Monasteries, churches, sacred places and pilgrimages tell of the long and enduring devotion to Orthodox Christianity in Greece
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. Over the centuries, Greeks have imbued their entire land with the strength and enlightening presence of Christianity, 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 transcend the earthly.
Some of them cling to cliff sides over gorges, 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 you can find the ‘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 has 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 around the world.
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 and Agios Stefanos.
Famous churches and monasteries in Greece
From Mount Athos to Crete and from the Aegean to the Ionian and across the country, the Orthodox Christian faith found expression over the centuries in the form of 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 each of the churches and chapels, the saint’s 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.
- 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.
- 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 such exceptional frescoes and mosaics from the early 11th century that it is often called a ‘small Agia Sophia’.
- Daphni Monastery: Built on the site of an ancient temple of Apollo, it is one of the most important Byzantine monuments in the 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.
- 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, assembled by artisans from Constantinople.
- Mystra: You will see and admire seven important churches in Mystras, all the katholika of monasteries; Pantanassa, still functioning as a monastery, Agios Dimitrios, Evangelistria, Perivleptou, Agia Sophia, Panagia Odigitria and Agii Theodori.
- Panagia, Tinos: The Evangelistria Church – or Megalohari (‘She of Great Grace’) in honour of the Virgin Mary – on Tinos is one of the holiest sites to Orthodox Christians and is a place of pilgrimage to many Greeks, some of whom approach it on their knees along a red carpet from the port. Its centrepiece is the 7th-century AD icon of the Virgin Mary (Panagia), found by a local nun (and later saint) called Pelagia in 1823, who said the location of the icon came to her in a dream. Built in the early days of the modern Greek state, Our Lady of Tinos is considered not just the protector of the island but a patron saint of Greece.
- 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.
- 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 21st.
- 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.
- Thessaloniki: Thessaloniki is famous for its Byzantine churches, especially the church of the city’s patron saint Agios Dimitrios. Others of special significance include Agia Sophia, Aheiropoiito and Panagia Halkeon, as well as Agios Nikolaos Orfanos and Hosios David in the upper town.
- Athens: Athens has a number of important Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches, starting with the Cathedral of Athens in the city’s historic centre and the beautiful Panagia Gorgoepikoos close by. Also of immense interest are Agios Nikolaos Ragkavas, Metamorfosi tou Sotiros in Plaka, Panagia Pantanassa in Monastiraki, Kapnikarea on Ermou street and Agii Asomati in Thisio.