Panayia Spiliani

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The first thing you see when you reach Mandraki is the imposing, due to its prominent location, Monastery of Panayia Spiliani (Ηoly Mary of the Cave)perched on a steep rocky hill that dominates the modern capital of Nisyros. This inaccessible rock, known as “Oxos of Panayia”(cliff of Holy Mary), enters the sea forming a small peninsula at the western end of Mandraki. It creates a natural fort, which was used by the Knights of St. John, rulers of the island in the period 1314-1522, for the construction of their castle, in the interior of which the Monastery of Spiliani is built. The famous Monastery, symbol, and protector of the island is the worship center of Nisyros and one of the most important Orthodox pilgrimages in the south-eastern Aegean. It is the main pole of attraction for visitors to the island, as the great fair that is organized in its honor on the 15th of August, gathers the Greek community of Nisyros from all over the world.

The monastery, which has been built at an altitude of 35 m and is surrounded by the walls of the knights, is accessed via one hundred and thirty steps that start from the main road of the Lagadi neighbourhood in Mandraki and lead to the main courtyard of the complex, through the double gate of the medieval castle.

In 2001 the Monastery celebrated its 600th anniversary, although the exact date of construction remains unknown to this day. Information related to its foundation is quite confusing. The earliest known evidence was found in a document with the seal of 1600, which is now lost. According to tradition, an icon of the Virgin Mary that had been found in the area of Vretos, circa 1400 AD, was the reason behind the construction of the Monastery. Although it was kept for safety reasons in Panayia Potamitissa, it was mysteriously transferred to the cave of the castle of the knights. Thus, it was considered that a church dedicated to the Dormition of the Holy Mother should be built at that location according to the will of the Virgin Mary. This became the katholikon of the Monastery, built in the cavernous rock formation (hence the name Spiliani), which initially included the cell of the monk who built it. The founder turned the two smaller natural cavities at the eastern part of the cave into altars. The north was dedicated to the Dormition of the Holy Mother and is celebrated on the 15th of August, while the south is dedicated to Saint Charalambos and is celebrated on the 10th of February. Frescoes decorated the interior of the church. Nowadays, all of them are ruined apart from the depiction of “the Extreme Humiliation of Christ” in the niche of Prothesis.
The two wood-carved iconostases that separate the altars from the nave are exceptionally artful. The iconostasis of the church of Panagia was made in 1725 according to an inscription above the north gate. The palladium of the Monastery stands out; the miraculous silver-plated icon of Panagia Hodegetria (Our Lady of the Way) is framed by a thick layer of votive offerings (tamata ) and is placed to the right of the Sanctuary Door, against the ecclesiastical guidelines, which govern which icons are on which parts of the iconostasis. It was silver-plated by the Nisyrian artist Pavlos Diakogeorgiou in 1798, who signed as George Anagnostou. It is said that the original, smaller image of the Virgin Mary is hidden under the right hand of Hodegetria and that this part of the icon is bulkier and warmer to the touch. The icon is painted on both sides with Saint Nicholas depicted on the back. This exquisite piece of art dates back to the last quarter of the 14th century and is probably contemporary with the first depiction of Panagia Vrefokratousa on the front, which has been distorted over the years by several layers of paint. Perhaps the arrival of the icon in the Monastery was associated with an extensive renovation, which was considered by the collective consciousness as the construction of the monastery.

However, the ritual use of the site probably began even earlier, in the mid-Byzantine times, a hypothesis which is reinforced by the existence of parts of a marble mid-Byzantine iconostasis of the end of the 11th century built into the entrance of the katholikon. This iconostasis probably signifies the initial phase of the church while the exceptional bifacial icon of Panagia and Agios Nikolaos suggests that the heyday of the monastery was around 1400 AD. The above data reinforce the belief that the cavernous church of Panagia predates the castle of the knights.

The rest of the buildings of the so far plastered monastery were built in successive phases of construction -according to the needs of a brotherhood of monks that no longer exists- and they are now indistinguishable. From the entrance of the last bell tower (1953) a corridor leads to the “archontariki” (reception and dining room), the kitchens, the Abbot’s quarters, and further inside to the library which contained rich archival material from 1718 and a lot of books. These, along with a large number of relics of the Monastery have been transferred to the church museum, below the castle, which opens to the public daily. The complex still consists of a large number of warehouses and cells that were originally intended for the accommodation of pilgrims, but nowadays mostly the so-called “Enniameritises” (nine days-women) live in these rooms. These are women who arrive nine days before the 15th of August to carry out a special ritual, at the same time with the official ecclesiastical worship, which ends on the day of the fair. They contribute to the preparation of the festival; stay in the monastery, offer manual labor, fast, and pray to the Virgin Mary by chanting “the Virgin Mary’s lament”. On the eve of the feast (14/08) the people of the island fast. On the next day a great fair in the courtyard of the Zisimopouleio Theater, with food, drink, and dance marks the most important religious event of Nisyros.

Mandraki, Nisyros, Postal code 85303

Means of access:
On foot

Disabled access:

Opening hours:

Visit after consulting with the Holy Monastery of Panagia Spiliani, Summer:

Until the last ten days of October:

MONASTERY 10:30 -15: 00 and 18:00 – 20:00

CHURCH MUSEUM 10:30 -15: 00

August 10:30 -15: 00 and 18:00 – 20:00

Entry fees:
Full: €2


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Panagia Spiliani
Παναγία Σπηλιανή

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