During your holidays in Greece you will find, both on the mainland and on the Greek islands, that religion and faith are everywhere. From Mt Athos and Meteora to Patmos and Crete, from the Aegean to the Ionian, from the Peloponnese to Central Greece. Greeks have impressed their Christian faith on the land throughout the country and over the centuries, building monasteries, churches and chapels of great religious and architectural import.
For Orthodox Christians around the world, the monasteries in Greece are places of major pilgrimages, and are ideal for your religious trips to Greece. They are special, authentic and timeless. Almost always built in beautiful locations, often on the sites of ancient temples and sanctuaries, the monasteries symbolise the human attempt to overcome the earthly.
Some of them hang from cliffsides over gorges, while others were fortified and resemble castles. In their katholika (main churches), libraries and museums are frescoes, portable icons, manuscripts, books and relics of inestimable value. The monasteries of Agios Ioannis Theologos on Patmos, Hosios Loukas in Viotia, Meteora and Mount Athos are just some of the most famous.
Pilgrimages in Greece
In the footsteps of the Apostle Paul: This is a route that retraces the travels of Saint Paul as he spread the message of Christ throughout Greece. The pilgrimage commences in Samothrace and continues through Kavala, Philippi, Thessaloniki, Veria (where there is the so-called ‘altar of the Apostle Paul’), Athens and ends in Corinth, where a church was constructed in his honour.
Mount Athos: The monastic state of Mount Athos hosts some 20 large monasteries which operate as sacred male communes. Smaller brotherhoods exist at various cloisters, cells and hermitages. About 1,600 monks currently live on Mount Athos, most of them Greek though a fair number hail from other Orthodox countries as well as from nations in the West and the Middle East.
Meteora: Hermits began living in the region of Meteora in the 11th century. At present six monasteries remain active or have been restored: Metamorfoseos tou Sotiros or Great Meteoron, Varlaam, Rousanou, Anapausas, Holy Trinity, Agios Stefanos.
Famous Churches and Monasteries In Greece
Magnificent monuments, centuries-old testaments to the Christian faith and Orthodoxy. From Mount Athos to Crete and from the Aegean to the Ionian and across the country, the Christian faith found expression in various forms over the centuries, founding monasteries, churches and chapels of great religious and architectural value.
Whether large and imposing or small and humble, these divinely inspired and exquisitely decorated buildings await your discovery. Experience awe, wonder and devotion along the way. In all of Greece, in all the churches and chapels, the saints’ day celebrations are unique. Experience the feasts and festivities, with homemade wine and raki, traditional music and local delicacies. Here are some of the most important churches and monasteries of Greece.
1. Agios Ioannis Theologos (Saint John The Theologian), Patmos: This magnificent fortress-like monastery dominates Patmos in the Dodecanese, the ‘Jerusalem of the Aegean’ as it has been called. It was founded in 1088 by the Blessed Christodoulos Latrinos and contains treasures of inestimable value.
2. Monastery of Hosios Loukas Steiriotis, Viotia: Another fortress-like monastery, this one is arguably the most important monument of the mid-Byzantine period in Greece. Its katholikon has exceptional frescoes and mosaics from the early 11th century, which have led it to be called a ‘small Agia Sophia’.
3. Daphni Monastery: Built on the site of an ancient temple of Apollo, it is one of the most important Byzantine monuments in the entire Mediterranean. The 11th-century mosaics are considered to be the most artistically impressive and important ever made in Christendom. It is on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites.
4. New Monastery, Chios: One of the most important monasteries in Greece, it was built by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos in 1024. In the katholikon dedicated to the Virgin Mary, are some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics in the world, built by artisans from Constantinople.
5. Mystra: You will see and admire seven important churches in Mystra, all the katholika of monasteries: Pantanassa, still functioning as a monastery, Agios Dimitrios, Evangelistria, Perivleptou, Agia Sophia, Panagia Odigitria and Agii Theodori.
6. Panagia, Tinos: The faith of thousands in the miraculous powers of the icon of the Megalohari has turned this relatively recently built monastery (1880) into one of the major pilgrimage sites in Greece. Its festival day is August 15.
7. Panagia Ekatontapyliani, Parikia, Paros: One of the most important early-Christian monuments in Greece, it is the most popular attraction for Orthodox visitors to Paros. The complex of early-Christian churches includes a famous baptistery and chapels added in later times. There is a Byzantine museum and the festival day is also August 15.
8. Panagia Hozoviotissa, Amorgos: Built on a cliff-side overlooking the Aegean by Alexius I Comnenus to house the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, it is 40m metres high but only 5m deep. The museum houses significant holy relics and the festival day is November 21.
9. Panagia Soumela: The original Soumela monastery in Trabzon on the Black Sea was an Orthodox symbol for 16 centuries. Following its destruction, the icon of the Virgin Mary was transported to the new Panagia Soumela on the forested slopes of Mount Vermion.
10. Thessaloniki Churches: Thessaloniki is famous for its Byzantine churches, especially the church of the city’s patron saint Agios Dimitrios. Other important ones are Agia Sophia, Aheiropoiito and Panagia Halkeon, while in the upper town Agios Nikolaos Orfanos and Hosios David.
11. Athens Churches: Athens has a number of important Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches: the Cathedral of Athens in the city’s historic centre and next to it the beautiful Panagia Gorgoepikoos, Agios Nikolaos Ragkavas, Metamorfosi tou Sotiros in Plaka, Panagia Pantanassa in Monastiraki, Kapnikarea on Ermou street and Agii Asomati in Thisio.