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July 26, 2011

The Tomb of Saint Paraskevi in Pounta

According to the tradition of the people of Epirus, St. Paraskevi was not martyred in Rome as indicated in her traditional hagiography, but in Thesprotia where the Monastery of Saint Paraskevi of Pounta stands today. According to this tradition strongly held by the locals, the headless body of St. Paraskevi was entombed here and her tomb can still be venerated today.

It is said that the persecutors of St. Paraskevi dragged her to the edge of the river Acheron to behead her. As the sword was raised over her head, she grabbed a stone pillar that she held so tightly that the print of her hands melted into it leaving an indelible mark. A church was eventually erected here by the faithful in her honor and housed her holy relics. Her skull was eventually placed in the walls of the church, though today it is kept in Petraki Monastery in Athens (skull is pictured below).

This tradition is reinforced for the following reasons:

1. According to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, through St. Paraskevi "many Greeks returned to the knowledge of God."

2. The Roman Martyrology omits any mention of her.

3. Many villages in Thesprotia located near the location of the martyrdom of St. Paraskevi celebrate their primary feast on July 26th in honor of St. Paraskevi, such as Valanidia, Kerasovo, Agia Kyriaki (Popovo), Tsangario, and Karamachi.

4. Portions of the skull and relics of St. Paraskevi remain throughout Greece. Petraki Monastery of the Bodiless Powers (Moni Petraki) in the center of Athens treasures part of the miraculous, myrrh-flowing skull of St. Paraskevi (along with relics of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene). Every Friday evening after Vespers, they serve Paraklesis to St. Paraskevi, and her relics are available for veneration. Also, Koutloumousiou Monastery of Mount Athos preserves a portion of her holy skull. Dionysiou Monastery of Mount Athos and the Monastery of Prophet Elias on Thira also have relics of St. Paraskevi, among others in Greece.

Today many faithful come to venerate the tomb of St. Paraskevi in Pounta and on July 26th a great feast is held in her honor.

According to the author and novelist Spyros Mouselimis, in his article "The Monastery of Pountas and the Feast of Saint Paraskevi" (Ηπειρωτική Εστία, 10, pp. 638-641, 1961), Pountas Monastery was known for its healing waters and numerous miracles. The pilgrims would cut off portions of the stone pillar of St. Paraskevi as a talisman, to the point that in 1960 the size of the stone was half its original size. He further writes:

"Lame and blind people come here to her tomb on her feast and leave strong. It was not too long ago (1952) where a crazy girl came here and the next day left reasonable and well. Out of her tomb there once flowed water through which the sick were healed. However a Turk came here to bathe his skin diseased bloodhound, and the water stopped, though the dog was healed."

According to the testimonies of soldiers during the Albanian war of 1940 St. Paraskevi appeared to many soldiers and saved them in miraculous ways.

The property of the Monastery at one time was very great. According to Lambridis, at the end of the 19th century the annual revenue of the Monastery was 20,000 piastres, from which a boarding school was supported on its premises until 1913. After the population exchange of 1923 the Monastery was abandoned and did not operate again until 1975. Only the eastern side of the original Holy Altar area of the Katholikon survives today, while the rest of the church was restored in 1989 together with the inscription for the tomb of St. Paraskevi.

Today the Monastery operates as a female convent.