The monastery of the Holy Theotokos, also known as Paleokastritsa Monastery, is one of the oldest in Corfu, dating to 1225. The reasons for visiting this monastery are two-fold. Set on the top of the cape, the views from the monastery are stunningly dramatic and indescribably beautiful. Perhaps the most visited of the island’s religious sites, due to its amazing ‘eagle’s eyrie’ position, it is also steeped in history.
It is built on the western side of the central bay of Paleokastritsa. Access to the monastery is by way of a steep, narrow road there starts from the main beach and winds its way through lush, green groves of tall cypress and olive trees. Pedestrians and vehicles share the road, so caution should be taken. Please note that there is a traffic light, which should not be ignored, as the road is one-way traffic only.
The main section, that of the Church, dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary, and the monk’s cells were added in the 18th Century. Inside the monastery is a courtyard with a portico and a modern building which houses a small museum of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons, books, souvenirs and memorabilia. For those interested in anthropology, there is also the very impressive, massive skeleton of a whale, which is said to have been killed by a fisherman in the 19th century.
On the lower level are the old olive press and shops with local products on sale namely wine, kumquat preserve, Kumquat liqueur, jams and Limoncello (lemon liqueur).
Dress code is expected to be modest; woman’s shoulders and bare legs to be covered. Skirts and shawls are provided at the entrance to the monastery for those inappropriately attired. Please note that there is the monastic code of silence which is also to be respected.
There is a well in the upper courtyard of the Paleokastritsa Monastery.
According to local legend, anyone who throws coins into the well will return to Corfu. In recent years, couples have started another custom of locking padlocks on the railing outside the monastery at the lookout point, thus "locking" their love for eternity.
The well preserved, old cannon bearing the Russian ‘Romanof’ coat of arms, dating back to 1799, stands guard above the railing.
The church itself is a single-aisle basilica with beautifully adorned ceiling. The church houses rare icons and relics of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine period.
Paleokastritsa Monastery, the celebration
The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – “The Assumption of Most Holy Theotokos” – is celebrated on August 15. The feast of the Life-Giving Spring or Fountain is celebrated on the first Friday after Easter.
The reason for the construction of the Paleokastritsa Monastery was the finding of the holy icon of the Holy Theotokos. The first buildings seem to have been part of an earlier castle fortification, hence the name “Paleokastritsa”. The men’s monastery was founded in 1225, although the building that the visitor now sees is newer than during the Turkish occupation.
Paleokastritsa Monastery was destroyed by the Genoese in 1403 and rebuilt in 1469. Destroyed again in 1537 by the Turks, it was rebuilt in 1572. It is still preserved today, with several additions and renovations having been done over time.
The Paleokastritsa Monastery has had a number of different functions. In the 19th Century it was utilized as a military hospital. The Germans later, in 1943, during world war two, used the cells as army barracks.
ΜΟΝΑΣΤΗΡΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΕΛΛΑΔΑΣ: Ελλάδα Τόπος Αγιότητας και Πνευματικών Θησαυρών. “Ιερά Μονή Παναγίας Παλαιοκαστρίτσας”, https://www.monastiria.gr/iera-moni-palaiokastritsas/
COOK, Adelia (2019). “Monasteries of Corfu”, www.mykerkyra.com