The little white church of Aghia Irini, perched near tip of Cape Maleas on its western side, was built on the ruins of an older monastery.
The altar screen is decorated with icons by the monk Nestor Vasalakis. Beside the church are monks’ cells, once part of the monastery complex and now available for the use of visitors, by arrangement.
Seamen and fishermen throughout the ages have known about this church and that of Aghios Georgios a little further south, right on the tip of the cape, both of which have attracted pilgrims from around the world.
According to the researcher Dr. Eleftherios Alexakis "places assume the form of a mythological text linked directly and indirectly with the collective memory and imagination" (2011). A typical example is the tradition surrounding the origins of the monastery of Aghia Irini, as told by a resident of the village of Velanidia:
Once upon a time, as a ship was about to sail from Piraeus for Mani, in the southern Peloponnese, a young blind girl approached the captain and his crew and asked them to take her wherever they were going. At first the captain refused, but eventually gave in to the girl's entreaties. But when they reached Cape Maleas, they decided to put her ashore. After giving her some bread, olives and water, they wished her good luck and left her by a cave.
When her food was all gone, she found some water in the cave. After drinking the water and making a wish, she slowly began to gain her sight. Looking up at the mountain, on a high rock she saw a strikingly beautiful young woman, who greeted her. When the girl asked her who she was she replied: " I am Aghia (Saint) Irini. I have made you well and that is my home over there. Don't be afraid, for I will always come to your aid.
As soon as she had spoken, the woman disappeared. Greatly moved, the girl climbed up quickly to look for the saint's hermitage. But she found nothing. She realised that somewhere nearby, the saint's icon would be found. Later, the girl married a local nobleman and told him the story, adding that the only thing she asked of him was to go to Cape Maleas to the place where she had seen the saint, to look for her icon and build a monastery to her there.
Her husband raised no objection and gathered together a number of labourers and headed for the cape. After digging in several places, they found the saint's icon a few days later, and built the monastery of Aghia Irini that still stands there today.
Source: Stavrianos 1968, 52-55, from Anarygyros P. Kounoupas, Velanidia.
How to reach:
From Aghios Nikolaos village, take the road south to Aghia Marina and the petrified forest. Continue for a few more kilometres towards the cape on a fairly rough unsurfaced road until the beginning of the D12 hiking route. (parking coordinates)
It takes at least an hour to reach the monasteries along a narrow path a few metres above the sea. The path is vertiginous in places, but the views over the sea to Kythera, Antikythera and Elafonisos are breathtaking. On a clear day the mountains of western Crete can be seen to the southeast.
It is possible to reach a small landing stage below the monasteries by boat, but only in calm weather.
About the Cape Maleas cache series
The series of caches around Cape Maleas are intended to get geocachers to visit some of the highlights of this ancient land. Most of them are not easy to reach but the experience is very rewarding. Please keep in mind that these areas are not touristical and most of the caches don't have any kind of water or facilities nearby. Also please be very careful not to leave any trash or otherwise alter the scenery (do not remove fossils or other items). If you need any further information or assistance, please contact me anytime and I'll be happy to help. So, welcome to the southeast edge of continental europe and enjoy your walks in this well hidden paradise.