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The Monastery of Chozoviotissa

The Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa or simply Hozoviotissa is considered to be the top sight on the island of Amorgos. It is called the “jewel” of the Aegean Sea! It is undoubtedly the most important religious monument on the island. It was built in the ninth century (812 – 813 AD) and renovated in 1088 AD by Byzantine Emperor Alexios A. Komninos. The monastic structure appears to be carved into the steep rock-face, and the surrounding landscape ensures that it is visible only from the sea.

The citizens of Amorgos consider Panagia Chozoviotissa to be the protector of their island. The building is forty meters long and five meters wide and consists of eight different levels-floors. The entrance staircase is literally joined to the rock-face and leads the visitor to the fourth floor. The Monastery has fifteen monastic cells, among a total of seventy-two (72) different rooms. The complex and labyrinthine interior includes many Byzantine or Venetian (1296-1537) archways, built using stones or limestone from Milos, wooden beams and wooden bindings. The monks’ cells, the dining room, the kitchens, ovens, store-room, cisterns and wells all cling to the natural rock that acts as a functional structure and constitutes a prime example of functional popular architecture.

The Monastery is currently home to three monks. You are certain to be awestruck as you enter the Monastery and climb the steep steps and look out onto the view of the wild and beautiful open sea. The small arched chapel contains, among other things, living testimony to the local oral tradition that has the icon arriving on the island from Hozova (or Chozovo) in Palestine: the two inscribed icons of Panagia Hozoviotissa and the chisel of its head craftsman, real evidence of the narrative “about the exact position Panagia (Virgin Mary) ordered for her temple to be built”.

Also, the silver inscribed flabbelum of the church is important physical evidence of the story of the foundation of the Monastery, which, as the flabbelum indicated “was renovated by the Great Alexios Komninos the First”, the Emperor of Byzantium (1081-1118). The name “Hozoviotissa” was created by the linguistic corruption of “Hozovitissa” or “Kozivitissa”, which comes from the place name “Hoziva” or “Koziva” in the Holy Lands, currently Wadi Qilt of Jericho. According to written data, important Orthodox monasteries were founded there in early Christian times.

In the times of the Iconomachy, in the 8th and 9th century, monks tried to save the icon by placing it in a boat, and it miraculously arrived by sea to the bay of Agia Anna in Amorgos. For the next thirty to fifty years, the icon was kept in the chapel of Kyra-Leousa, at the foot of the Castle in Chora.

The decision to built the Holy Monastery was made in the ninth century, and the difficulties and challenges of such an undertaking were not, initially, taken into account. The proposed location of the structure was inaccessible, steep, rocky, and even dangerous for anyone involved in the building of the new Monastery. The location was selected because of its similarity to the landscape of Hoziva in Palestine. Initially, construction of the Monastery of Chozoviotissa started lower down, around 260 meters below its current location. However, all of the exhausting work that took place during the day would be destroyed by unknown forces during the night.

Seeing this, and upset by the disappointment in the faces of everyone involved in the construction of the Holy Monastery, the head craftsman prayed to the Virgin Mary for a sign of where to build the Monastery. Next day, he found all of his tools – including the chisel and straw work-bag – hanging from the point where the belfry is today. (Currently, the tools are stored inside the Monastery chapel). The work started again, but very slowly, and the construction was not completed.

In the year 1088 AD, Emperor Alexios A. Komninos ordered the construction of the Holy Stavropegic Monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos on the island of Patmos. It was at this time that the emperor was also informed on the incomplete effort to build the Monastery in Amorgos. He promptly issued a mandate for the successful renovation and completion of the Holy Monastery in its current form. In fact, the monasteries of Patmos and Amorgos were then declared sister establishments, thus cementing their status.

The Holy Monastery of Hozoviotissa was transferred to the Hellenic Church, and specifically to the Holy Metropolis of Thera, Amorgos and islands. The Monastery (just 2 kilometers away from Chora) celebrates on November 21st each year, on the same date as the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. Pilgrims from all of the surrounding islands visit the monastery on that date, and visitors from all over the world arrive there throughout the year, and especially during the island’s high tourist season in the summer.

You can reach the Monastery on foot in about twenty minutes, taking the footpath that starts from the edge of Chora, to the right of Kalogerikos spot. When you reach the tarmac road, follow the signs to the Monastery until you reach the gate. Please note that the Monastery is closed from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Alternatively, park your car or motorcycle outside the gates and climb the 300 or so paved steps up to the Holy Monastery. From the entrance the view of the deep blue sea unfolding endlessly below the Monastery is breathtaking. Climb the last steps and enter through the low doorway (below the post-Byzantine marble door-frame dating from the 15th century); inside the Monastery, you will be treated "loukoumi" (Turkish delight), traditional “psimeni” raki from Amorgos, and Greek coffee. A few more steps will bring you to the chapel and to the holy icon of Virgin Mary. Don’t miss the chance to meet the Archimandrite Spyridon Denaxas.
 
As a visitor to the Monastery, don’t forget to sign the visitors’ book and buy a few souvenirs from the store located the car-park. Before leaving the Monastery, take a few minutes to admire the view from the open balcony outside the chapel – see the  “Big Blue” stretching out before you and merging with the horizon! This is definitely a scene to capture on camera!.