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Monastery of Panagia Kandilas

LISTED historical monument with a surrounding 100-metre protection zone by Ministerial Decree ΥΠΠΟ/ΑΡΧ/Β1/Φ30/27527/533/21-7-1993 (Government Gazette 602/Β/12-8-1993).



The monastery of Panagia Kandila is located in the northeast extremities of Arcadia, 38 kilometres from Tripoli and 15 kilometres from Levidi. Perched inside a cave on a majestic rock, the monastery dominates the site of ancient Orchomenos. Before it lies the plain of Kandila and Levidi, which stretches westward and to the northern foothills of Mount Mainalo.

The rock rises in the serene landscape of the so-called ‘Argon (Barren) Field’, inside the narrow valley of Orchomenos, between Mount Oligyrtos and Mount Trachy. The ancient Arcadians named this part of the valley ‘Argon Field’ because it was impossible to cultivate, since rainwater gathered here in winter months turning the plain into a lake. The mountains north of Kandila provide a single narrow pass making this one of the better-protected entries into Arcadia since antiquity.

Dubbed Trypes (= holes) or Monastiri by the locals, the monastery is tucked away on the rocky west slope of Mount Kroustallies, south and out of sight of the village of Kandila. This impressive rock monastery is well known for its contribution to the Greek War of Independence through its strategic location and its militant monks.

The picturesque village of Kandila is located north of Levidi (12 kilometres), on the south foothills of Mount Oligyrtos (760 metres above sea level), near Arcadia’s border with the Prefectures of the Argolid and Corinthia. The road leading to mountainous Corinthia passes by the village, which sits on the edge of a fertile plain, surrounded by olive trees. The local economy is based primarily on agriculture (cereals, olives, vegetables) and to a lesser extent on animal husbandry and commerce.


The history of the monastery’s foundation and early years is known to us only through local folklore because the monastery and all that it contained (including patriarchal sigillia and other documents) burnt during the Orlofika uprising in 1770. According to tradition, Christians from the area of Levidi selected Misokampos hill, west of the town of Kandila, to build a monastery dedicated to the Virgin. They collected donations and began to build the church themselves, but every day at dusk the miraculous icon of the Virgin would move from the selected site to the slope opposite. The donors eventually understood that the Virgin wished for her monastery not the site that they had chosen but where her icon and oil lamp miraculously appeared. This story suggests that the monastery has always occupied its current location and that it was named Kandila after the oil lamp (kandela) of the Virgin’s icon.



If, as tradition states, the village pre-dates the monastery, then how did it take the name Kandila? Ioannis Dalkos believes that the village was built after the monastery’s establishment and that the name of both monastery and village echoes the miraculous appearance of the icon and its oil lamp.

Most scholars, however, consider the name Kandila a false derivation from the ancient toponym Kondylea, where the sacred forest and temple of Artemis Kondyleatis were located. Kondylea lay one ancient stadion (approximately 180 metres) outside the city of Kaphyai. Pausanias (Arkadika, 23, 6-8) reports a dramatic story relating to the goddess’s worship. According to myth, children tied a rope around the neck of the goddess’s statue and said that Artemis was strangled. The Kaphyaians stoned the children to death for their sacrilege. As a result, a curse fell upon the city causing the pregnant women to miscarry. This lasted until the Pythia proclaimed that the children should be buried and honoured yearly for they were killed unjustly. From that day on, the Kaphyaians called Artemis ‘the Strangled One’ and obeyed the oracle to Pausanias’s day (second century AD). The toponym Kondylea may have survived at a nearby site in subsequent centuries, when the worship of Artemis was replaced by that of the Virgin.



The date of the monastery’s foundation and acquisition of the stavropegial privilege is unknown. A report by Abbot Kallinikos, dated June 16, 1833, and addressed to the Prefect of Arcadia (General State Archives, Monasteries, File 315) relates that the monastery, then thriving, was burnt by Albanians in 1770 and had lost its patriarchal sigillia in the fire. It became a parochial monastery as a result, and had to pay 80 piastres per anum to the Archbishopric of Amykles and 200 piastres for the school that operated at Kandila before 1821.

Before the Greek War of Independence, the monastery was in a dire economic state and had to plead for the help of the faithful after permission by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In a letter dated September 1820, now in the monastery’s archive, Patriarch Gregory V addressed the local clergy and laymen and urged them to help the monastery. It is possible that the Kandila monks borrowed money to restore the monastic buildings and were pressured by the creditors before asking for the Patriarchate’s help. The letter of 1820 acknowledged the monastery’s stavropegial privilege.

The monastery’s demise was complete in 1817, when the Ottoman Moustafa Arnaoutoglou seized its estate. This event is mentioned in a report by the monastic council, dated June 10, 1839, and addressed to the Holy Synod, in which the monastery requests the land of the neighbouring Bezeniko monastery (currently Panagia Eleousa Vlachernas monastery). The document also reports that the monastery retrieved its estate in 1821 and held it until 1828, when it was taken away “by the Government”.

Under Abbot Kallinikos, the monastery played an important role in the Greek War of Independence. Historical documents and the writings of the historians of the Greek uprising suggest that the monastery was a refuge for nearby populations whenever the war threatened their security. It also served as a headquarters and makeshift hospital, where Kallinikos, an empirical surgeon, treated the wounded and ill. Kallinikos also contributed to the cause by stealing herds from the Turks and providing the Greek fighters with flour and grain.

In his Memoirs of the Greek War of Independence, historian Photakos (Photios Chryssanthopoulos) mentions the Kandila monastery as the place where Theodoros Kolokotronis gave written permission to Sagias to kill Captain Nenekos who submitted to Ibrahim Pasha. Photakos relates that before signing the paper Kolokotronis entered the monastery’s church and prostrated three times before the icon of the Virgin in penitence; he then signed the permission, saying that he did so for the sake of his country. A letter by Kolokotronis, now in the monastery’s archive, confirms the monastery’s revolutionary activity. In the letter, which is signed May 8, 1826, Kolokotronis asks Abbot Kallinikos to send wine and intelligence, and urges him to be brave and to defend the monastery.

Kallinikos informed the Senate of the monastery’s activity and his own in May 1846, when, old and ailing, he requested a small pension: “When the trumpet blew for the sacred struggle for independence, electrified by my love for my faith and country, I led soldiers from various villages of the Municipality of Orchomenos of the Province of Mantineia, and took part in battles in Tripoli, Corinth, Argos, and other places in the Peloponnese, and put my life in danger countless times in order to be, as a monk, an example of religious zeal and patriotism … During the time of Ibrahim, in order to protect the monastery from the destructive hands of the Arabs, I used it as a refuge for many families and spent a great deal of money to this end. I will omit the detailed description of events that everybody knows of and admits, and note with regret that I never received any welfare, although I have mentioned to several Greek governments my sacrifices for the country and how much the Kandila monastery contributed to the cause for freedom …”.

There were reports, however, that Kallinikos embezzled monastic funds, sold monastic property, and raised the monastery’s debt to over 6,000 piastres. The monastery’s landholdings were auctioned by Royal Decree on September 11, 1843, in order to cover the debt. According to an 1833 census, the monastery owned 6,000 square metres of arable land, 200,000 square metres of marsh land, 30,000 square metres of vineyards, 305 sheep and goats, and 35 beehives. In 1837, the monastery complained that its estate was insufficient and requested the annexation of the abandoned Bezeniko monastery and its estates. The Holy Synod ceded the Bezeniko monastery in 1839, but the annexation never took place, because the Bezeniko landholdings had been leased for 25 years. The monks Dionysios and Parthenios, however, handed over ten objects formerly in the Bezeniko monastery to the Kandila monastery.

Originally a men’s establishment, the Kandila monastery became a nunnery in 1937. Gregorios Vidalis was its last abbot, and Kalliniki Mantzourani its first abbess. The monastery has running water (from the Kompoti spring) and electricity since 1972. West of the monastery, below the public road, is the monastic dependence of Agios Charalampos.



The original rock-hewn katholikon (main church) (2 × 2 metres) had an unusual, north-facing sanctuary apse. Its north and south walls were eroded by water and had collapsed by 1851. According to a dedicatory inscription, the church was rebuilt and extended (5 × 4.5 metres) under Abbot Chrysanthos in 1852, after which the original church served as the new building’s sanctuary. The katholikon was extended again a century later, in 1952, under Abbess Kalliniki Mantzourani.

Cells and auxiliary spaces were also cut into the rock. Water from a natural spring inside the rock collects in a cistern. Inside a cave above the monastery are traces of a possible hermitage. Another cave nearby houses the chapel of the Taxiarches (Archangels).

The monastery comprises several two-storied buildings (cells, guestrooms, storerooms, reception halls, etc), a katholikon on the east, and a fort on the south. Two flights of stone and cement steps, cut by two gates, lead to the entrance. The inner or main gate had a strong iron door, which has been removed and is now on display. The area between the two gates served as a refuge for the local population.

The main gate opens into the monastery’s basement, which, for security reasons, features narrow light openings. A corridor flanked by cells leads to the upper floor where the katholikon is located. A staircase climbs to another door on the katholikon’s southeast side. Located on the same level as the katholikon are the abbess’s quarters towards the north, and a special apartment for the bishop on the south. The bulky new buildings stand clumsily next to the early structures spoiling the monastery’s appearance.

Perched on the rock, 35 metres to the south and lower than the monastery, is the monastic fort (Bourtzi) built by Abbot Kallinikos Michaliadis, with a capacity of 200. Archery windows and the natural rock protected the space between the fort and the monastery. A plaque to the left of the fort’s door is inscribed: ΔΙΑ ΣΥΝΔΡΟΜΗΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΝΟΣΙΟ/ΤΑΤΟΥ ΚΥΡΙΟΥ ΚΑΛΛΙΝΙΚΟΥ ΟΙΚΟΔΟΜΗΘΗ ΤΟ ΠΑΡΟΝ ΚΤΙΡΙ/ΟΝ 1821 ΙΟΥΝΙΟΥ 8 Μ ΚΑΝΔΗΛΑΣ (The present building was erected with funds provided by the most holy Kallinikos on June 8, 1821. Kandila monastery). Kallinikos repaired the fort in 1827 in preparation for Ibrahim Pasha’s attack.



Christ Pantokrator surrounded by prophets decorates the dome of the original katholikon (main church) The remaining walls are plastered. Several icons are kept inside the church. The icon of the Dormition of the Virgin is identified as the miraculous icon of the monastery’s foundation narrative. The templon icons were painted in 1833.



Because of repeated destructions, very few of the monastery’s heirlooms are preserved. The bell inscribed OPUS MARTINI PACININI MDCCXIII (Work of Martinus Pacininus, 1713) hanging in the courtyard is one example. An icon of the Virgin Glykophilousa traditionally attributed to the evangelist Luke is also kept in the monastery. An icon of Saint Charalampos on the templon of the katholikon of the homonymous monastic dependency bears a dedicatory inscription mentioning the donors, Stathis, Panagiotis, and Triantaphyllos, and the date 1769 (δέησις του δούλου του Θεού Στάθη, Παναγιώτη και Τριανταφύλλου 1769).



A small marble plaque above the monastery’s entrance is inscribed: ΘΥΡΑ ΚΑΙ ΚΛΙΜΑΚΕΣ ΑΝΕ/ΚΑΙΝΙΣΘΗΣΑΝ ΥΠΟ ΗΓΟΥΜΕ/ΝΟΥ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΟΥ ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΥ/ΔΟΥΚΑ 1890 (The door and staircases were renovated under Abbot Kallistos Doukas, 1890).

Another plaque on the left side of the entrance to the abbess’s quarters reads: Η ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΚΑΝΔΗΛΑ ΗΓΟΥΜΕΝΟΣ ΤΕΓΕΑΤΗΣ | ΓΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΓΙΑΝΝΑΚΟΥΛΙΑΣ ΣΥΝΟΔΙΑ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΟΣ ΔΟΥΚΑΣ | ΙΩΣΗΦ ΖΕΡΒΟΓΙΑΝΝΗΣ ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΣ ΠΡΟΚΟΠΙΟΣ | ΚΑΛΛΙΝΙΚΟΣ ΠΑΠΑΚΩΝΣΤΑΝΤΙΝΟΥ 1912-13 ΕΛΛΑΣ | ΜΑΝΤΙΝΕΙΑ ΟΡΧΟΜΕΝΟΣ ΑΡΚΑΔΙΑ | ΚΟΙΜΗΣΙΣ ΤΗΣ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟΥ (The holy monastery of Kandila, Abbot Gabriel Giannakoulias of Tegea, together with Kallistos Doukas, Joseph Zervogiannis, Gregorios Prokopios, Kallinikos Papakonstantinou, 1912-13, Greece, Mantineia, Orchomenos, Arcadia, Dormition of the Virgin).



The sisters of the Kandila monastery (a nunnery since 1936) reside in the dependency of Agios Charalampos, which is located in the plain southwest of the village. Inside the dependency’s limits are three chapels of Agios Nektarios, Agios Demetrios, and the Holy Trinity, and the church of the Virgin Axion Esti. The latter was built in 1969 on the site of an earlier church by the same name.



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