On a mountain resembling a ship, above Livadi, is a monastery called Agia Elessa. It owes its name to a woman who became a martyr on the spot where it was built.
Ayia Elessa came from the Peloponnese. She was the daughter of a wealthy man named Elladios who was a pagan. Her mother, Eugenia was a devout Christian. Elladios and Eugenia were unable to have children. However, through the power of prayer, Eugenia miraculously became pregnant and Elessa was born. The child was raised as a Christian. Eugenia died when Elessa was only 14 years of age, thus leaving her as the lady of her father’s house. From such a young age, Elessa converted to Christianity and sought to help the poor people in her community.
Her father attempted to force her to marry a pagan ruler but she refused. He continued to persecute her for her Christian beliefs.
One day when her father left on a trip, Elessa divided all her belongings and gave them to the less fortunate before leaving for Kythera, on a boat with her most loyal of servants. Along the way, she performed miracles such as healing a man who had been bitten by a snake.
According to the Church’s texts, Elessa arrived on Kythera in 375AD, wanting to live out her life totally dedicated to God. Upon her father’s return from his trip, he was enraged to learn about Elessa’s departure and pursued her to Kythera. He then followed her up a mountain where he found her and tortured her mercilessly. She escaped from him through a split in the rock face of the mountain that suddenly appeared. However, he finally caught up with her and decapitated her.
In 1871, the Monastery of Ayia Elessa was built on the mountain where she suffered her martyrdom. Her remains are buried there. A monument has been placed near the split in the rock. The mountain is 433m high and offers amazing views of almost the entire island and the southern coastline of Kythera as well as sweeping views towards Anti-Kythera and Crete.
Ayia Elessa’s remarkable but short life is celebrated on the island every 1st August with a beautiful service and Panayiri at the Monastery.