Agia Lavra and Mega Spileo Monastery

“EIPHNH” Peace.
“OXI PIA POLEMOI” No more war.

These words, cast in huge white letters on a quiet hillside in the Northern Peloponnese region of Greece serve as a message of peace and a symbol of the martyrdom that took place there. At the top of the hill is a large cross overlooking the city below, and a date—13-12-43.

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On December 13, 1943, Kalavryta, a noted village (and now also a ski area) in that region experienced one of the worst atrocities of WWII. On that day, Nazi soldiers locked women and children in the town’s school and set it on fire. Around the same time, over 1,200 males from Kalavryta and surrounding villages were taken to that quiet hillside. In the surrounding brush German soldiers lay in wait. On command the soldiers fired at the unarmed mass of men, killing all but 13. Today, a stone monument stands tall in memoriam and lists the names of the dead and their ages, the youngest just 12 years old. The women and children, who escaped a similar fate when a sympathetic German guard unlocked the doors of the burning church, survived, and claimed the bodies of their lost love ones. The Nazi troops also set fire to the nearby Orthodox monasteries, Agia Lavra and Mega Spileo.

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image via Ionian Village

Built on a steep mountain slope is Mega Spileo, or “the Monastery of the Great Cave” and is just a few miles from Kalavryta. Believed to be one of the oldest monasteries in Greece, Mega Spileo was founded in 362 A.D. by two brothers, Symeon and Theodore, after a shepherd girl discovered an Icon of the Virgin Mary inside a cave. The icon was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist by the use of beeswax and mastic. Since the monastery was built, it has suffered multiple fires and natural disasters. Miraculously, the icon of the Virgin Mary has always remained intact.

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image via Ionian Village

Nearly 10 miles away from Mega Spileo is the Monastery of Agia Lavra, which dates back to 961 A.D. and is recognized as the symbolic birthplace of the Greek Revolution in 1821. It’s here where Bishop Germanos raised the revolutionary flag, and where the famous motto “Eleftheria I Thanatos” (freedom or death) was first declared in celebration. Today, the monastery’s museum preserves historic treasures from the revolution, including the vestments of Bishop Germanos, ceremonial Christian crosses, and the banner of the Greek Revolution.

Besides setting fires to both monasteries, burning precious relics and valuable icons, the residing monks of Mega Spileo were either shot or thrown from the cliffs to their death. Yet, even in the most tragic times in recent history, both monasteries, and the entire town of Kalavryta remain a testament to the strength of the nation and the resilience of the Greek people. Peace, they remind us all. No more war.

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