The historical nunnery of Panagia of Vlacherna is in the settlement of Kato Panagia, 2.5 kilometres from Kyllini, on an altitude of 80 metres. It took its name from the Panagia of Vlacherna of Constantinople. The monastery is very old, with a long history. In 1978, inside the area of the monastery was built a nursing and retirement home for the penniless women of the area.
The monastery was probably founded before the 9th century. Its catholicon is dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Mother of God, celebrating in the 8th of September with huge festivities.
The catholicon itself is considered one of the most beautiful of the 13th century. The marble sculptures that are incorporated inside it come from an early Christian church that was destroyed in an earthquake. It also has great murals, dated to the middle of the 18th century.
In 1204 up to 1460, during the first Frankish rule, the monastery was under the hands of western monks of the Principality of Achaea. When Michael VIII Palaiologos regained Constantinople in 1261, most orthodox monasteries under the Latin monks were given back; Monastery of Vlacherna was an exception, though. In the 15th and 16th century, it remained under the monks of the Order of Fremenouroi, who also had the church of Agios Frangiskos in Kyllini under their control. The Greeks regained the church in 1628, abandoned and damaged. In 1826, two years before, it was burned by the forces of Ibrahim, and as a result, it was abandoned and what monks weren’t slayed, were captured. The only thing remaining of the original monastery was the catholicon, located in the centre of the courtyard.
The church is three-aisled, with a wooden roof and no dome. It is rectangle-shaped, divided in outer narthex, inner narthex or pronaos (vestibule), and main church (or nave). According to the archaeologists that did the restoration works in 1969, the older eastern part of the church is in Byzantine style, while the younger western in Romanic. When the Franks took control of the monastery, they altered the design of the church, completing it with the addition of the second storey of the inner narthex and the outer narthex, which is 11 by 3 metres.
In the south-eastern wall, they also added the vertical sundial of the monastery.
The byzantine part of the church was built with red porous stones shaped in regular rectangles, surrounded in all sides by a double line of optolithoi (a type of brick). In the inner narthex, there is a bilobed window supported by a marble base, decorated with Byzantine and Frankish decorations. Under that window is a white marble slate with reliefs carved on its lower side, while the upper is divided by arches in three parts, each decorated with the cross. Other symbols appearing are rosettes, tree leaves and the fish. The archaeologists think that those parts are from an early Christian period.
Over the window are engraved two more symbols; a corss with reosettes and great leaves in the corner, and over it, a pot out of which come sinuous vines with vine leaves and grapes carved around, also dated to the early Christian period. On the outer part, over the window, is a vertical solar dial, resembling the half of a flower with 25 petals, 80 by 30 centimetres.
Today, the monastery is equipped with a library where authentic patriarchal sigils are kept, along with manuscripts, printed books, the gospels, reliquaries, codices, ecclesiastical utensils and others.
Source: Metropolis of Elis
Books: “Ορλάνδος, 1924 Α. Βλαχέρναι της Ηλείας” and “Ορλάνδος, 1927, Μοναστηριακή αρχιτεκτονικής Α. και Β. Έκδοση 1958”