The Sanctuaries of Ithomi
THE MONASTERY OF VOULKHANOS
The monastery of Voulkhanos devoted to the worship of Virgin Mary's (after her death), is built on the peak of mount Ithome, exactly on the spot the sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatas occupied in antiquity. Its establishment is traditionally attributed to monks who had found refuge there persecuted by the iconomachs in the year 725 during the reign of Leon Isauros. According to another literary tradition the monastery was erected on mount Ithome by the wife of the Emperor Andronikos Palaiologos. The icon of Theotokos (God's Mother), as people believe, is miraculous; it carries the inscription "Οδηγήτρα (Mary who leads the way) to mount Voulkhanos" and is ascribed to the Evangelist Loucas. In 1638 the church of the monastery was decorated with paintings of the brothers Demetrios and George Moschos, famous painters from Nauplia. The mane Voulkhanos or Vourkhanos first occurs in the synaxarion of Hosios Nikon, the so-called "Metanoeite" who was active in the 10th century. According to a literary source "Zeus had built city and castle called Velkia, which is now lying in ruins on Voulkhanos". The monastery bears the names Dorkanos (1583), Vourkanos (1630) and Voulkhanos (1769 and 1798) on the still preserved lead seals. In 1625, March 5, the monks bought, on the price of 10500 turkish grossia, a large area on the site of a deserted village, near a rich water spring, in order to build there the New Voulkhanos Monastery; they could not anymore go on living in the Old Monastery on top of Ithome where access was difficult, water scarce and living conditions miserable; the deserted village belonged to the father of Memet Aga from Androusa, it was situated to the east of Aghios Vaseilios and carried the albanian name Tzemi or Tzoumi.
THE SANCTUARY OF ZEUS ITHOMATAS
The highest peak of Ithome is occupied by the old monastery of Voulkhano. The sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatas, which was founded, according to tradition, by the rulers of the land, Polykaon and Messene. The leg of a bronze votive tripod found near the monastery indicates that the cult of Ithomatas goes back to at least the Geometric period. According to Pausanias (4.31.2), a music contest was held in early times. This can also be inferred from the verses of the 7th century BC poet Eumelos, which are evidence for, amongst other things, the existence and functioning of the sanctuary during the 7th century BC - that is, long before the foundation of Messene in 369 BC. The statue of Zeus is depicted on Messenian coins, brandishing a thunderbolt with his right hand and holding an eagle in his extended left. It appears that this type of Zeus with the thunderbolt was of small size and portable used in ritual processions. It was a work the sculptor Ageladas (early 5th c. BC) for the Messenians of Naupaktos, brought with them to Messene in 369 BC. The Messenian general Aristomenes offered three hundred prisoners of war, amongst them Theopompos, the king of the Lacedaemonians, as a noble sacrifice to Zeus Ithomatas. This human sacrifice calls to mind similar sacrifices made to Zeus Lykaios in Arcadia. Games called Ithomaia were held in honour of Zeus Ithomatas, organised by the agonothetai.