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Monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin (Malevi)

LOCATION – ROUTE

The monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin, or Malevi, is one of the three most important monasteries in the Kynouria province, together with Loukou and Elona. It is built on Mount Parnon, dubbed ‘Second Mount Athos’ and ‘Mount Athos of Southern Greece’, both because Christians from Mount Athos immigrated here during the reign of Emperor Constantine IV (668-685) and because no other Greek mountain has so many monasteries. The monastery is located on a wooded slope surrounded by fir trees, 920 metres above sea level, in the Agios Petros region, eight kilometres from the town of Xerokampi, 47 kilometres from Tripoli and 30 kilometres from Astros.

NAME

The monastery was named after Malevos, Mount Parnon’s highest peak, because the monastery was originally located at the site of Kanaloi near the Malevos peak. Thus, Panagia tou Malevou gradually became Panagia tou Malevi or simply Malevi. Concerning the etymology of the name Malevos, some support a Slavic and others an Albanian origin. In Slavic, male means ‘mountain’, whereas the suffixes –evos and –ovos designate a place. In Albanian, mali also means ‘mountain’. In Hesychios, mala and maleoi mean respectively ‘small mountain’ and ‘mountainous’. Michael Deffner also mentions that the root mal designates a mountain, but claims that Malevos is not Slavic but originates from the ancient Greek Maleos. Other scholars connect the name with Maleas, Maleos, and Pan Maleatas.

The common toponym avgo (egg) is used in Greece for bare mountaintops, bare islets, and bare fields (in Mani). Ve (avgo, egg) designates a bare hill or mountaintop in Northern Epirus (Albania). Maleve thus describes a bare peak that looks like an egg. Apart from Mount Parnon, Mount Artemision in the Argolid is also dubbed ‘Malevos’.

 

FOLKLORE

The monastery was originally located high on Mount Parnon at the site of Pournaria, near a water spring where the remains of buildings are still visible. This location was abandoned in the early seventeenth century. According to local tradition, however, the monastery first moved to Kanaloi near the Malevos peak, a site named after the water canals built by shepherds to water their herds.

The monastery was eventually moved from Kanaloi because of the harsh winters. The heavy snowfall would cut off the monastery for months, and the monks starved. All of the monks died one winter, the last of them leaving a note saying “I am dying amidst the roar of the fir trees”. The monastery was subsequently abandoned, and another was built lower on the mountain.

Another narrative relating to the original monastery states that the Malevi monks found half frozen and cared for a young man called Giorgis. When Giorgis recovered, he admitted to being a sinner, and asked to be allowed to stay in the monastery as a novice monk. In winter, he refused to follow the other monks to the monastery’s winter quarters and froze to death.

 

HISTORICAL EVIDENCE – DATE

If the Malevi monastery was founded more or less at the same time as the other nearby monasteries, then it probably dates from at least 1000 (early eleventh century). Apart from the narrative on the monastery’s foundation and dissolution cited above, no historical evidence on the earliest monastery exists. The earliest date in Malevi’s history, 717, is mentioned by Kofiniotis, without supporting evidence, and repeated by Dalezios.

The current monastery was founded in 1116 by the monk Joseph Karatzas, as stated in an inscription that reads: “Built from scratch … with the hard work and pains of many of the holy monks and of the abbot Joseph Karatzas from the village of Sitaina, 1116”. The date 1362 appears on the silver revetment of the icon of the Dormition of the Virgin. The monastery is also mentioned in a 1320 chrysobulle by Emperor Andronikos Palaiologos addressed to the Vronthochion monastery in Mystra, concerning the Vronthochion landholdings that Abbot Pachomios received. There is no evidence for the monastery from the Venetian and early Ottoman period.

Climatic conditions forced the monks to abandon the original monastery, as at Philosophou monastery at Dimitsana, and Agioi Tessarakonta monastery in Laconia. The monastery’s relocation probably took place early in the seventeenth century. The monks chose not to leave Mount Parnon and probably selected the site of the closest monastic dependency, which may have originally served as a winter residence. New buildings were gradually added, including a church in 1616, until the former dependency became the monastery proper. Not far away, near the village of Platanos, was another monastic dependency where the Sela monastery was founded in later years. Permission to establish this dependency was given by the Ottoman administration in the year 1017 of the Hegira (1609).

The monastery had several great monks. Agios Neilos o Myrovlites (He who exudes perfumed oil) from the village of Agios Petros became a monk at Malevi in 1616 and lived as a hermit for fifteen years at Pournaria above the monastery until he left for Mount Athos, where he died aged 50 on November 12, 1651. The cave in which Neilos lived as a hermit exuded perfumed oil. He was buried inside the cave, and the brotherhood subsequently erected a chapel in his honour. Saints Georgios o en Malevo, Leonidas, Zacchos, and Vacchos were also hermits at Malevi.

The Malevi monastery flourished under the Venetians. In a report addressed to the Venetian administration and dated September 12, 1696, Abbot Magnentios mentions that the monastery was “located in the region of Nauplion in the land of Tzakonia” (κείμενο στην περιοχή Αναπλίου στα μέρη της Τσακωνιάς) and had eight monks. The monastery comprised seven monks’ cells and three ‘houses’ (kitchen, refectory, stable) surrounded by an enclosure wall. Outside the enclosure was a 30,000 square metre vineyard and three chapels. The monastery also owned several dependencies at Xerokampi, Rangava, Agios Petros, Platanos, on the “Tzakonian coast”, at Kampos and Rousies near Mystra, at Potamia, and on the coast near Agios Ioannis. According to the monks, the monastery had acquired this property through donations “from the old days, for [the donors’] spiritual salvation”. Magnentios justified the absence of land deeds by claiming that these were burnt after the fall of Constantinople, when the Turks settled in the Peloponnese.

An important event in the Malevi monastery’s history took place in 1786. During the relative peace that followed the failed uprising of Count Orlov in 1770 and the ensuing decade of Albanian violence, the Malevi monastery helped the Greek resistance troops (klefts and armatoloi), including those of Zacharias from Laconia Barbitsa and of Thanasis Karabelas from Vervena. The bloody incident of 1786 resulted in the annihilation of a Turkish armed regiment, which caused a backlash against the monastery. It involved Zacharias, who had killed Loumanis, a Turkish noble who mistreated and suppressed the Christian population of the village of Agios Petros. Zacharias was chased by the Turks and spotted at Tarmiri, near the monastery, where Karabelas was fighting together with the kleft chieftain Barbitsiotis and Malevi monks. Following their defeat, the Turks burnt the monastery on May 8, 1768, and killed several monks. The monastery was operating again by 1791, despite the damage. It flourished under Kallinikos Tsamouris, who became its abbot in 1792. A native of Agios Petros and member of the Filiki Etaireia, Tsamouris converted the monastery into a true hospital. This is where Prince Demetrios Ypsilantis recovered from tuberculosis.

In the crucial years before, during, and after the Greek War of Independence, the monastery offered its services to the region’s oppressed inhabitants and combatants. A ‘secret school’, the only way for Greek children to learn how to read and write, operated in the monastery. Theodoros Kolokotronis used the Malevi monastery as headquarters and hospital, and hid his family at Malevi, when half of the Greek forces withdrew from Agios Petros. The monastery was burnt by Ibrahim Pasha that year, but was reborn from its ashes with sufficient monks and landholdings (the dependencies of Agios Charalampos at Karakovouni, the Dormition of the Virgin at Sela Platanou, and Agios Georgios).

An important report addressed by the monastery to the provincial governor of Kynouria and dated July 29, 1833, gives a detailed account of the monastery’s buildings, landholdings, animals, and dependencies. The report gives the monastery’s location and the origin of its name (from the Malevos peak). The parochial monastery has an uncertain construction date, although a dedicatory inscription on the church mentions the date 1616. According to the report, fourteen cells were repaired after the fire set by Ibrahim Pasha, but the kitchen, storerooms, and three more buildings on the east side were in disrepair. The church, “which had burnt although vaulted”, was neatly refurbished with a carved wood templon, pews, icons, etc. The monastery had relics, which were not, however, used in processions. Its estate between Agios Petros, Kastri, and Karakovouni, comprised 390,000 square metres of farmland, 86,000 square metres of vineyards, 1,249 cultivated olive trees, and 350 livestock. The monastery owned dependencies at Karakovouni including a building with a vaulted second storey, an oil cellar, a barn, a stable, and two storerooms, which were repaired by Ibrahim Pasha. It also owned a wine press at Azouri, two sheepfolds in the same plain as the wine press, and a water mill at Rangana. The report does not mention the Sela dependency.

In 1834, the Malevi monastery had thirteen monks under Abbot Ananias Terzakis. In 1858, it was still referred to as “operating”. In subsequent years, however, the monastery declined and was nearly dissolved in the 1940’s because of a lack of monks and the desolate state of its buildings after a German bombing (the monastery was being used as a hospital by the Greek resistance fighters).

In 1949, the monastery became a nunnery by royal decree and has flourished since as a well-ordered institution operating regularly and within the rules of tradition. Abbess Anthousa and two nuns from the Epano Chrepa monastery settled in the derelict monastery on July 20, 1949 and began the arduous task of restoring the buildings, except for those beyond repair. The katholikon (main church), abbess’s quarters, guestrooms, refectory, kitchen, and courtyard were restored with hard work by the nuns, whose numbers increased continuously, with the initiative of the abbesses Anthousa, Agnes, and, particularly, Parthenia Giova, and the blessings of the archbishops Prokopios, Germanos, and Theoklitos.

A chapel dedicated to Agios Neilos was built in 1968 to house his relics, which were transferred from Mount Athos. In 1973, electricity was installed, the katholikon was decorated with wall paintings, an aqueduct from Gagadi to Malevi was built, the dependency of Agios Charalampos at Karakovouni was restored, and abandoned fields were cultivated anew. A new church was completed in 1993 and officially inaugurated on Sunday July 14, 1996, by Archbishop Alexandros of Mantineia and Kynouria; the 880 years from the monastery’s foundation were also celebrated on that day.

Today, Abbess Parthenia Giova and nine nuns inhabit the monastery. Its estate consists of a few fields and the Agios Charalampos dependency at Karakovouni. Aided by donations, however, the nuns are able to operate and renovate the monastery continuously.

Malevi is one of the most popular monasteries in the Peloponnese. Thousands of pilgrims flock from Greece and abroad to worship the miraculous, fragrant icon of the Virgin, which was transferred from Mount Athos in the tenth century and is traditionally attributed to the evangelist Luke. The monastery maintains a display of devotional objects and handicraft and operates a guesthouse during the summer months.

 

ARCHITECTURE

1. The monastery in its original and current forms

The monastery consists of a huge building complex forming a rectangular enclosure with its main entrance on the east side. Above the vaulted entrance passage is a chapel built in 1967 and dedicated to Agios Neilos, a local saint from the village of Agios Petros, who was born as Nikolaos Terzakis, the nephew of Makarios, a monk at Malevi.

The original three storied buildings had a picturesque appeal. The upper floors had balconies, the first-floor with wooden railing, which gave onto the courtyard with the water spring. A stone staircase led to the first floor. The vaulted ground floor housed cells and storerooms. The doors and windows were arched. Now heavily restored, the buildings clash with the monastery’s spirit. Poured concrete and iron have replaced the traditional stone and wood, and the roofs now feature flat roof tiles. Several new guesthouses were added creating new wings that resulted in a gigantic building complex.

 

2. Old katholikon

The magnificent stone-built Byzantine katholikon (main church) of the Virgin rises at the centre of the courtyard. The church’s celebration is on August 23, nine days after the feast of the Dormition (Niamera tis Panagias). Originally a domed cross-in-square church, the katholikon was repeatedly remodelled. The church has simple ashlar masonry, a tile roof, and an octagonal dome resting on a four-sided base. A single-lobed belfry rises directly above the entrance door on the west side. A smaller door is located on the south wall near the sanctuary. Four tall windows in the dome, one window on each of the north and south walls, and a narrow window in the sanctuary apse illuminate the interior.

A sketch by the painter Lela Stathopoulou published in the newspaper Arkadikos Typos shows the katholikon as it looked in 1935. The entire church, except for the belfry, was covered in wall plaster and the roof had schist plaques instead of roof tiles. Two doorjambs and a lintel framed the small, wooden main door. Before it lay a paved courtyard with a masonry bench, which gave the church a friendly, cheerful appearance and a more elongated form. The side door and windows were arched. Deprived of these features, the new church was unable to capture the old katholikon’s warmth. The church was decorated with wall paintings in recent years.

 

3. New church

A new Byzantine-style church was recently erected on the courtyard’s east side. The building is of the domed cross-in-square type with two stone-built three-storied belfries framing its west façade. It was decorated with wall paintings by Athonite monks in 1994 and inaugurated in 1996.

WALL PAINTINGS – PORTABLE ICONS – HEIRLOOMS

The icon of the Dormition of the Virgin is the most important of the monastery’s icons. The monastery also keeps relics of the saints Charalampos, Kosmas, Tryphon, Vasileios, Panteleemon, Theodosius Koinoviarchis, Neilos Myrovlitis, etc. Of the ninety-nine Ottoman and fifteen Latin (Frankish or Venetian) documents originally in the monastery’s care, only 103 are preserved today, of which some have yet to be read and translated.

 

INSCRIPTIONS

A dedicatory inscription with capital letters and many spelling mistakes built into the old katholikon’s west façade, near the southwest corner, reads:

(ΑΝΕΓΕΡΘΗΚΕΝ ΕΚ ΒΑΘΡΟΝ Ο ΘΙΟC | Κ(ΑΙ) ΠΑΝCΕΠΤΟC ΝΑΟC ΟΥΤΩC ΤΗC | ΘΕΟΦΑΝΗΣ Ν / ΘΕΩΜΗΤΟΡΟC ΤΗΣ ΕΠΟΝΩΜΑΖΟΜΕΝΗC | ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟC / ΜΑΛΕΒΗC ΔΙΑ ΚΟΠΩΝ Κ(ΑΙ) ΜΟΧΘΩΝ | 1616 / ΠΩΛΟΝ ΤΟΝ ΟCΗΟΤΑΤΟΝ ΥΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΥ | Κ(ΥΡΙΟ)Υ ΙΟΣΙΦ ΚΑΡΑΤΖΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΠΟ ΧΟ | ΡΗΟ σΗΤΕΝΑ 1 Ρ 1 6).

(This holy and most sacred church of the Virgin called ‘of Malevi’ was built from scratch with the hard work and pains of the most holy monk of the Lord, Joseph Karatzas, of the village of Ste[r]na 1[6]16 / Theophanis the monk 1616)

Another inscription built into the wall on the right of the monastery’s entrance, under the balcony, reads:

1 ω 3 7 | Α β γ ο υ σ τ ο υ 99 | ΔΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΡΧΙΕΡ[ΕΩΣ] | ΚΡΟΝ. ΙΟΑΝΟΥ | ΜΟΝΑΧΟΥ (1837, August [2]9 (?), by the head priest Ioannis the monk (?)).

Lastly, a column base is inscribed:

ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 1745 (Of Georgios, son of Ioannis, 1745)

 

DEPENDENCIES

1. Agios Charalampos at Korakovouni

Southwest of the Malevos peak, two kilometres north of the village of Korakovouni, in the fertile Agios Andreas plain, is the monastery of Agios Charalampos, a dependency of the Malevi monastery. The monastery, which looks more like a farm, has probably not changed much since 1833, when the abbot of Malevi described it in a report. Today it comprises two two-storied buildings, storerooms, stables, and sheds. Its church, a basilica, 13.18 metres long and 5.86 metres wide, has a two-pitch roof and a semi-circular sanctuary apse. The door and all of the windows are rectangular. The traditional two-storied buildings are more imposing, with vaulted ground floor and stone-built staircases. Together with the storerooms they form a four-sided complex around a central courtyard.

In both buildings, inscribed plaques are built into the second storey façade over the arched door that gives onto the balcony. The north building’s inscription reads:

ΟΚΟΔΟΜΗΘΗ ΗΓΟΥΜΕ | ΝΕΥΟΝΤΟC ΠΡΟΚΟΠΙΟΥ ΖΑΡΑ | ΚΟΒΙΤΟΥ CΥΜΒΟΥΛΩΝ ΓΡΗΓΟ | ΡΙΟΥ ΠΣΑΡΑΚΗ ΓΑΒΡΙΗΛ Α | ΚΟΚΑΛΙΑΡΗ ΕΝ ΕΤΕΙ 1872 | ΜΕΤΟΧΙΟΝ ΜΑΛΕΒΗC (Built under Abbot Prokopios Zarakovitis by the councillors Grigorios Psarakis [and] Gabriel Akokaliaris in the year 1872. Dependency of Malevi ).

The west building’s inscription in small letters mentions the date March 1, 1809, and a certain Georgios Varsamis:

Επι Χ…λ…λ νια καθηγουμενου | τυπικλην. ζωμουλης Δα | μιανού Μ. ωκοδομήθη ο νυν οίκος | της μονής υης υπεραγίας Θεοτόκου | Μαλεβής μνησθιτη ΚΕ + Α Ω Θ | εν μ. Μαρτίω α΄ | 1809 γεωργιος βαρσαμης.

Both inscriptions probably refer to repairs rather than the buildings’ construction.

 

2. Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Karyas (see Agios Nikolaos Karyas)