Miraculous Monastery a marvellous and magnificent masterpiece

I wrote about falling in love with the Greek island of Amorgos in my last blog but had left the highlight of our short stay – the Monastery of Panagia Hoziviotissa – until I could write about it separately.

No sign of the monastery but it had to be somewhere along this road

This miraculous edifice hangs off the side of an enormous cliff 300 metres above the sea.

The miraculous monastery hangs off the cliff 300 metres above the sea.

First built in 812/813 AD and renovated significantly in 1088, the motive behind its construction was to protect an icon of the Virgin Mary that had been rescued from a religious community in the Holy Land called “Hoziva” or “Koziva”. Legend has it that the icon was cast into the sea and was washed up in Amorgos but historians believe it arrived by boat.

A modern icon of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the monastery grounds

How ever it got there, the icon can still be seen today in the tiny monastery chapel (no photos allowed) along with a chisel that belonged to the master builder who prayed to the Virgin Mary to show him where to build the monastery. The chisel, and a basket of tools were found hammered high up on the rock the next day.

The view from the monastery car park

The monastery is not easy to find being visible only from the sea or when you arrive, from the base of the cliff against which it is built. There are no huge billboards or road signs, just a small unassuming board marked “To the Monastery”.

The only sign to the monastery

The monastery is 40 meters long but only five meters wide. This extraordinary feat of early engineering has eight floors with 15 monastic cells and 72 different rooms, including the very diminutive chapel.

The beginning of the long walk up

There was one other car in the car park when we arrived but no sign of anyone else while we clambered up the many hundreds of stone steps. That is, there were no people around but loads of cats!

Our little cat guide

One decided to guide us up the stairs and sprang her way up the hillside just ahead of us all the way to the top.

Our cat guide suggested a photo opportunity

As we climbed, other dear little cats and kittens came out to greet us.

Come and meet my friends
A young and curious kitten watches us walk by
View from a shelter half way up the cliff
Half way up
Still a way to go
Another cat guide appointed photo opportunity
Such an amazing structure!

Our cat guide showed us the low door we had to pass through to enter the monastery (up more stairs) which led into a cave-like room. In one corner there was another steep staircase leading up to a second solid timber door which when I eventually plucked up courage to go up the stairs, appeared to be locked.

The unassuming entry – the cat showed us where to go!
Mind your head – low door!
Another set of stairs – should we go up?

I knocked on the door tentatively- no reply. Then I heard voices and I knocked a little louder. After a few minutes the door swung open and a couple of people were on the other side preparing to make their way out. We pressed ourselves onto a tiny landing where there were two more closed doors and then after the people departed we were welcomed into a narrow chamber and then up another steep set of steps which led to the monastery chapel.

Inside the monastery

How on earth they would have fitted 15 monks in the chapel at a time I really don’t know but fortunately there are only three residing in the monastery nowadays which means it would be less of a squash during services!

A side font for Holy Water

Leading from the chapel was a balcony with the most spectacular view over the blue, blue, Aegean Sea.

The balcony leading from the chapel had a spectacular view!
The view in the other direction
Now where does that door lead I wonder?
Looking up at the belfry from the monastery chapel

From the chapel we were lead through a narrow passageway to a reception room where a monastery representative had put out water, loukoumi (Turkish Delight), and psimeni raki, the traditional drink of Amorgos, a honeyed and spiced spirit reminiscent of Christmas pudding.

We were privileged to be the only guests in the monastery

We had a very long chat with our host who answered our many questions about monastery life and the history of Panagia Hozoviotissa.

We had plenty of time to enjoy our refreshments and chat to the monastery representative

He told us that in the height of the season the monastery could have up to 400 visitors a day but they had received less than 40 guests in the whole of that week. We felt very privileged to have been amongst the latter group.

The “Big Blue” view

On our way out we were farewelled by one of the monks and signed the guest book in another long, slim room before descending two flights of stairs to the exit where our cat guides were waiting for us.

Our guides waiting to see us back down the cliff
“Come on, this way”
The monastery is eight floors high but only five metres wide

Outside they watched curiously as Jonathan stripped off his too-hot long pants (legs must be covered in the monastery) and put his shorts back on.

Changing back into shorts
We were up there!

We left this awe inspiring place marvelling at the ingenuity of the people who built such an incredible and magnificent masterpiece of architecture. It seemed to us that it should definitely be counted as one of the wonders of the world!

On our way back down we marvelled at the ingenuity of the people who built this magnificent structure all those centuries ago
Our final glimpse before leaving to return to Sunday
Enjoying the spectacular views as we drive back to our anchorage

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

6 thoughts on “Miraculous Monastery a marvellous and magnificent masterpiece”

  1. Wow – what an absolutely amazing place! I’m glad you weren’t doing the steps in wet weather though! It’s just unbelievable that people managed to construct places like that and to bring up all their building supplies by mule or on their backs. As you said, you were very lucky to be able to visit when there were so few other people around. What a special and spectacular experience. XX

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  2. One of your best blogs to date, breathing and amazing.

    Jorgos says, “oreo, poly kala”!

    From where we stayed on Skopelos, we overlooked the Kastro and there amongst “the guide cats”, I saw one of the prettiest kittens, which I would have loved to have taken home.

    Strangely, it disappeared within a few days…somebody else had the same idea?!

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    1. Aww thank you Sally and Jorgos! It was amazing and the cats were so knowing and mysterious. Shame about the kitty, I have seen a few I would love to adopt. Our friends (also on a boat called Sunday who are keen video bloggers) have a cute cat they rescued in Albania.

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