Monastery of Panagia Elonis

The majestic and imposing monastery of Panagia Eloni stands on a huge rocky crag of Mount Parnon, halfway between Leonidio and Kosmas, 14 kilometres from the former and 107 kilometres from Tripoli. The crag rises inside the Dafnon gorge, one of the many steep, wild gorges carved by the Dafnias River, ancient Selinountas. Following the river’s course, the visitor arrives before Parnon’s massive rock-face; a hanging balcony at the base of the monastery offers the awestricken viewer a spectacular sight.

The monastery’s spiritual radiance reaches beyond the confines of Kynouria, from Lakonia to the Argolid and the islands of Hydra and Spetses. Its feast day attracts pilgrims from all over Greece. The monastery celebrates the feast of the Dormition on August 23, but its main feast day is the Virgin’s Presentation to the Temple on November 21. Originally, the Panagia was celebrated as Zoodochos Pigi on August 15 (Dormition of the Virgin).

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The etymology of the monastery’s epithet is unknown. Elona may reflect the name of the site where the icon of the Virgin was found or where the monastery was built. The official patriarchal document that bestowed the monastery its stavropegial status refers to the monastery as “located on the site of Elona” (εις τοποθεσίαν Έλωνης καλουμένην). The epithet may derive from the word elos (swamp), possibly the monastery’s originally location. A monastic seal on a 1798 document reads ΘΕΙΟΣ ΝΑΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΥΠΕΡΑΓΙΑΣ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟΥ ΚΟΙΜΗΣΕΩΣ ΦΑΝΕΡΩΜΕΝΗΣ ΕΛΩΝΑ (Holy church of the most Holy Theotokos of the Dormition of Phaneromeni Elona).

Another theory suggests that the monastery was named after an early icon, which was brought to Tsakonia from Elos in Lakonia, an area that still has great faith in the protection of Elona. According to tradition, the inhabitants of Elos fled a Slav invasion in 582, some reaching Monemvasia and some settling in Tsakonia, the latter bringing an icon that preserved the name of their homeland (Elos, Elona).

A third hypothesis links the epithet Elona with the Tsakonian name Eouni for Eleousa (Merciful), and a fourth hypothesis links it with the name of a cave.

The second hypothesis is the most likely, since all of the others show greater etymologically weaknesses. Either way, the epithet appears to be early. It is possible that the name of Leonidio, the town established nearby in later times, derives from Elona (Elona > Elonidio); Agielidi, Leonidio in the Tsakonian dialect, derives from Agios Leonides. The monastery had a dependency at Leonidio, which Pouqueville called Eleonition.