The quiet island of Strofades and its monastery were for centuries the target of brutal pirates, Turks and Algerians looking for treasures. One of the most horrific acts of terror occurred on 29 July 1537. It was on this date that Turks, who were at war with the Venetians over the island of Kerkyra (Corfu), came and burned Strofades Monastery down and massacred the monastic fathers within.
Their memory is commemorated annually with a feast at Strofades Monastery and the Monastery of Saint Dionysios in Zakynthos on September 29th. The monk Pachomios Rousanou wrote the Service in their honor.
Strofades (in Greek Στροφάδια; in Latin Strophades; also Stamphane Islands; Strivali) is a group of two small Greek islands in the Ionian Islands. They lie about 44 km (27 miles) south-southeast of the island of Zakynthos. Administratively they are part of the Municipality of Zakynthos. The larger island, Stamfani, is inhabited by one person, a monk who lives in the islands' only real structure, an impressive old monastery. The smaller is Arpia. Both are sparsely vegetated and rocky. The islands currently belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, which has prohibited hunting on the islands.
In 1241 the Roman princess Irene, daughter of Emperor Theodoros Laskaris I of Nicea, established an impressive fortified monastery dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ on the bigger of the islets. She did this after being saved from a shipwreck by the two islands as a thanksgiving to God. Dedicated also to the Virgin Mary, the monastery is also known as the Monastery of “Panagia Pantohara” (The Joy of All). In 1440 Emperor John Paleologos restored the monastery to make it into a fortress for protection. It is in this monastery that Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos, the protector saint of the island, lived as a monk for several years.
In 1570 Saint Dionysios was abbot of the Strofades Monastery. Following his death in 1622 he remained its protector through his miraculous holy relics which remained there until 22 August 1717. His relics were removed for safe-keeping since other Hagarene invasions were taking place as well as massacres of monastics. His incorrupt relics were brought to the island of Zakynthos on August 22, where they remain till this day and are yearly commemorated on that date.
The complex of the buildings is really impressive. In fact the monastery is strongly fortified to avoid the pirates invasions, very common in the past; Strofades Monastery has always been an ideal shelter for the pirates in cases of bad weather. The walls of the Monastery, 25 meters high, were really a good protection for those invasions and an impressive spectacle for the visitors of today. Stamfani has also an old lighthouse, constructed in 1887, one of the older lighthouses of Greece.
Before World War 2 the monastery was only inhabited by a few monks and two or three lighthouse keepers. After the war it was uninhabited until 1976. The building of this historic monastery suffered great damage from a violent earthquake (6.6 on the Richter scale on the 18th of November 1997).
Below is an excellent documentary on the Strofades islands in four parts.
A 93-page study of the Strofades Monastery can be read at this PDF file (in Greek).
Απολυτίκιον. Ήχος α'. Της ερήμου πολίτης.
Εν μονή των Στροφάδων θεαρέστως βιώσαντες και της εν Χριστώ απαθείας εποφθέντες κειμήλια υπέστητε βαρβάρων την ορμήν, Πατέρες, και μαρτύρων κοινωνοί ανεδείχθητε ως άρνες στυγνώς σφαγιασθέντες, οσιόαθλοι. Δόξα τω ενισχύσαντι υμάς, δόξα τω στεφανώσαντι, δόξα τω δωρουμένω δι' υμών πιστοίς τα κρείττονα.
Κοντάκιον. Ήχος πλ. δ'. Τη υπερμάχω.
Των αρετών τα τιμαλφέστατα κειμήλια και τα λαμπρότατα αθλήσεως αλάβαστρα, εν τη νήσω της Στροφάδος χειρί βιαία τους κτανθέντας ασκητάς ανευφημήσωμεν ως Πατέρων ιερόν και θείον σύλλογον ανακράζοντες: Χαίροις, Άγιον άθροισμα.
Χαίροις, των Πατέρων σεπτός χορός, των αναιρεθέντων εν Στροφάσιν ανηλεώς, χαίροις, συστοιχία λαμπρέ οσιοάθλων, οφρύν η των βαρβάρων καταπατήσασα.