The Cave of Panagia Arkoudiotissa or Arkoudospilios
About 2 kilometres north of Gouverneto Monastery is the famous Cave of Panagia Arkoudiotissa (Our Lady of the Bear), or Arkoudospilios (Bear Cave), as the locals call it.
The cave is famous for a stalagmite that looks like a crouching bear if you look at it from a certain angle. The bear-stalagmite has given the cave its name.
The worship of the goddess Artemis in Arkoudospilios Cave
The bear-stalagmite. Source: akrotiricrete.com
Arkoudospilios Cave has been a place of worship from ancient times, as we know from inscriptions dedicated to Apollo and Artemis found there.
According to archaeologists, thousands of years ago the goddess Artemis was worshiped in the cave. The Pelasgians worshipped her in the form of a bear, so a cave with a bear-shaped stalagmite would easily be considered a sacred place.
Around the cave are ruined buildings which probably housed a small number of monks from Gouverneto Monastery. The “Panagia tis Arkoudias”, or “Our Lady of the Bear”, is mentioned in the Venetian census of 1637.
The legend of the bear
According to local legend, a bear once lived in the cave and drank the water dripping from the stalactites into a hollow in the rock.
The monks, who were suffering from thirst, prayed to the Virgin for aid. The Virgin heard their prayers and turned the bear into stone, the stalagmite we see inside the Arkoudospilios today.
The church of the Presentation
Inside the cave is a chapel dedicated to the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. A great feast is held here on 2 February each year. Many people from the local area stay in the cave overnight, bringing food and wine. They light fires inside the cave to keep warm, which is why the roof is so blackened.
How to get to the Cave of Panagia Arkoudiotissa
From Gouverneto Monastery there is an easy footpath through the Avlaki Gorge. The Arkoudospilios Cave is 2 kilometres from the monastery.
If you keep going on down the footpath you will come to Katholiko Monastery and, a little further on, the sea.