Gerasimos was born into the Notaras aristocratic family of
Trikala Korinthias in 1506. His parents were Dimitrios and
Kallie Notara. His grandfather Lucas, the last prime minister
of Byzantium, was a relative of Constantine Paleologos, the
Emperor of Byzantium.
On reaching maturity, he became a monk and studied on Mt. Athos. He set off for
Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, eventually becoming a candle lighter at the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre. Patriarch Germanos of Jerusalem ordained the monk to the
deaconate and then the priesthood. He toured all the sacred places in Greece,
spending five years in Zakynthos, finally settling down in a cave near Spilia,
outside Argostoli in 1560.
The Cave is located in the area of Lassi in Argostoli. On the north side of the
cave there is a natural hole offering natural light and a view to the sea. Today
the cave has been incorporated in a small church that constitutes one of the
buildings of a small manly hermitag.
He founded a women's monastery, which is named after him on the Plain of Omala,
of which mention is made in the Land Register of the Catholic Church dating from
1264. The old monastery is built over the cave where St Gerasimos lived as a
hermit and can be reached by climbing down a ladder into the cavern below. Under
the monastery lies a 2-room cave he built. He used to live, sleep and pray there.
To go from one room to the next, one must crawl through an approximately 15 inch
square hole. Legend has it that if the Saint so desires a large person can fit
through it and anyone who can do this and emerge spotlessly clean has lived a
There are several trees that he planted around the monastery area. The miracle
with these really old plane trees is that the trunks spew out five thick branches
that are supposed to resemble and represent his hand facing the sky. There are no signs of manipulations to the trees to cause them to grow five branches. It
has also been said that he unearthed 40 wells near the Valsamata village plain.
He died peacefully on August 15, 1579 at the age of 71 and was canonised by the
Ecumenical Pa in 1622. When his relics were unearthed on October 20, 1581, his
body was found to have undergone no decomposition. His body was then placed on
the roof of the monastery to test if his body will decompose, but it didn't.
It exhumed a pleasant flowery scent. Since then, his body rests in a silver coffin
inside the monastery chapel. Thousands of people of every religion come to visit
the Saint hoping for a miracle on them or loved ones. It is believed that for
his exalted life, he was given the gift of healing and of casting out evil spirits.
Many believe that he performs miracles on the two feast days.
Its main feast days are on August 16th, the day after his death as it coincides
with the celebrations at The Church of the Virgin Mary, Lagouvarda, (see
below) and on October 20th (the removal of his relics). On both
dates, the Saint's sarcophagus is taken outside the church where it is kept,
and laid with reverence at a distance of 500 meters under the huge plane tree
which stands by the well which the Saint is said to have dug with his own hands.
So strong is the belief in this legend that the chapel in which Saint Gerasimos
rests is packed with pilgrims wishing to pay their respects. It is also said
that on his feast days, when his body is carried in procession, new miracles
have taken place.
The Church of the Virgin Mary,
Many years ago, the villagers in Markopoulo in Southern Kefalonia noticed tall
flames emerging from a burning tree high up on the hillside. At first they thought
that the forest was on fire and rushed to put it out before it could destroy
the forest and the village itself. When they arrived at the spot they found that
the tree had been burned to the ground and at its root was an icon of the Holy
Virgin left untouched by the fire. Full of emotion, they held the icon and paid
their respects. Happily they brought the icon back to the village and placed
it inside the village church on the main square.
The following morning when the rest of the village people came to pay their respects,
the icon was gone and nowhere to be found. One of the villagers who had gone
up the mountainside found the icon laying by the burnt tree and brought it back
to the village, asking around to find out who had taken it there. As a result,
this time the villagers decided to lock the icon in the church. Three times they
did this and every time the icon would reappear at the spot of the burnt tree.
This led the villagers to believe that the Holy Virgin really desired to be there
so they built a church on this location and dedicated an icon stand to Her. A
little later, this developed into a convent.
Local legend says that in 1705 pirates attacked the monastery and the frightened
nuns prayed to be changed into snakes in order to escape from the cruelty of
the pirates. Their prayers where answered and, at the sight of the snakes, the
pirates run away; since then, the nuns-snakes return each year to the monastery,
bringing good luck and prosperity to the village. This legend explains the phenomenon
that happens every August the 15th, on the Virgin Mary’s feast day: the
strong sounds from the church bells make the snakes come out from their nests
and what is very characteristic is that they allow the people to touch them,
just for this day and then disappear.
What is one to say about this phenomenon? If one accepts miracles, then there
is nothing to be said. If one seeks a natural explanation, he can say that we're
dealing with a non-poisonous snake species that developed and multiplied in that
ravine, originally because the ground was right and eventually because the villagers
did not harm them. Through time, both the snakes and people got used to not fearing
each other. This period in August possibly marks their mating and reproducing
cycle. This along with the noise from the bells ringing and the festivities arises
them and makes them emerge from their nests. Unresisting and trusting, they then
allow themselves to be handled by people.
Scientists have tried to explain this phenomenon by saying that the church is
situated lengthways on the natural migration route of the small snakes. Nevertheless
the believers of the St. Gerasimos miracles attribute this to him.
The islanders say that the snakes have not appeared
on only two occasions when the island suffered difficult times
. . .
. . . during the war of 1940 and in 1953 when the devastating earthquake destroyed
most of the island.