contained a treasure made of jewels, coins and other valuable objects, and therefore built the monastery. He added the jar to the church tower as a sign of gratitude. This is a private monastery that belongs to any descendent of the Megalokonomos family who becomes a priest.
Panagia Orfani of Mylopotamos
Approximately 3 km northwest of Mylopotamos, above a ravine with lush vegetation, is a small cave where the church of Panagia Orfani as well as several cells in the surrounding area were built. A long time ago an icon of the Virgin Mary nicknamed "Orfani" (the orphan) was found inside this cave; she is commemorated on the 15th of August.
Panagia Myrtidiotissa and Panagia Orfani at the Castle of Chora
The imposing church of the Castle of Chora is called Panagia Myrtidiotissa and was built in 1580 by the Venetians. It was a Catholic temple initially dedicated to the "Virgin of the Latin". In 1806 it was transformed into an orthodox church devoted to Panagia Myrtidiotissa. The icon of Myrtidiotissa was kept in the protected church for fear of being stolen by pirates. In 1842 the icon was returned to the monastery of Myrtidia.
Near the church is the small temple of Panagia Orfani that belongs to the Kalonas family. For nearly 300 years it housed the icon as well as religious items from the monastery of Agarathos located in Iraklio in Crete, when the great island was under Turkish occupation.
Agios Panteleimone in Paleopoli
This is a very small church with a single space and a tiled roof. An arch from a paleo-Christian basilica destroyed long ago is still kept inside. Agios Panteleimonne is currently being restored by the 1st Department of Byzantine Antiquities.
Estavromenos in Chora – The Metropolitan Church of Kythera
The church of Estavromenos was built in 1660 on the ruins of another temple by the bishop of Kythera, Philotheos Darmaros. At the entrance of the church is a walled-in inscription indicating that the building belongs to the Darmaros family. The inscription also bears the coat of arms of the family. The church of Estavromenos is dedicated to the day of the crucifixion and the day of its celebration is Good Friday. On this occasion there is a song that starts with the following verse: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law...". During the 40 days that precede Easter the icon of Panagia Myrtidiotissa is placed inside Estavromenos on a special stand that was built in 1806 by an artist from the island of Zakynthos.
A small Byzantine church near the village of Potamos. The architecture features a small square area under a dome and is typical of Kythera. There are 10 other churches on the island sharing this style of architecture.