Holy Monastery of Voulkanos

At the junction of mounts Ithomi and Eva (Aghiou Vasiliou) and between the villages of Ancient Messini (Mavromati) and Valyra in the Municipality of Ithomi stands, majestic and dominating, the historical monastery of Voulkanos, founded in the 17th century. The name "Voulkanos”, and the earlier versions “Vourkano”, “Dorkano” and “Voulkani”, are probably attributed to some byzantine lord or owner, to whom the area around mount Ithomi belonged.

A predecessor to this monastery is the Monastery of Panagia of Korifi (Mountaintop), or Panagia Epanokastritissa, know today as “Catholicon” and found on the top of mount Ithomi, where the Acropolis of Ancient Messini used to stand.

Tradition has it that the Monastery of Korifi was built in the early 8th century - around 725 – by iconodule Monks, at the location where the sacred icon of Panagia was found hanging on a bush, next to a lit lamp. According to a different tradition its builder is emperor Andronikos II Paleologos (1282-1328). None of the two traditions has been historically documented. The Temple of the old monastery was a domed basilica with three naves; it survives today with two naves, after many modifications, and is built upon the site of the ancient temple of “Ithomata” Zeus, as a lot of the original masonry has been used in its construction. The temple's interesting frescos have been painted by the brothers Dimitrios and Georgios Moschou from Nafplio, in 1608. At the intersection of the south wing of the cells with the western there is a byzantine Fotanama, a special place with a hearth surrounded by seats where the monks would sit in the winter. In the Church of Greece there are 11 such Fotanamata in total.

The monastery of Korifi was abandoned by the Fathers in the years 1625 due to the unbearable cold of the winter months and the difficulty the Christians had in visiting it. They seeked a new place to the south and found it where the new monastery now stands. The area was bought from the father of the Turkish agha of Androusa for 10.500 Ottoman kurus. In the newly bought lands they found a source of fresh water, still known today as “mother of water” and a two level tower, which became the foundation for the new monastery, as around it they constructed the imposing building that exists today.

The Temple of the new lower monastery was built in 1701 and is of byzantine style, cruciform with a dome. It is dedicated to the Nativity of the Yperaghia Theotokos, as the old temple was dedicated to the Dormition of the Yperaghia Theotokos, which is the main celebration of both monasteries.

The pride and treasure of this monastery is the icon of Panagia Voulkaniotissa, titled “Odigitria known in the mountains as Voulkanos”, to which miracles have been attributed. The monastery also guards the Holy Relics of many Orthodox Saints; Saint Neomartyr Ioannis" of Monemvassia, Saint Dionysios Areopagitis’ and Saint Ilias Ardounis’ of Kalamata, among them. In its rich library many books can be found, old and new, authentic manuscripts, Turkish documents and four Sigillia of the various Patriarchs of Constantinople, recognizing or verifying the monasteries privileges.

A multitude of faithful attends the celebrations of the monastery, both in the days leading to August 15, with the procession taking the Icon of Panagia to Her Throne, in the monastery of Korifi, with the litanies and services that follow, and the night leading to the 20th of September when the Icon is brought to the city of Messini, as a reminder of the Yperaghia Theotokos’ miraculous intervention during the terrible plague epidemic that had spread across all of Messenia, bringing death and misery, around the year 1755, when the first litany of the Sacred Icon took place. In that night thousands of people, including many young kids, escort the Voulkaniotissa Lady across a twenty kilometre procession. The procession starts at 2 am from Voulkanos and ends at “Mauromateiki Panagitsa” around 7:30 am on the 20th of September. The official welcoming of the Icon takes place at 9:30 am in the small church of Aghia Paraskevi, near the entrance of Messini, by the Metropolitan of Messenia, local authorities and a multitude of people. A great crowd also attends the Litany, through the central streets of the city, to the Voulkanos’ Glebe of Panigyristra, where the Sacred Icon is placed.  The faithful can pay their respects there for eight days, until September 28, when, at 5 pm a procession starts to return the Icon to the monastery, after a litany through the streets of Messini. It arrives at Voulkanos at midnight.

The Monastery of Voulkanos has always been a monastery for men, and never ceased its operation. It is today the only monastery for men in the Holy Metropolis of Messenia.


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