March 9, 2021

Monastery of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in Sparta

At a beautiful, green location near Chrysafa, approximately 8 km northwest of Sparta, is one of the most important monasteries in Laconia, dedicated to the Holy Forty Martyrs.

It was founded in 1305 a little bit higher, at the gorge of the stream of Sophronis, and was transferred to the present day location in the beginning of the 17th century. At the old monastery the church had been constructed inside a natural formed cave and was painted by Constantine Manasses. Initially at the present day location were only the fields and its warehouses, but gradually the area became a metochion, and finally it became the main building of the complex, mainly due to the problems in the provision of goods and the safety of the monks, since the road to the old monastery was narrow and inaccessible. The monastery became a Stavropegic one in the 16th century by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and had several privileges, which allowed it to evolve into an important intellectual centre. But also Sultanate firmins were issued, which bestowed on the monastery extraordinary privileges and in general the Sultans never lagged behind in manifestations of favor to the monastery. In 1770 it was torched by the Turkish-Albanians and was abandoned, but it operated again in the years of the Revolution of 1821, and it proved to make a significant contribution for supplies and food and paying the ransom for prisoners. It was torched again in 1826 by Ibrahim, and in 1943 by the Germans.

The most important of document which was in the possession of the monastery is the Achtanames (Testament) of Muhammad, the founder of the religion of Islam. This testament was originally written by Muhammad for the Monastery of Sinai and with it granted the Church and its ministers, Bishops, Priests, Monks and Ascetics complete freedom in the exercise of their religious duties, exempted them from all forms of taxation and military duty, and in addition obliged the Muslims to protect them from those who bothered them. The Achtanames really helped the monastery in difficult days. Tradition states that the monastery used the Achtanames to defend itself against the predatory dispositions of the Turkish commanders, officials and all kinds of invaders, who disturbed the monastery and the monks, demanding money, food and so forth.

Externally it has the form of a fortress with a tall precinct shaped by the complexes of the cells and the auxiliary areas. At the centre of the yard is the katholicon, a cross-in-square church with a dome, which was built in 1620. In its masonry there is a lot ceramic decoration and incorporated ancient architectural members, while its interior is richly decorated. The wall paintings, of 1620, are the work of Georgios Moschos, famous painter of the Cretan School from Nafplio. Dim, mysterious and all-encompassing is the interior lighting of the katholicon, which a limited number of small windows have managed to create. Next to the katholicon is the Chapel of Zoodochos Pege (Life-Giving Spring) which dates from 1707 and is said to have hosted the underground, secret school in the years of the Turkish Occupation. Outside the precinct of the monastery, at a distance of about 300 meters, is the cemetery church, dedicated to All Saints. Also interesting are the older buildings of the monastery, like the refectory, which had wall paintings, the fotanamma, and the tower which had initially four floors. The monastery has an excellent library, relics and rare documents that are exhibited at its museum. It is a men’s monastery and celebrates on the 9th of March.