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The history of the Monastery

According to tradition, the Monastery was first founded in the 6th century AD, the year 532 to be precise, at the height of the Byzantine Empire. Its Ktetor is believed to be Belisarius, Justinian’s famed general, who constructed the monastery of the Virgin Mary as a form of penance for his part in the infamous massacre of the “Nika” rioters in Constantinople. A marble inscription preserved in the narthex of the Monastery’s Katholikon reads as follows: «ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΟΝΑΣΤΗΡΙΩ ΤΗΣ ΠΕΛΟΠΟΝΝΗΣΟΥ ΚΑΙ ΤΩΝ ΚΑΛΑΒΡΥΤΩΝ ΤΗΣ ΥΠΕΡΑΓΙΑΣ ΜΑΚΕΛΛΑΡΙΤΙΣΣΗΣ ΤΩ ΚΤΙΣΘΕΝΤΙ ΠΟΤΕ ΥΠΟ ΒΕΛΑΣΣΑΡΙΟΥ ΑΡΧΙΣΤΡΑΤΗΓΟΥ ΡΩΜΑΙΩΝ ΕΠΙ ΤΗΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΑΣ ΤΟΥ ΙΟΥΣΤΙΝΙΑΝΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΚΩΝΣΤΑΝΤΙΝΟΥΠΟΛΕΩΣ ΤΩ 532» (“The Monastery of the Holy Theotokos Makellaritissa in Kalavrita, Peloponnese, erected by Belisarius, General of the Romans, in the reign of Justinian the Great of Constantinople, in 532”).

Originally, the monastery was built below the outcrop on which it currently sits.


As tradition has it, the Monastery was initially known as the Virgin Mary Lithariotissa or Lithostrotiotissa. There are various traditions associated with how it assumed the name of the Virgin Mary Makellaria.

In the wake of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II the Conqueror brought fire and the sword to mainland Greece. Corinth fell to his forces on 15 May 1458, and he soon set his sights on the Peloponnese. Fleeing for their lives, the locals sought refuge in the Monastery of Makellaria.

Ottoman forces under Kati-Pasha laid siege to the Monastery from the adjacent fortified position of “Katikampos”. They were met by the Greek warchief Giannos and his forces, which had fortified themselves at a place known as “Giannou-kampos”. These locations were named after the leaders of the opposing forces, names they retain to the present day. The Ottomans, reinforced by troops under Voivod Pasha, stormed the Voivodorachi position, overcame the dogged resistance from the Monastery and Giannos’ warriors and slaughtered monk and civilian alike. It’s said that so much blood was spilled that the monks’ cells were filled with it. The Monastery assumed its present name of Makellaria from the words aima-kellia (blood and cells respectively) or from the Italian word macellio (massacre).

According to another tradition, when the Monastery fell to the Ottomans, the Hegumen begged their commanders to spare the monastery as it was the site of innumerable miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary. Incredulous, the Ottoman Pashas demanded that the Hegumen demonstrate his claims and prove the miraculous powers of the monastery. He replied that he would throw the lampion that lit the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary off the cliff into the Selinountas river gorge. The Ottoman commanders agreed that if it landed upright without losing so much as a drop of its lamp oil, they would spare the Monastery. True to their word, they dispatched men into the gorge to confirm the Hegumen’s claim. The lampion was then thrown from the cliff and lo! The miracle had occurred. The Ottoman soldiers discovered the lampion stuck among the branches of a tree but entirely sound and unbroken. Having been convinced of the miraculous powers of the Virgin Mary, they spared the monastery. Some time afterwards, Turkish troops, among whom there were participants in the first conquest who had witnessed the miracle firsthand, revisited the monastery. Those soldiers who know of the miraculous powers of the Virgin Mary were adamant that the monastery should be spared, while their compatriots insisted that it ought to be destroyed. The disagreement between the two groups became so heated and partisan that they went for each-others’ throats, resulting in a massacre in the Monastery courtyard from which it took its name.


Originally, the monastery was built below the outcrop on which it currently sits. According to historical sources, it was rebuilt in a different position after it was sacked by the Ottomans in 1458. the surviving monks wanted to rebuild the monastery, but not where it once stood as they were concerned about the prevailing weather conditions, especially the strong winds that rip through the area. Instead, they constructed the new monastery in a part of a cave sheltered from the wind, where the chapel of the Transfiguration currently stands.

Labourers came from the local villages, especially from Lapanagoi, to help in the construction.

Inexplicably however, any progress the labourers would make during the day would be undone come nightfall, with those arriving for the morning shift being met with piles of rubble and missing tools and materials.

A few days later the tools were found at the summit of the outcrop were the Monastery currently stands. Overriding the protests of the foreman (who considered the location unsuitable due to the local weather conditions), the monks began to clear out the rock and lay the foundations for the new Monastery as indicated by the Virgin Mary. Up high, in a natural depression of the rock –still visible in the holy Bema of the single-nave Basilica of the Dormition of the Theotokos– the monks discovered a clay vessel filled with congealed oil next to an icon of the Virgin Mary.

But the foreman insisted. While the monks were clearing out space to lay the foundations, he stubbornly continued to build the monastery in the cave of the Transfiguration. But at the precise moment when the icon of the Virgin Mary was discovered, the construction scaffolding collapsed, taking the labourers working on them and their tools and sweeping them into the Selinountas river gorge. Save for the foreman, nobody was hurt. The monks anointed the injured foreman withe the oil they had found and sat in prayer. Miraculously, he experienced immediate recovery from his injuries and, in gratitude for the protection the mother of God had provided him, he was convinced to construct the monastery at the divinely indicated location, encountering none of the previous misfortunes in the process.

The first structure to be erected was the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos. The cavity in the rock where the healing oil was found currently constitutes part of the holy Bema, both in honour of the miracle and to protect the spot from potential vandals. The iconostasis which separates the Bema from the Naos hosts the icon of the Virgin Mary Makellaritissa, the guardian and patron of the new Monastery and a stalwart support for the faithful who turn to Her grace and divine mediation. The church, and the icon, have stood there ever since, and both faithful and animals alike respectfully bend the knee before her.


Just below the monastery itself, pilgrims can follow a descending footpath to access a chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Saviour. The chapel has been built in a natural cavity, a cave in the steep rock face, right underneath Voivodorachi. This holy place is known for the spring of holy water that flows year-round from a rock within.


Nearby to the Monastery, on the banks of the Selinountas, pilgrims can find the Holy Church of the Evangelistria, a dependency of the Monastery. Long derelict, the architecture of this stone-built church still catches the eye, and the monks are planning to renovate it for the world to see.


Since its foundation, the monastery was a men’s monastery but for the last twenty years it had no resident monks.Since July 2011, with the blessing of His Eminence, the Metropolitan of Kalavryta and Aigialia Ambrosius, a sisterhood has taken over and continues its work with the blessing of His Eminence, the Metropolitan of Kalavryta and Aigialia Ieronymos.

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