The History of the Monastery of Varnakova

Source: Pemptousia


Monastery of Varnakova as seen from a nearby roadMonastery of Varnakova as seen from a nearby road

The Byzantine monastery of Varnakova lies some 45 minutes
to the East of Nafpaktos, on the old road to Lidorikos,
beyond Efpalio. It was built in 1077 by Saint Arsenios
Varnakovitis, on a small hill which lies within a vast
forest of oaks and wild chestnuts.


The katholikon of Monastery Varnakova, foto: Mixalis Ninoglou, PanoramioThe katholikon of Monastery Varnakova, foto: Mixalis Ninoglou, Panoramio

The katholiko (main church) is in the style of a
basilica with a cupola, while the floor is made of
wonderful opus sectile marble, dating from the
11th century.

The Comneni emperors of Byzantium assisted the monastery
financially and granted it extensive holdings in the
Mornos valley, stretching as far as the sea and islands in
the Gulf of Corinth.


Entrance of the Monastery VarnakovaEntrance of the Monastery Varnakova

Later, under the Latin occupation, the monastery was
subject to the Greek state of the Despotate of Epirus. The
Comneni rulers loved Our Lady of Varnakova so much that
they chose the katholikoof the monastery as the
place where they would be buried. The archaeologist
Orlandos discovered their tombs underneath the floor of
the inner narthex in 1919 and the monastery has kept the

The icon of Our Lady VarnakovaThe icon of Our Lady Varnakova
In 1826, the monastery was
partially destroyed by the Turks and was renovated by
Ioannis Kappodistrias [the first ‘Governor’
of Greece after the revolution of 1821 and a most
remarkable man] in 1831.

The history of the monastery really is astonishing. It has
made a great contribution to Greece, not only in economic
terms but also on a much deeper level. The Monastery of
Our Lady Varnakova, through her grace, has been a
spiritual treasury both for Southern Greeks and for every
pilgrim. It’s been a sacred refuge in the deathly
chill of every form of slavery and misfortune. The warmth
of life, the God-given consolation, as in every holy
monastery which has assisted the faithful in their upward
progress throughout the centuries, but particularly in the
harsh days of the Turkish and Venetian occupations, and of
our modern materialism.

The first blow the Monastery of Our Lady suffered,
occurred in the latter half of the fifteenth century.
Although it had managed to avoid the worst of the Frankish
occupation and the envy of the Latins, because it belonged
to the Despotate of Epirus and was protected by the
Komninos overlords, when the Turks started taking over
Greece, it suffered its first catastrophe. According to
the information we have, the monastery was set on fire and
partially destroyed. With the assistance of the Mother of
God, however, it continued its God-pleasing task of being
a divine workshop of virtue and purification for souls who
love God.

It suffered a second blow from the Turks in May 1826, in a
revenge attack for what it had done and struggled for
during the four hundred years of Greek enslavement to the
Ottomans. It harboured, nourished, comforted, supported,
protected, educated (through its secret school) and,
finally, fought at the side of the suffering, disaffected
Greeks who paid the price for their freedom.


The courtyardThe courtyard

After the exodus from Messolonghi, the monastery welcomed
a group of the heroic women and children who, although
they’d sought refuge in Aï-Simio, Arvanitia,
were expelled and hounded until they arrived at Varnakova,
where they found a warm welcome and were well treated.
Later, for greater safety, they were spirited away to

There followed, on 3 May 1826, the siege of the monastery
by the forces of Kioutakhi. After heroic resistance on the
part of 150 defenders of the monastery, who held out for
23 days against 4,000 Turks, the soldiers and monks were
forced to leave on 26 May. The Turks took over the
monastery and blew up the main church.


The turkish siege of May 1826 that lasted for 23 daysThe turkish siege of May 1826 that lasted for 23 days

Varnakova was a whole-burnt offering to freedom. The
Varnakovite monks gave their blood, sweat and tears to
Christ and their beloved homeland. May their souls rest in
peace and may we have their blessing. They left us an
example of sacrifice and of how to live.


Procession with the icon of Our Lady VarnakovaProcession with the icon of Our Lady Varnakova

The greatest and most sacred story is that which has been
written by the Mistress of the World in her holy shrine
over the last thousand years. It’s the story of her
loving-kindness, of her gifts and her love. She’s a
vigilant and ceaseless intermediary for us to Christ the
Saviour, for all the faithful who ask for her

Holy Metropolis of Fokida, Holy Monastery of Our Lady of
Varnakova, Dorida 2011.

At the beginning of August 2014, a young lady who is
very precious to us was suddenly taken very ill while
visiting a friend. She lost feeling in her arms and legs,
her fingers and lips turned blue, her blood oxygen fell to
dangerous levels. She was rushed to hospital and placed in
intensive care with oxygen and a breathing apparatus, with
only minutes to spare before she would have passed away.
The first, tentative diagnosis was
é Syndrome,
then Transverse Myelitis was considered, as were copper
poisoning and West Nile fever (we’ve been plagued by
mosquitoes in Greece this year). As yet there is no
definitive diagnosis and a leading expert who was called
in has declared himself baffled. After a very worrying
week or so, our koumbara (whose maiden name was Komninos!)
arrived with a gift: a small paper icon of Our Lady of
Varnakova which had been placed on the original icon and
had absorbed some of the myrrh which flows from it. The
young woman’s mother took the icon and blessed her
daughter by placing it over various parts of her body.
Since then her condition has shown a marked improvement
with which the doctors are most impressed. She is still in
intensive care, but is now able to breathe with less
assistance and can move parts of her body. The prognosis
is difficult, but by God’s grace and the help of His
Mother all will be well.

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