With 97% of the country comprised of Greek Orthodox members, it’s no wonder there’s an abundance of historic monasteries and churches with generations of monks, nuns, and priests who have preserved the Greek language, culture, and religion. Greek Orthodox monasteries stretch across the countryside in some of the most beautiful locations imaginable—some balanced atop steep rocks with others burrowed in lush, green valleys and olive groves. Many of these monasteries were built centuries ago by hermits and monks in an effort to escape religious persecution. During Greece’s most troubling times, monasteries offered safety and comfort to the people of Greece.
In addition to the monasteries, visitors will find countless Orthodox churches, packed with holy icons and whose architecture reflect particular regions of Greece and the period in which they were built. Some of the oldest date back to the Byzantine era (330-1453 A.D.).
The architecture and the earthly tones of the churches on the Ionian Islands like Corfu, Lefkada, and Zakynthos were heavily influenced by the Venetians during the 15th century. Santorini, Tinos, Milos, and other islands in the Cyclades are known for the picturesque, whitewashed churches with vibrant blue domes. The sizes of churches vary, too. Some are large, fit for a large congregation, while others are tiny, simply providing a tranquil place for a single worshipper to light a candle in solitude, or offer faithful prayers for themselves and loved ones.
No matter your faith or belief, exploring religious sites is a humbling experience and allows travelers to see a different side of a country and experience the rich history that is often wrapped in these places of worship.
Note: When visiting a monastery or church, it is often recommended to have shoulders and legs covered. Many monasteries will have shawls or skirts available for women upon entry.
Listed are five I’ve visited that have stood out in my memory.
1. Holy Trinity Monastery and Saint Nektarios Church, Aegina
2. Meteora Monasteries, Kalambaka
3. St. Dionysios Church, Zakynthos
4. Agia Lavra and Mega Spileo Monastery, Kalavryta
5. Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Megara
Other must visit monasteries and churches:
- Mount Athos
- Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, Athens
- Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos
- Church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (the church of 100 doors), Paros
- Church of Panagia Megalochari, Tinos
- Monastery of Panagia Elona, Lakonia
- Church of the Seven Martyrs, Sifnos
- Monastery of Agios Gerasimos, Cephalonia
- Monastery of Akridi, Rethymnon Crete
- Agia Sofia, Thessaloniki
One of our uncles was a monk in Tourloti, Crete and my husband did a 3 month monastic trial there as well. However when the times of trounle arose the monks had to flee. Those who stayed to preserve the holy icons were murderd. we went to that beautiful sacred monastery 3 yrs. Ago and saw our uncles robes and his personal notebooks preserved behind glass. The robes were absolutely gorgeous and his writing such a flowing script, it was a humbling experience, we feel truly blessed. His last name was Sindichakis. If you have a chance I would recomend it. We bought a large quantity of incense to give to our own little Orthodox church….the monks at our church still use it. You are quite right about the beauty and location of these churches and monasterys.
Which monastery is it in Tourloti? I looked up the area, and a few monasteries popped up. Thank you for sharing your story about your uncle, and your husband. I’m glad you were able to visit, that would be a very wonderful experience.
It’s true that Greece is filled with monasteries and Orthodox churches. Each of them has their own special charms, but there are a few standouts. Your list has some great ones!
Thank you, I wish I could include (and visit) them all! They’re all so very unique like you said.