The miraculous small church of Aghia Theodora is located near the village of Vasta, in Megalopoli, and is one of the most remarkable sights in Arcadia. Situated within a beautiful, green landscape, many times it has been called “a miracle of nature”: from its roof spring out 17 trees, whose roots penetrate the walls and end up in the ground!
This natural phenomenon is connected with a legend regarding the holy martyr Theodora, to whom this small church is dedicated: Theodora, a seventeen-year-old girl, was forced to leave her home and enlist in the army dressed as a young boy, in order to help her family out financially. A series of events, however, led to her martyric death outside her village. Her last wish, before she died, was for her years to turn into trees and for her blood to become their water. And so it happened…
This remote small church, built in the 12th century, attracts thousands of visitors each year, who come to pay their respects and also to admire this unique sight.
The region of Arcadia is brimming with churches and monasteries, evidence of the deep faith of its inhabitants, which served as a driving force during difficult times in the past. Each one of them has its own particularity, at least in the minds of the people who built them with deep faith and love. There are however others, which are “miracles of nature”, filling the visitor with awe for the glory of nature… One of these is the Church of Saint Theodora, close to the village of Vasta, in Megalopoli.
To reach it, visitors must start out from Tripoli, on the road towards Kalamata. Around ten kilometres past Megalopoli, one must turn towards Isari – Vasta, and then follow the last kilometres to reach the destination. The last part of the road, taking approximately half an hour, needs attention, because it has many turns and a steep descent; but at its end a unique view is waiting for the visitor. Inside a dense oak forest stands a small church, with 17 enormous trees growing on its roof. Under the church there is a stream that waters the trees, which have been standing there for centuries.
It is estimated that the church was built circa 1050 and 1100 AD, and is dedicated to the memory of the martyr, Theodora, who suffered there for her faith. According to tradition, the young Theodora was the eldest child of a poor family from Vasta. The Byzantine army was asking for mercenaries, but her father was elderly and could not take part in battle. Thus Theodora wanting to help her family financially, and enlisted in the Byzantine army dressed as a boy, calling herself “Captain Thodoris”. A young girl saw the “young soldier” and fell in love with him, not realizing his true identity. The continuous refusal of the soldier to respond to her love enraged the girl, who accused “him” of getting her pregnant, so that he should marry her. Theodora, being unable to reveal her true identity – because this would expose her family – accepted the severe accusation of dishonour, which led to her death.
According to another version of the story, Theodora was Augusta Theodora, daughter of Emperor Constantine VIII, and scion of the Macedonian dynasty, who is said to have reigned as a man for one year, in 1055-1056. Theodora was succeeded to the throne by Michael IV Stratioticus, who is said to have murdered her. According to another version, Theodora fell gravely ill and died.
Whichever of the two versions we accept, the story ends with Theodora making a wish shortly before she is executed that her years become trees and her blood water, to water them. Her wish was heard, and as a result the visitor today faces a unique phenomenon, one that ranks the Church of Saint Theodora amongst the most remarkable sites of Arcadia, actually entered in the Guinness Book of Records. The church celebrates every year on the 11th of September, attracting a number of believers.