The most wonderful sacred shrine of the Orthodox Church on the Peloponnese is the Holy Monastery of Mega Spelaion, tenaciously glued against the opening of a large cave from which it derives it name (spelaion=cave), at the base of a huge perpendicular rock formation of Mt. Helmos, approximately 940m. Above sea level. The Monastery is inspiring awe and wonder for its uniqueness. The architectural form of the Monastery was determined by the cave over which it was built. Today the Moanstery is an eight-storey structure, never ceasing to attract the eye of even the most indifferent visitor.
The Catholicon or main church, dug within the rock of the mountain, is a cruciform church with two narthexes.
The main church has frescoes dating back to 1653, a beautiful marble floor with its inlaid design, a wood-carved iconostasis etc. The Monastery today is easy to reach. On the national road Athens-Patras one finds, near the village Paralia Platanos an asphaltroad going to the Monastery. The Monastery can also be reached from Diakofto by rack-railway to Kalavryta, followed by a 15 minute car-ride.
According to the foundation history of the Monastery the history and the life of the Monastery of Mega Spelaion begins with the miraculous way the Holy Icon was found. Two brothers from Thessaloniki, Symeon and Theodores passed Mt. Olympos, Mt Ossa and Mt.Pelion, living in continual prayer and studying the words of Jesus. Then they visited Mt. Athos where they came to know many enlightened hermits, and afterwards went to the Holy Land to worship all those places where God walked. In Jerusalem they received priesthood from Maximus the bishop of the Holy City Jerusalem. There each one saw the same vision in a dream and received from above the same divine command:
To go to Achaia and find the icon of the Holy Virgin, made by evangelist Luke. In 362 A.D. after many wanderings and revelations through dreams, they reach Achaia. Then at this sight they meet the young shepherdess Euphrosyne from Galata (today Zachlorou). The young shepherdess was guided by Divine Will to a place by a goat , who would wander off from the rest of the flock to drink water at a spring in the cave. Here in the cave near the spring, she found a miraculous icon painted by St. Luke. When Symeon and Theodores meet the little shepherdess she bowed to them with respect and addressed them by name. Then she guided them to the cave where the holy icon was to be found and there they saw before them the holy treasure. With great devotion they brought the holy icon outside of the cave. Then they set a fire to burn whatever was in the cave, cleaned it, and set all things in order.
When they had set the fire a huge and fearsome serpent, that had lived in the depth of the cave, jumped out of the flames. A bolt of lightning sprang from the icon and struck down the serpent, that was burnt out of the flames. The bones of the serpent were preserved until recently as a remembrance of the miracle.
The two fathers Symeon and Theodores built a small church in the cave and a few cells. The news of these events spread around and crowds of faithful began coming in order to worship the wonder-working icon . the two fathers began to preach to them the world of God. Through their teaching, they inspired others to remain there for a life of abseticism. And so a Monastery was built.
In times Mega Spelaion became a large Monastery, the light of the Orthodox church, and a center of revolt against the Turks.
The Monastery was destroyed by fire 4 times : in 840, in 1400, in 1640 and in 1934, the Holy Icon always being saved.
Because it was a center of Revolt it was attacked many times during the Turkish Rule. In 1827 Ibrahim Pasha turned his attention to the treasures of the Monastery of the Great Cave.
When he was ready to march against the Monastery the brave Abbot Damascinos in June 1827 wrote in a letter : If you come here to fight against us and you conquer us, the evil is not great, for you have only defeated clergymen. But if you should be defeated by us with the help of God it will be to your shame. And truly Ibrahim was defeated after an epic struggle and with the help of the holy Virgin.
In 1943 the German Nazi forces attacked the Monastery, a worst catastrophe than any of the former ones. They murdered and cast over a cliff all the inhabitants of the Monastery who where there, 22 people of whom 8 were monks.
Today the Monastery is an eight - storey structure.
It is a magnificent Monastery, renovated. Since December 12th 1979 the Abbot is Archimandrite Nicephoros Theodoropoulos (picture) and since that day the Monastery is known for its moral order, respectability and its service in the labors and cares for the spiritual progress of the monastic brotherhood, for the renovation and preservation of the Monastery, and the conscientious service of God and man.
The Monastery became cenobitic (i.e. hlods everything in common) and abandoned the old idiorhytmic system (i.e. that each monk subsists from his private possesions). Thus they can serve the holy Virgin to whom they vowed themselves and dedicated their live. The Great cave is an oasis for them who come here to find spiritual rest.
There is a small number of monks. With the help of the Holy Virgin we hope soon to have a larger brotherhood and for the Monastery to regain her glory.
The Icon of Our lady of the Great Cave
The Icon is made by the apostle and evangelist Luke.
It is believed that St. Luke gave this icontogether with his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostolos to his child Theophilus, governor of Achaia who in turn left it to his descendants.
During the time of the persecutions, his descendants hid the Icon in the cave. The Icon remained there unknown, until it was found by Euphrosyme and the two fathers. The Icon of the Mother of Christ is sculptured in low relief 3cm high and made off wax, mastic and other substances. It is portraying her in half-figure with colored and gold lines, which by the many fires have been blackened.
The body of the Mother of Christ is turned to the right, her head slightly inclined towards the Son whom she bears in her right arm. The divine child in his right hand is holding the gospels.
On the right and left of the Mother of Christ are angels standing with awe, and in the four corners, six-winged seraphim on the right and many - eyed cherubim on the left.
Museum Sacred Relics
In the Monasterys museum are many sacred Relics and relics of the War of Independence to be found: national costumes, very precious golden crosses with peaces of the Holy Cross gravures.
In a special chapel is an exhibition of many Icons and Reliquaries, containig among others the skills of the founders of the Monastery.
Things worth to see
-The hollow stone (through which sunlight passes only on spring and autumnal equinox)
-The immens wine barrel Angelis, which can contain 10.000 litre.
The Holy Monastery of Mega Spelaion owns land property in Kalavryta and near Elaion, Aigio. They cultivate cereals, olives, citrusfruits, wine etc.
The Monastery is being supported by the yields of these lands and the offers made by pilgrims and at the same time is in the position to help economically the institutions of the Metropolis.
Address : The Holy Monastery of Mega Spelaion 25001 Kalavryta
Telephone: 0692-22401, 23130
Visiting Hours : During the day, except for 12-2 p.m.