Μεγα Σπηλιο

Mega Spiléo - The Great Cave - Μονή Μεγάλου Σπηλαίου


Useful Information

the outside of the huge cave monastery.
the outside of the huge cave monastery.
the outside of the huge cave monastery.
Location: From Trapeza on the northern coast follow road to Kalavrita south.
(38.089344, 22.175088)
Open: Summer daily 9-13, 14-18.
Winter daily 9-12, 13-18.
[2021]
Fee: Church and cave: free.
Museum: nominal fee.
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church SpeleologyErosional Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=160 m, H=120 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Παναγιώτης Α. Υφαντής (1999): Μέγα Σπήλαιο: Ιστορία, Πνευματική και Εθνική Μαρτυρία, Έκδοση Ι, Μητροπόλεως Καλαβρύτων και Αιγιαλείας, Αθήνα 1999.
Address: Monastery of the Great Cave, Kalavryta Municipality 250 01, Tel: +30-2692-023130.
CAVINO S.A. Gefira Meganiti, 25100 Aigio, Tel: +30 26910 71555, Fax: +30 26910 71201. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

362 monastery founded by the Thessalonian brothers Symeon and Theodore.
840 or 849 monastery burned by the iconoclasts.
1285 rebuilt by Andronikos Paleologos and became one of the richest monasteries.
1354 monastery gains prominence as the residence of the Orthodox Metropolitan of Patras.
1400 monastery destroyed.
1550 monastery winery first mentioned.
1640 monastery destroyed.
1641 monastery rebuilt.
1934 katholikon was destroyed in a fire and all the relics of inestimable value were destroyed.
1936 monastery rebuilt.
1937 new church erected.
08-DEC-1943 the German 117th Jäger Division destroys the monastery and executes 22 monks and visitors as part of reprisals.

Description

the entrance to the monastery looks like a church front, but the church is in the upper floor.
the small church, the back wall is formed by the cave.
the cave, gets some light through the last remaining gap between the 10 story building and the overhangig cliff.
inside the cave the scene of the discovery of the icon is displayed.
a spring with holy water is used by the visitors. They drink from it and fill some water into bottles.
one of the icons, not quite typical.

Mega Spileo (Great Cave) is a huge monastery built unter the overhanging cliff face of conglomerate rock. This huge cavern was probably formed by the Vouraikos river, which carved the valley. The cliff face is up to 120 m high and 160 m long, but actually rather shallow. This is only the overhanging part of the cliff, the whole cliff extends for about 1.6 km along the valley. This was long ago and the river has cut deeper, today flowing deep below the monastery.

The formal name of the monastery is Ιερά Μονή Κοιμήσεως της Θεοτόκου (Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos) and it is a Greek Orthodox monastery. Commonly it is named Μονή Μεγάλου Σπηλαίου (Monastery of the Great Cave) or simply Μεγα Σπηλιο (Mega Spileo). The huge cave was known since antiquity, the geographer Pausanias reports that the daughters of Proetus found refuge there during their madness. In early Christian time the cave was used by hermits. The monastery was finally founded by the Thessalonian brothers Symeon and Theodore. They discovered an icon in the cave painted by Luke the Evangelist showing the Theotokos, the god-bearer, or Mary, mother of Jesus. However, the early history of the monastery under Byzantine and Latin rule is not very spectacular.

The monastery served as the residence of the Orthodox Metropolitan of Patras, when the city was occupied by the Latins and the seat of a Latin archbishopric of Patras. This started with the installation in the see in 1205 following the Fourth Crusade. Around 1354 the Orthodox Metropolitan went to Mega Spileo and the monastery gained prominence.

To the south of the monastery lies the small town Kalavryta, which became known as the place of the Kalavryta massacre. During World War II in early December 1943 the German 117th Jäger Division intended to encircle Greek Resistance guerilla fighters in the mountainous area surrounding Kalavryta. They reached Mega Spilea on 08-DEC-1943, destroyed the monastery and executed 22 monks and the monastery staff. 78 German soldiers had been taken prisoner by the guerrillas in October, and were executed by their captors now. In response, the commander of the German division, General Karl von Le Suire personally ordered the killing of the male population of Kalavryta on 10-DEC-1943. In Kalavryta about 1,000 houses were looted and burned, more than 2,000 livestock seized by the Germans, and 438 men and older boys were executed. 13 survived because they were hidden under the bodies of the dead. Then they rounded up women and children, locked them into a primary school and set the school on fire. One soldier from Austria disobeyed the orders and opened the doors of the blazing school, women and children escaped, but he was executed for his act of treason. In total, 693 civilians were killed during the reprisals and 28 communities, towns, villages, monasteries and settlements, were destroyed.

The current monastery was completely rebuilt after World War II. The eight storey complex set in the 120 m high cliff face is a male monastery. There is a parking lot at the road and you have to walk 10 minutes to the monastery. There is a museum showing some religious art like icons and some historic documents. Behind the church is access to the deepest part of the cave with a small chapel and a statue of Mary and this Inri guy. While the monastery buildings touch the cliff face at several points, the back wall is actually straight, while the cave is rounded, and there is a narrow and irregular gap behind the monastery. There is even sunlight and a little gras and some bushes grow here. A spring with holy water is used by the visitors. They drink from it and fill some water into bottles.

The monastery has historic wine cellars which survived many destructions. They are located below the main building and contain frescoes from 1653. The cellars are used by the Domain Mega Spileo to mature wines which are grown in the valley beneath the monastery. The winery was first mentioned in 1550 and was operated by the monks. They transported the grapes with mules up to the wine cellars where the wine was matured in 500 l wooden casks. The wine was popular, but in the 1980s the number of monks was so low, they were not able to do the work any more. The vineyards were abandoned. The winery was revitalized in 1999 by an independent company and is not managed by the monastery any more. But again various sorts of grapes are grown on vineyards between 780 m and 880 m asl. The wine is still matured in the wine cellars of the monastery in casky made of 80% french and 20% american oak for 16 to 24 months. Then it is bottled and matured another 24 months.