September 6, 2010

Holy Panormitis Monastery of the Archangel Michael in Symi

The Archangel Michael Monastery of Panormitis

The monastery is located on the south end of Symi, situated on the sea front of the tiny village of Panormitis. It is a closed in cove with a small sandy beach, protected by a narrow inlet that opens out into a wide harbour. The mountainous backdrop is covered with pine trees which give the area an ambiance of solitude.

The monastery is a large 18th-century Venetian styled building with the highest baroque bell tower in the world. The facade of the main structure is white and it stretches along the coast on either side of the main gateway. In excellent condition, the Italians constructed these two rows of buildings after World War II. These buildings now contain holiday flats that can be rented by tourists visiting the monastery and also contain a bakery among other things.

Once inside the monastery main gate, visitors are welcomed by an inner courtyard, decorated with exotic trees and plants, and paved with 'hokhlakia'. The church dedicated to the Panormiti is on the left and inside contains the 2-metre high, silver-leafed, wall icon of the Panormiti. The entire church interior is covered with iconography (of particular interest is the 'fall of the angels' mural at the back of the church) and is decorated with very elaborate chandeliers.

The exact historical date of the construction of this church remains unknown but some suggest that it was built around 450 AD over the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the pagan god Apollo. It is known for certainty that the existing church underwent a major renovation in the 18th century to bring it to the standard that is in existence today.

The monastery has two museums. One houses ecclesiastical art, and is rich in exhibits like pontificals, silver icons, Russian epitaphs and ecclesiastical utensils, ship model offerings brought to Panormitis from far away by the sea, and one of folk art with important objects of the folk culture of the island, relevant to fishing, agriculture and shepherding. There is also a library with Byzantine manuscripts and editions of ecclesiastical, historical and philological content, as well as a gallery with paintings of the landscape of the monastery and its two chapels. There is also memorial to a former abbot, two monks and two teachers, who in 1944, were executed for running a spy radio for the British commandoes.

The monastery receives heaps of day-trippers from Rhodes, so if you really want to enjoy it in peace and quiet it is best to wait until they have gone. The monastery's dorm-house can host up to 500 people. The only way to get to the monastery is via a ferry or excursion boat. If you are already on the island, there is a road that exists between the monastery and the town of Symi. This can take over six hours to walk or an hour using a local bus service or rented scooter.

Panormitis Icon

In the church is the famous icon of the Archangel Michael Panormitis, who is not only considered the island's patron saint but also the guardian of sailors in the entire Dodecanese area.

One story is that this icon appeared miraculously and, on several occasions, was removed only to reappear mysteriously in this same location. The church was then built over the location, which, other sources suggest, was also a temple to Apollo.

Folklore and tradition

According to legend, if you ask a favour from Archangel Michael, you must promise to give something in return.

The tradition of the broom offering

The locals of the Dodecanese are known to offer a traditional broom. Church tradition has passed down that monks from the monastery would hear the Saint sweeping his monastery at night with this broom offerings. Local tradition has passed down that many would be visited by the Archangel in their sleep who would ask them for the brooms.

Fulfil your promise ... or else ...

The Archangel Michael is famous in the Dodecanese for his righteous nature. If you have made an offering to him and do not fulfull it, he will make it clear through various miracles that he is not pleased - until you complete your promise. One famous miracle that occurs often and to this day, is the miracle of the Archangel preventing the boats from leaving the dock. This has become such a regular occurance, that the Captains of the boat will announce over the PA to the passengers that someone on the boat has forgotten a promise to the Taxiarchi (Archangel). Once this promise is fulfilled, then and only then does the boat's engines work.

Message in a bottle

Another item of interest is the bottles with prayers inside. The origin's of this tradition are owed to the Greek sailors, who would cast these into the sea and would end up, mysteriously, on the shoreline of the monastery. Today, many believers still practise this tradition. If you visit the museum these messages have been kept for anyone to read.

As a result of these traditions, the inside of the church is decorated with an array of gifts given by the devout pilgrims. There have been so many of these gifts that a lot of them can be viewed in the museum and include model ships made from gold and silver. The monastery is also filled with wonderful paintings, carvings and icons depicting various saints.

Other churches of Archangel Michael in Symi

If visiting the island of Symi for this monastery, it is also worthwhile visiting the Monastery of Roukounioti, also dedicated to the Archangel Michael and the Monastery of Kokkimidis. The Monastery of Roukounioti has remarkable murals dating from the 14th century. The Monastery of Kokkimidis, on the other hand, is a old Byzantine monastery renovated in 1697.

Other monasteries of interest include the Monastery of Sotiros and of Stavros Polemou which are on the west coast of the island. Most of the churches on this island are dedicated to the Archangel Michael.


Panormitis Monastery (From the Official Metropolis Website)


The Monastery reports to the recently (in July 2004) founded Holy Metropolis of Symi, who is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Metropolis consists of Symi, where its premises are cited to be the islands of Telos, Chalki, Kastellorizo.

A conservancy (council) consisting of the Prime, the Maire, and the citizens, is at the head of the administration of the Metropolis.

The conservancy meets once a month. The members of the council vote and their decisions are to be approved by the Bishop so as to become legal.

The Monastery is not a public entity. It legally has a permanent staff of 35 persons (blue and white collars).

There is a manager of the technical works, supervising the works of infrastructure, and the reservation of the building.

There are also several specialists working here, such as a carpenter, a driver technicians, builders, a gardener, scaffies, chambermaids, cooks, etc.

The administration offices are situated within the Monastery premises. The administration is exercised by a Secretary Officer, a warehouse man, a financial manager, under the supervision of the abbot.

In the monastery, there is a nursery home where 20 over-aged natives can find professional health care and warm shelter. In this unit, skilled health workers specialized in this kind of care, are working on a 24 hour basis.

The foundation premises

The new building of the foundation has been built in the most high standards offering 20 bedrooms, a comfortable living room and a fully equipped cooking preparation department.

Next to these quarters, the Monastery has recently paid for the building of a new church.

In this chapel - where the Evangelists Mark and Matthew are honored - the guests of the Foundation can find spiritual comfort.

Around the Panormitis Monastery, there are rooms to rent to the visitors, in extremely low prices. Many pilgrims choose to enjoy the landscape and the spirituality of the orthodoxy.

A visitor may have access to the Monastery either from the island of Rhodes or by the port of Symi island.

Buses or private cars and taxis can cross the mainland of the island along from the port up to the Monastery.

Similarly, many boats sail from Rhodes island every day at 09.00pm (during summer). The visitor can take breakfast or lunch, in the restaurant, the traditional wood oven and the café of the monastery.

The foundation of Panormitis supports the social life of the natives in many ways.

35 natives work for its nursery home and it supports financially many destitues as well.

The foundation also sponsors many organizations and gives many scholarships to students. On the name day of the angels, on November 8th, every year, the Monastery honors the Holy angels of the sky.

Thousands of pilgrimers come here to celebrate together the Archangel Michael.

After the holy liturgy, the icon of the Archangel Michael is carried around the Monastery (it is a tradition in Greece).

The Monastery gives a reception open to any pilgrims arriving that day - according to the port authorities, the arrivals of the name day rise to the enormous number of 7000.


Since the early times of Christianity, according to various written sources and particularly to Paul’s Epistle to Collossians, the heresy of angel worship was in its prime in Phrygia of Asia Minor (region opposite to Symi Island).

It was believed, then, that men were not fair enough to contact with God.

This conception influenced the inhabitants of the Aegean Sea and thus, new centers of worship were created in Symi. These were specially inclined to angel worship in parallel to the godliness of the locals. These centers survive even when this heresy gave its place to Orthodoxy.

In sum, there are nine monasteries devoted to the Archangel Michael (equal in number to the nine sections of angels).

The biggest monastery is that of Panormitis lying in the southern edge of the island. It was built in the inmost part of the pittoresque cove of Panormos. The monastery is named after this ‘panormos’ (where all the currents are hushed).

According to a local legend, the church had been built soon after a lady named “Maria from Protenio” - who was a pious native - found an icon of St Michael.

That lady donated her own house for the church to be built. The temple of our times was built in the 18th century - in 1783 - as engraved on an epigraph of marble found on an outer wall.

The temple is a basilika with two inner cross cupolas fully painted. The painting of sacred icons was carried out by native painters (Neophytos and Kyriakos Karakostis) in 1792.

The excellent frame work scran is a brilliant product of fine skill chancel and patience of a great artist named Drakos Tolidouros coming from Kos Island. This started its construction in the same year with the church but was not fulfilled until fifteen years later.

The sparkling icon of St Michael in natural size surprises the visitor as it inspects the Katholikon (the inner church).

The silver cover all wrought in relief gives further brilliance and splendor to the luminous figure of the Archangel. It was made by a silversmith named Ioannis Peloponisios in 1794, on the local community’s expenses.

This was proved by an iambic epigraph saved on the surface of the sword on the right hand of the archangel. St Michael is portrayed dynamic and as a vanquisher. A sweetness is imprinted on his divine face.

A dead human body is lying under his feet. The Archangel is pictured carrying on his left hand a baby - symbolizing the soul of that dead man. This is a reminder of his role as a soul-carrier angel. In the course of history the Monastery took action on national protests and showed noticeable charity.

The monks living here, for the sake of the Orthodox faith, were contended under difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, they also took part in the revolutions of the nation. The scholar abbot of the monastery Nicandros Filadelphos being a prominent member of the Filiki Etaireia contributed to the Greek Revolution of 1821.

During the Greek Revolution of 1821 many military ships from Hydra island sought for help at the Monastery. The soldiers payed back that help, building a reception room in the court of the Monastery. They named that room “Hydraeko” after Hydra island, the country of those soldiers.

In this very place, the second congress of the citizens of the Dodecanese took place in 1919. Then, the natives came to the resolution of unification with the rest of the other Greek territories.

During the World War 2 the Monastery became the center of the intelligence service of the Alliance, as in its premises a wireless was operating.

The abbot Chrysanthos Maroulakis, together with a Greek wireless operator named Floros Lambros were arrested and executed by the Germans in February 1944. At the Monastery’s expenses a bronze monument has been built as a memorial.

The foundation contributed enormously to the education of the youngsters of the island, founding the school of St Marina and the High School of Panormitis in 1922 (by the abbot Makarios Barvas).

In its museums the visitor can see a rich collection of heirlooms. They are placed in order as manuscripts decorated with colorful additions, portable icons, valuable sacred articles, gold–knitted vestments, silver buckles and numerous valuable ex- votos.

The big gold–knitted epigraph is worth noticing: it was made in Russia in 1852 of red velvet. In the center the body of Jesus is knitted in relief, and is surrounded by His mother, by angels and the Myrrhbearers.

The knitting style is fine and artificial. It is narrating the divine sweetness of Christ. The rest of the people express depressed pain, gentleness and peace.

The epitaphion is surrounded by the apolytikion “The noble Joseph …” in gold-knitting as well. This is a present of the Russian consul in Constantinople Zachary Zacharov to the abbot of that time. The latter had been one of the consul’s educators during his service in Constantinople.

In the first room of the same museum, numerous ships are exhibited. Most of them sailed here in the bay of the monastery.

Many bottles and boxes to the archangel protector Michael are also exhibited in the same museum. In the museum of folklore, we can see a collection of sea antiquities, the old cellar, the traditional houseware of Symi, the first cuisine of the monastery, agricultural utensils, weights and measures of the 19th century, the room and the loom, etc. In another place all the personal items of the executed Abbot Chrysanthos are kept.

The library comprises 6000 volumes on various subjects as theology, philosophy, math, medicine, literature etc. In our gallery many paintings are exhibited: all of them represent the monastery or the island.

The Great Trapeza (Dining room) is situated in the yard. It is really big and has been decorated recently with large size icons of the Twelve Feasts “Dodecaeorton”. Concerts of Byzantine music take place in this room where 3000 people can sit and dine.

On the name day of the angels they do so, indeed. In the same place, there is a little chapel devoted to St John the Forerunner, that was renewed in 1987. The other chapel of the monastery next to katholikon, is devoted to the Annunciation of Virgin Mary.

The foundation also sponsors many organizations and gives scholarships to students.