It is the largest monastery in Kythera! Located in the area of Mirtidia in the west of the island, it is built on a natural rocky opening among many myrtles! The icon of Panaghia Mirtidiotissa is the island’s most precious relic and the patron of all Kytherians.
Tradition has it that a shepherd dreamt of an angel pointing at the area he kept his sheep where, inside a myrtle was an icon of the Madonna. The shepherd woke up alarmed. In the morning he went there, found the icon and took it home, in the neighboring village of Kalokairines. At night the icon would disappear and return to the myrtle. The shepherd saw the angel again, telling him that the icon had to stay there, close to the myrtle; so the shepherd built a small chapel next to the myrtle and placed the icon there, naming it Mirtidiotissa.
Up to this day the chapel, called the old Catholic, houses the icon along with the offerings of visitors, the huge candles made by the priests of the era and some other small icons. When the icon was found it didn’t have its current dimensions, those were acquired later when placed on a wooden frame. In 1837 artist Nicholas Spithakis added the gold dress. Only the two faces are still visible on the ancient icon, even their features cannot be distinguished anymore. At the lower part of the golden lining, the three miracles of Mirtidiotissa are depicted: the miracle of the icon’s discovery, the cure of the paralytic and the miracle of rescuing the fortress of the town of Kythera by a lightning strike in 1829. Just above the old Catholic, the major basilica church was built in 1857. North and south of the later Catholic are the cells where believers reside during the fasting period of the first fifteen days of August (Dekapentismos).
An admirable work within the monastery is that of the 26m limestone bell tower, with arched patterns on the facades of all four floors, created by artist Nickolas Fatseas. All the monastery projects were led by the monk Agathangelos Kalligeros. During the pirate raids, the icon was kept in the homonymous church inside the fortress in the town of Kythera for security reasons. The major religious tradition of Kythera is the icon’s procession from Mirtidia to Chora, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The procession lasts 15 days, passing through most of the island’s villages before it arrives in Chora and there are many believers following the icon throughout the whole period! Myrtidiotissa celebrates on the 24th of September, the date of the icon’s finding.