The sanctuary of Panagia Myrtidiotissa harbors the greatest relic of Kythira. The miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was found here. The icon was called Myrtidiotissa in reference to the myrtles growing in the area. It is the symbol of the orthodox faith for thousands of people in Kythira. The icon of Myrtidiotissa is treasured by the inhabitants, the Kythiran diaspora and of all Greeks.
According to tradition, the icon was found in 1160 or in the 15th century by a shephard. This legend was incorporated in the icon itself, in its lower part, by the artist Nikolaos Theophilos in 1837. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared before the sheperd and told him: “if you seek me where you find my icon, I will come and help you”.
The sanctuary is made up of: a) a ledger in the center from a three aisled basilica with a raised central aisle, a loft in the lowest level with the first temple of the Virgin Mary. This is where the icon is placed, b) a multitude of cells, which are north and south of the ledger. Pilgrims stay there during the Dekapentavgoustos (Assumption) holiday, c) the bell-house in the north-east of the ledger made of carved limestone. It is 26 meters high, with an impressive arc-like structure in all sides and four floors, d) the chapel of the Holy Trinity, of the post-Byzantine era, e) a museum with icons, and f) the library with a reading room. The temple of the Virgin Mary is aligned with the rocky opening. There is a shallow niche in the north, which houses the icon of the Virgin Mary Myrtidiotissa, where it was found by the shepherd.
The newer ledger that we see today was built in 1841-1857 by abbot Agathaggelos Kalligeros (1799 – 1895†). It is of a three aisled basilica type, with an impressive marble winged altarpiece, work of the artist Iakovos Varoutis, from Tinos, built in 1856. The impressive bell-tower is 26 meters high and it was adorned by the artist Nikolaos Fatseas (Fouriaris) from Kythira in 1888. The church holds a special service on September 24th, in memory of the miraculous recovery of a paralyzed person, as well as services for all Virgin Mary celebrations.
The church of Panagia Myrtidiotissa (as well as Agia Moni in the east of the island and Agios Ioannis in Kapsali) is the property of the people of Kythira and is administrated by the Domestic Property Committee of Kythira and Antikythira, an entity unique in Greece that exists only in Kythira. The Bishop of Kythira and Antikythira is the Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, concerning matters of worship only. Administrative and management matters are handled by the citizens of the island.
Monastery tel: +30 2736031184