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Odigitria Monastery near Sivas

Place description

The male monastery of Panagia Odigitria is nestled in the protected area of the Asterousia Mountains, at an elevation of 250m. Accessible through the village of Sivas, it is one of the most historic monasteries in Crete, boasting a vast estate with numerous chapels and extensive land holdings.

Asterousia has long been a significant center for asceticism in Crete, particularly in the sacred gorges of Agiofarago and Martsalo, which are now part of the monastery’s domain. The area is often referred to as the Mount Athos of Crete, after the renowned monastic state in Northern Greece. The strong monastic tradition in the region is believed to be connected to the Apostle Paul, who is said to have stopped in the area during his journey to Rome.

In this hallowed location, hermits constructed the monastery of Odigitria in the 14th century. Its name is likely derived from a copy of the renowned icon of the Monastery Odigon in Constantinople, which is attributed to the evangelist Luke and was one of the most famous miraculous icons in the Byzantine Empire. A 14th-century cross-roofed narthex still partially remains, with important frescoes such as two scenes from the synaxari of Agios Antonios and Paul of Thebes, as well as the 16 houses from the Akathist Hymn. The pictorial decoration also features a scene of monk Gregory and other monks being blessed by Christ.

The monastery’s architecture resembles a fortress, with part of its wall still visible. The complex’s buildings encircle the central two-aisled church, which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (Kimisis) and the Apostles Peter and Paul. A third aisle, once devoted to Saint Fanourios, has since been demolished. Near the main entrance, visitors can find the legendary Tower of Xopateras and its fascinating story. Other notable features include the baking house, the olive mill, the wine press, several warehouses, the cheese cellar, a small well used during sieges, the guest house (formerly the abbot’s cell), the abbot’s cell with the library, the monks’ cells, and the graves of the monastery’s abbots. Additionally, four icons created by the famous 15th-century Cretan artist Angelos have survived to this day.

At one time, the monastery was home to brothers Parthenios and Eumenios, who later founded the monastery of Koudoumas and are now honored as saints. During the Turkish occupation, the monastery became stavropegic (directly governed by the Patriarch) in order to preserve its property. The monastery is also home to some of the oldest chapels in Asterousia, which feature remarkable frescoes. Among these are the cavernous chapel of Agia Kiriaki (celebrated on July 7), the church of Saint Anthony in Agiofarago Gorge, the Panagia chapel in Martsalo canyon, and the chapels of Saints Eftychiani (celebrated on August 17), Saint Andrew (November 30), and Saint John the Baptist (August 29) in the Vathys Lagos area.

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