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The Last Monk of a Monastery-Fortress on a Remote Greek Island

father Grigorios, Greek Orthodox Monk Strofades monastery fortress
Father Grigorios, a Greek-Orthodox monk lived 38 years of his life in a monastery-fortress on the remote Ionian island of Strofades. Public Domain

This is the story of Father Grigorios, a Greek-Orthodox monk who lived 38 years of his life, almost alone, in a medieval monastery-fortress on the small Ionian island of Strofades.

Father Grigorios passed away on Monday, July 31, 2017, at his home village of Agala, Zakynthos, where he returned in 2014 due to ill health.

Strofades is a group of two small Greek islands in the middle of the Ionian Sea. The larger island is Stamfani while the smaller one is Arpia. Both are sparsely vegetated and rocky. They are located 27 nautical miles south of Zakynthos. The only way to visit the island is by private boat.

The medieval monastery of the Blessed Mother of God which dominates Stamfani at Strofades was built in the year 1241 at the request of Princess Irene, daughter of the Nicea Emperor who, thanks to those islands, survived a shipwreck.

The monastery has also served as a fortress that survived the onslaughts of both nature and marauding pirates through the centuries.

In the past, many monks resided at the monastery—among them, Saint Dionisios, the patron saint of Zakynthos.

The monastery of the Blessed Mother of God on the Greek island of Strofades
The monastery of the Blessed Mother of God on the island of Strofades. Credit: Martinehp , CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

Father Grigorios settled in the monastery in 1976. Until 1985, his only company was a lighthouse keeper and a fisherman who brought him supplies from Zakynthos every fortnight.

The lighthouse became automated in 1985, and Father Grigorios was left alone with only his chicken, some goats, the migratory birds, and the occasional summer tourist to keep him company.

An earthquake damaged the historic monastery-fortress of Strofades

On November 18, 1997, a severe earthquake of a magnitude of 6.6, centered on the Strofades, caused serious damage to the historic monastery. This was the only time that Grigorios fled the island for several days.

Monk Strofades monastery fortress
A monastery building was damaged by earthquakes. Public Domain

Some repairs have been made over the years to the ancient building. The monastery tower was reinforced by iron bars to prevent its collapse, and it continues to stand, though in a precarious state.

Speaking to a reporter several years ago, Grigorios said that his diet was basic, mainly greens that he grew himself, as well as the milk and cheese from his goats.

The life of seclusion he had chosen, however, had an impact on his health. In 2014, Father Gregoris left his beloved monastery of Strofades to settle in Zakynthos, where he passed away.

Today, this monumental complex poses a huge challenge for Greece. Decisions must be taken promptly. The monastery is in critical condition with an urgent need for restoration following two catastrophic earthquakes. The next one could spell the end of it.

While most folks drawn to the islands of the Strofades are pulled in by the remarkable fortress-monastery located there, the islands are known for much more. They are considered nationally significant landmarks for their rich vegetation, stunning cedar trees, and plethora of bird species.

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