On the summit of mountain Ithomi, near ancient Messene, on a natural rock, stands imposingly the old Monastery of Voulkano, overlooking the Messenian valley that extends in front of it. This Monastery was most probably built in the beginning of the 8th century by iconodule monks; according to tradition, the exact spot where the monastery was erected was shown to them by an icon of the Panaghia, with a vigil candle burning next to it.
In the 17th century this Monastery was abandoned, mainly because of the adverse weather conditions that made the monks’ lives unbearable. A new location was sought to the south, where the New Monastery of Voulkano was gradually built. Here today are kept the holy relics of several saints of the Orthodox faith, as well as important writings, documents, patriarchal sigils and, most importantly, the miraculous icon of Panaghia Voulkaniotissa, which bears the inscription: The Leading One, called thus in the Voulkano mountain.
The old Monastery today is called Katholikon and it is open for Mass only on August 15, while the New Monastery has always been in use as a men’s monastery.
The massive and imposing Monastery of Voulkanos was established in the 17th century and is located in the heart of ancient Messini, in a richly historical region. Its name, which appears in several different variations, such as Vourkano, Dorkano and Voulkani, most likely derives from a Byzantine ruler, who was in possession of the area surrounding Ithomi.
This monastery is not the first one founded in the area. The old Monastery of Voulkanos, the so-called Monastery of the Blesses Virgin Mary of the Summit or Virgin Mary the Epanokastritissa, was built on top of Mount Ithomi and is today widely known by the simple name Katholikon. This old monastery is situated in the location of the acropolis of ancient Messini. It is regarded as a building much older than that of the new monastery and it was reportedly built in 725 AD by iconodule monks. Its establishment is accompanied by a “founding legend”, characteristic of various monasteries. It is said that an icon of the Virgin Mary was found on the spot where the monastery was later erected, hanging from a bush, with a smouldering candle at its side.
The main church of the old monastery is particularly impressive. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was painted by the brothers Georgios and Dimitrios Moschos from the city of Nafplion in 1608. The church is a representative example of Late Byzantine art, being a two-aisled domed basilica (it was once three-aisled), built onto the ancient temple of Zeus Ithomata. It appears that material from this ancient temple was used for the construction of the church.
However, the location of the old monastery was somewhat inaccessible and unprotected against the elements, which made living conditions particularly difficult. So, in 1625, it was abandoned and a new one, further to the south, was set to be built in an area the monks bought from the father of the Agha of Androusa for 10,500 piastres. The main church of the new monastery was built in 1701 and it is celebrated at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church is a Byzantine domed cruciform that houses the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary Voulkaniotissa. Every year, on the 15th of August the icon is transferred with a special ritual to the old monastery and the celebrations begin. Moreover, on the night of the 19th-20th September, it is transferred to the city of Messini, escorted by believers. After a 20 kilometre hike, the icon is deposited for an eight-day pilgrimage, before being returned to Voulkano. This procession is carried out in commemoration of the divine intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary during a plague that affected the entire area of Messinia circa 1755. Relics of many saints are also kept in the new monastery, while there is also a notable library with books both old and new. The monastery still operates nowadays as a male convent that boasts a profoundly remarkable work.