AMORGOS, the easternmost island of the Greek Cyclades is a stunner,
with whitewashed houses, trestled alleyways and fiery rust sunsets ...
Kevin Raub in New York Post, 2010

Hozoviotissa – A legend

Do you all know the game “Chinese Whispers”? It starts with a jolly table of at least eight. The first person whispers a sentence to the next. He then repeats it to the next, and so on and so forth. As the last participant receives the message, he/she must repeat it out loud. Inevitably it has nothing to do with the original sentence

Monastery of Hozoviotissa - Amorgos

Monastery of Hozoviotissa

The legend of the Hozoviotissa Monastery (Greek Παναγία Χοζοβιώτισσα) passed through ten centuries of ears and mouths before reaching mine.
This is the version I was told: During the second iconoclast period, in the IXth century, numerous icons were destroyed in Jerusalem. The icon of “the dark-eyed Mary” did not escape this fate, but the two halves were thrown to sea by a wise woman, hoping to save what was left of the icon. One half drifted for an undetermined time before finally being brought to shore at the foot of Profitis Illias mountain. A chapel was built there and, at the start of the XIth century, the Amorgian community decided to replace the chapel by a monastery.

Devotedly fulfilling their religious task, workers started to build the first stone walls, but each day, by morning, the work of the previous day had been destroyed by unknown hands. No prayers or incantations would help them succeed in their endeavour. One morning, a shepherd, leading his goats along a path 300 metres above the level of the sea, noticed something hanging off the cliff of Profitis Illias mountain. A builder’s tools were hammered into the rock. He hurried back to the village with the news. There, all the villagers came to the only sensible conclusion: it was the will of God that the monastery should be built in that spot. Construction began and it took another 80 years to build the monastery as we see it today.

But what of the other half of the icon?
It drifted to the island of Patmos where another monastery was built. The two islands are therefore connected by the icon of Panagia Hozoviotissa. The two halves of the icon were reunited and… miraculously sealed together.

In the monastery of Hozoviotissa, there is a painted icon of a ship at sea, caught in a storm. The monks are hailing Mary for help. She appears to answer their prayers as they reach land in safety. They were returning to Amorgos from Patmos and painted the icon in her memory.

Monastery of Hozoviotissa by Wendula v. Alvensleben

Monastery of Hozoviotissa by Wendula v. Alvensleben

Do you know why there is a cross in the heart of every poppy?  The Amorgian shepherds say it is because when Jesus was crucified, each drop of his blood gave birth to a poppy holding part of his soul

Chinese Whisper by Wendula v. Alvensleben

Chinese Whisper by Wendula v. Alvensleben

Continuing this never ending game of Chinese Whispers, I transmit these legends in the hope that they have reached me intact.

Monastery of Hozoviotissa opening hours and dress code

Monastery of Hozoviotissa opening hours and dress code

Location of Monastery Hozoviotissa


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  1. Wendula, well done! You’ve seen the more mundane (also undocumented) story that 9th century monks from Chozeba (on the Palestinian coast south of Tyre) brought the icon and built the original monastery, which was then enlarged by Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the 11th century. I’ve always liked your version better, so I’m sure it reached your ears intact. The dress code sign you picture is interesting; to some modern ladies who are unfamiliar with skirts, it is said to hint that since “clothes are not available any more” in the monastery, perhaps they should enter in the all-together. And that’s the naked truth!

  2. erwin January 31, 2011

    Bradley, there is a comment from paul delahunt-rimmer from 20th of july 2010 on an article:
    “Please could I point out your clothing regulations for the Monastery are not consistent. The photo of the sign is of course correct. Your text says ‘pants’ for ladies OK and clothes are provided. I must stress that Ladies must wear a skirt or a wrap around shift down to the knee not trousers. The shift may however be over trousers. The ‘clothes provided’ is a matter under debate. They were years ago and then Papa Spirithon had them taken away. They did reappear briefly in the Spring this year but this may not last for long. We are against it. People should respect the church and arrive dressed accordingly.”

  3. Author
    Wendula January 31, 2011

    Thanks Brad, for the geographical and historical back up. That’s the part that remained a bit vague in the article.

  4. Bradley January 31, 2011

    Wendula, the “miraculous” explanations for some things on Amorgos are much more fun than the purely historical, and they really say a lot about the delightful spirit of the people. That’s why I especially like your painting; it conveys your own reaction, a happy and peaceful one despite some of the hard or bad times of the monastery’s past.

    Erwin, thank you for pointing me to Paul’s comment, with which I certainly agree. The monastery belongs to the Church and to the monks. They are kind enough to accept visitors, and in fact to welcome them in a lovely manner. They certainly are right to ask that we show respect in our dress and demeanor.

  5. another April 11, 2011

    Spelling corrections, sorry:) – great site!

    I dare to say that you underestimate the beauty and effect that the Hozoviotisa site can have. If I am allowed to quote myself from flickr:” I cannot, describe easily in words, or even more in photographs, the “zen garden” like experience of the Panagia Hozzoviotisa monastery site.
    Many religious sacred sites are built on places that can remind us the more spiritual aspect of life, the climb to the Panagia monastery is for me such an example, independent of the faith that you might or not have.
    I dare to say that the monastery and the natural surroundings of the site all can be summed as a work of art, a site that must be preserved and left unspoiled (as they are today) no matter what, a natural landscape that the touch of man (the monastery) has expanded and gave new meaning upon it, a zen garden in the largest possible scale, a Borgesian exercise in space and the infinity.
    You start ascending the stairs over the great blue sea, under a cliff over the mighty mountain. The monastery is an 8 story shelter built right on the side of the cliff, apparently extremely hard to built yet profoundly fragile, in comparison with the raw sea and the mounttain cliff on top of it.
    Upon entering the monastery, you find yourself from the magestic open terrain, in a confined internal space, and one of the smallest church imaginable on top of it, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The last stop is out of the Virgin Mary small church (a room actually) and to the last story monastery balcony, where the mind catching view repeats it self, exiting from the internal to the universal, from the small and humble to the infinite and large.

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