Kefalonia is blessed with a seemingly endless selection of important religious sites, churches and monasteries, some still intact after hundreds of years, many now in ruins. There are hundreds to choose from but the following sites are worth visiting if you only have a bit of time on the island:
The Monastery of Agios Gerassimos
This is one of the most important religious spots on the island as Agios Gerassimos is the patron saint of Kefalonia and they still keep his relics and remains in a silver casket inside the onastery. Gerassimos was a monk from Corinth who founded the monastery on the island in the 16th century and who became famous for his healing powers and skills in dealing with people who suffered from mental illnesses. He chose the site of the monastery, in Omalos near to Valsamata, because it had formerly been the site of a monastery that worshipped the Virgin Mary. He died in 1579 and was later canonized as Saint Gerassimos in 1622.
Today the monastery remains one of the most impressive, and most venerated religious sites on Kefalonia. Nowadays there is a small chapel and the beautifully decorated main church. There is also a cave under the monastery that was built by Gerassimos and it was where he lived for most of his life.
Locals celebrate the 16th August as a feast day for the monastery and their Saint and if you are lucky enough to be around you should take time to watch the procession and the placing of the Saint’s sarcophagus under a plane tree shadow and then join in the feasting and dancing.
The Monastery of St. Andreas
The Agios Andreas Monastery (in Peratata) was named after the apostle Andrew and was set up some time during the Byzantine period. It was then taken over by Andrew in 1579 and converted into a small nunnery. After that it was owned and run at various times by a number of local nuns before being gifted a small fortune by a Greek princess Roxanne in 1630 when she escaped there to live as a nun herself.
During the nineteenth century the monastery had a number of run-ins with the British who considered it to be disobedient and who ruined the beautiful frescoes inside as a punishment. Yet it survived to this day and continues to perform holy mass every week, whilst the nuns who live there spend their days working on crafts, robes and gardening. It is a beautiful place to visit and next to the Monastery is one of the few churches to survive the 1953 earthquake. There are some incredible treasures in the museum, from the foot of St Andrew to Priest Basia’s shirt, and from two epistles handwritten bu Saint Kosmas Aetelos to the hieratic sceptre and chalice of Nicodemus II of Metaxas and the shroud of Gregorios the Fifth, a national martyr and the patriarch of Constantinople. As well as all these artefacts there are some beautiful frescoes, wall paintings and icons and the famous painting of Romila and her parents.
The Atros Monastery is the oldest monastery on the island and is something of a survivor. Since it was first built in the 8th century, during the Byzantine era it has been destroyed an incredible seventeen different times through wars, earthquakes and fires (and has been attacked by everyone from the Saracens to the Nazis) but every time it gets knocked down, the monks simply rebuild it. It sits atop Mt. Atros at about 770m above sea level and is to be found roughly five miles outside of Poros. It is known sometimes as the Theotokos Monastery and other times as the Monastery of Panagia Atrou and it has been dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary. There is still an old medieval tower there as well as the ‘archodariki’ and a Welcome Hall. There is a celebration on the 8th September and a special service the day before. Currently only one monk lives there. It is a must-see – even if you don’t have any interest in the history of the place and all the artifacts, it is still one of the best walks on Kefalonia, with incredible views of Poros harbor.
Agrilion Monastery overlooks Sami village and was built in the 18th century on a site dedicated to the icon of Agios Theotokos. It is believed the icon was discovered there by two shepherds who immediately converted and dedicated their lives to the nearby monastery. The monastery itself is now dedicated to the Hyperayia Theotokos.
The Monastery of Sissia
The Monastery of Sissia has looked down over Lourdas Beach since the 13th century when it was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. It has always been known as a wealthy and influential monastery, and throughout its history has produced talented and intellectual monks and painters such as Tsangorolo and Gerasimos Kokkinos. During the medieval era all of its icons and frescoes were painted by world-famous iconographers and the monastery became so famous that in 1676 a yearly march was introduced by the Venetians that went from the Castle of Saint George to the Sissia Monastery to celebrate St Mark’s Feast. The monastery started out as Catholic but gradually became Orthodox. It was completely wiped out by the 1953 earthquake at which time a new monastery was built next to the ruins (which remain to this day.)
The Monastery of Kipoureon
15km outside of Lixouri in the Paliki peninsula is the magnificent Monastery of Kipoureon. It was founded in the late 16th century by Chrysanthos Petropoulos, the Archbishop of Paxi and is referred to as the Monastery of Gardens because of all the various gardens there from which the monks would make their living. Nowadays there is just one monk living there and he welcomes all visitors every day. There is a fantastic collection of Byzantine icons and ecclesiastical relics and treasures inside and though many of the gardens are gone there are still beautiful grounds surrounding the monastery and a thick border of pine and fur trees. Best of all though are the views out over the island (and the jagged, thrilling coastline below) to the Ionian sea and if you get the chance to head there in the afternoon make sure you wait around for the sunset. It is quite special.