view over the valley from the monastery of timios prodromes

Nature, religion, and a box of bones. The monastery of Timios Prodromes

The holy monastery of Timios Prodromes offers everything a culture-loving tourist in Greece desires. From the mountainous landscape to incredible architecture, fascinating stories, religion, and exclusivity. With just 50 reviews on Google, this monastery might be the hidden gem of Greece.

Arcadia, Peloponnese

Religion / Nature

2 hours

Free

Yes

No

Location

The holy monastery of Timios Prodromes lies just west of Argos, in the Arcadia region of Peloponnese. This region is known to hold the oldest signs of human life but is still an area filled with lush green mountains and a limited population today. Arcadia’s beauty made its name develop into a poetic term. The idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.

Driving to the monastery, you discover what poets mean with Arcadia. A small winding road leads you away from Argos. Over the mountains, along steep cliffs, and through old forests and small villages, you reach the monastery. Only the journey by itself is a beautiful adventure.

the monastery of timios prodromes from afar. three white buildings in steep grey and red cliff on green mountain
The monastery of Timios Prodromes from far

Architecture

Greeks have proven to be masters in the matter of the architecture of religious buildings. Churches and monasteries all around the country are built in the most surprising and remote places. The monastery of Timios Prodromes belongs to this category.

The monastery is located around a cave in the hollow of a cliff, 200 meters above the ground. From afar the religious site is an almost invisible structure in a giant gorge. Close by, however, the monasteries multiple story counting man-made buildings are revealed.

There is a central courtyard with a church, refectory, and guest rooms in the three surrounding buildings. Each of these buildings is integrated into the cliff, with at least one natural interior wall, the mountain itself. For the man-made part of the buildings, a similar rock is used. You can feel the connection this monastery has with nature everywhere.

the monastery of timios prodromes from the courtyard. stone building with wooden balustrade en pitched roof underneath a rocky cliff and blue sky
One of the buildings at the monastery of Timios Prodromes

History

The cave behind the monastery was used in ancient times to worship Pan. Pan is the God of the wild, shepherds, and flocks, with his homeland in Arcadia. In the 8th century, the cave started being used for the religion we know today, and in 930 the first monastery was built. Making the monastery of Timios Prodromes the oldest monastery in Greece. However, the entrance says that the opening was at 1126, and what happened in the 200 years in between is unclear.

What is clear is that the monastery has played a significant role in many wars due to its remote location. It has been a refuge for the civilian population, a military hospital, and a supply station for Greek soldiers. 

During the Second World War, German soldiers came to the monastery for food but offended the Orthodox faith. This made one of the priests very angry, and he forced a German soldier to the ground. The rest of the priests got afraid. “They will kill us all!” They ordered the priest to stop and offered food to the soldiers. The priest, however, became the high priest of the region due to this heroic attack on the German soldier.

The monastery has been the main monastery in the area until the 1960s. Then, a nearby and better accessible monastery received the tears of the virgin Mary, something that is believed to only occur in the holiest places in Greece. People stopped coming to the monastery of Timios Prodromes. From 2004 till 2009, the monastery, as well as the road leading there, were renovated. An effortful job since materials still had to be brought up by hand. However, this did not increase the number of visitors. The monastery is mostly quiet, without tourists, both religious and cultural.

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The experience

When entering the monastery, the place seemed deserted. There was no sound other than the rushing of the wind. The only sign of life was a black garden hose. Following this, lead to the courtyard of the monastery, where we first met father Germanos. He was watering his flowers, wearing capri pants, flip-flops, and sunglasses. We were afraid to disturb him or even see a priest without his religious attire. Father Germanos, however, was very pleased with our arrival. He greeted us friendly and spent the next two hours showing us around. Something very unique for Orthodox priests, who usually just mind their own business.

entrance of monastery timios prodromes with marble entrace and steel gate. A black lantern on curved ceiling light coming through hallway woman entering with backpack and long skirt
The entrance of the monastery of Timios Prodromes

The tour

The church

From the courtyard, he leads us to the church, where we light a candle and honor all the religious icons that are special to this place. In the church, some murals date back to the 18th century, and father Germanos tells a story about all of them. He describes how all Orthodox sanctuaries are located to the East but not here. This church is an exception and faces the South. Since it is built inside a cave, there wasn’t much to choose from in orientation, but the murals falsely claim the sanctuary does face East.

After the church, he takes us to a small staircase leading up to the cave where the history of this monastery started. But first, we enter the church’s attic. Here, he opens two wooden boxes, one filled with bones and the other one with skulls. The last resting place of the previous priests that served in this monastery.

The cave

The cave is extremely long and dark. He tells us how previous priests used to store food and fresh water here because it stays cool during the hot summer days. He takes out his mobile phone to turn on a flashlight and takes us to the back, where stalactites and stalagmites have grown over the years. A beautiful place!

The monastery

After the cave, he invites us to his current project, the renovation of the guest chambers. Small rooms, carved in the rock of the mountain, for his fellow priests from other monasteries. He renovates the rooms by himself, one by one, and he is very proud of his result so far. 

We climb to the roof of the monastery, where you can feel how small and vulnerable we humans are. Chunks of the cliff above have tumbled down on the roof. He proudly tells us that no one got injured from any falling rocks here. God protects all in this place.

The living quarters

At the end of our tour, father Germanos invites us into his house for fresh water and loukoumi, a traditional Greek sweet. He has a small home, with a living room and kitchen. And in his fridge is a small plate of fassolada. He explains how eating here is the same as anywhere else. Priests don’t eat meat, but do use a microwave to heat up his leftovers

Father Germanos seems sad when it is time to say goodbye and walks with us to the main entrance, continuing his storytelling. We are always welcome to come again, and may God protect us on the road home.

The buildings at the monastery of Timios Prodromes

Life at the monastery

Father Germanos lives most of his days in solitude. Or together with God but without other humans, as he calls it. He keeps himself busy with more than just praying since he has to take care of the monastery by himself. He waters the flowers, cleans the monastery, renovates the guest chambers, and gets his groceries from the villages around. 

Father Germanos has a friend in the village on the mountain on the other side. Another priest who helps him in the monastery when he asks. And he is happy when a visitor comes to see the monastery. However, father Germanos might get trapped for weeks during the winter months. Bad weather and cold can close down the road. He doesn’t worry or feel scared or alone when this happens. God will be with me and protect me, he says. His biggest fear seems to be an old cypress tree that grows in his garden. After 300 years, it started dying. He asks all his visitors how he can revive it. 

His life seems easy, and his calmness and contentedness add to the spirituality of the place. I am not religious, but the location and the openness of father Germanos at the monastery of Timios Prodromes made me feel something ethereal. Maybe not God, but at least thankful for nature and the opportunity to discover it. Grateful for my own life and happiness. Blessed with the experience of a place so pure.

Tips:

  • There are actually two monasteries with the name Timios Prodromos in Arcadia, Peloponnese. This is the one that we visited for this article.
  • Father Germanos is extremely welcoming but does not speak more than a few words of English and German. The best experience is, unfortunately, in Greek.
  • The monastery is not accessible by wheelchair or for people with difficulty walking. You can get to the entrance by car, but after you park, you have to climb some steep stairs to reach the entrance.
  • This is a monastery, meaning you can not enter with every type of clothing. Women need to wear a long skirt or dress, men can not wear shorts, and shoulders have to be covered. Read our tips for visiting religious sites.
  • Although father Germanos is really open, friendly, and even has some humor, he is also very religious. Don’t offend the Orthodox church and treat him with respect.
  • The holy monastery of Timios Prodromes is located in a beautiful mountainous landscape with many religious sites at amazing places. Combine with a visit to the small church inside an old church ruin just North of Nea Chora. Or the famous monastery of Panagia Melevi.
  • Not that much of a religious tourist? Go hiking in the beautiful mountains around, or enjoy the blue waters of the Argolic Gulf on the beaches around Astros.

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