In San Basile (Shën Vasili, in arbëreshë), a small Albania speaking village of a thousand souls in the province of Cosenza, we find one of the three monasteries of greek-Byzantine rite still existing in Italy today. The Monastery of Santa Maria Odigitria, built on the ancient ruins of the Monastery of San Basilio Craterese, whose origins date back a thousand a year and belonging to the infrastructure of Basilian eremitic monasticism cultivated in southern Italy in the middle Ages.
The Basilian Monks, of course, adhere to the Monastic Order which was inspired by the “Rule” of Saint Basil (329-379), Archbishop of Caesarea in Palestine, considered one of the earliest and most important fathers of the Greek Church. In Italy, the presence of Basilian monks is recorded as early as the sixth century, the time of Emperor Justinian.
One of the best known figures of the Byzantine monks linked to Calabria, is San Nilo of Rossano (900-1004), founder of the Monastery of Grottaferrata, in the province of Rome.
Its panoramic position, between the slopes of Pollino and the Plain of Sybaris, makes it an extremely evocative place, full of charm and mystery, with a spiritual charge. According to tradition, the term “Craterese” is related to the presence of an extinct volcano close to the monastery. More recent studies, however, argue for the derivation from the Greek word “Krateros” in its meaning of “powerful.”
Artistically and architecturally, it is worth a separate mention the adjoining Church, also named for Maria Odigitria (“Maria the guide”). Its structure includes a single nave, topped by a barrel vault, in which Mary is depicted protecting the Monastery and the St. Basile population.
Of the Virgin as well is a statue in the niche of “Madonna of Mercy,” to the left of the main entrance. Of great artistic value are also paintings on the side walls, the walnut carved iconostasis and also the wooden pulpit.
Inside the church you can admire a fresco depicting the bust of a lady dressed in blue under the red cloak, with the crowned head, descending from her shoulders a light green veil, against the background of a large halo of yellow gold.
It is treated as a fragment of a fresco of the ancient monastery of San Basilio and it has existed for at least three centuries, saved in the thirteenth century, depicting Maria Odigitria.
During the twentieth century, the complex has undergone many changes and restorations, including the establishment of the Small Seminary, Ital-Albanian “Benedict XV”, belonging to the Eparchy of Lungro, and a library, where more than 8,000 volumes of great value are housed: literary, historical and religious.
Today, within the monastery, conferences are held periodically, book presentations and spiritual retreats for diocesan clergy and young people. For all lovers of art and history, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
**With thanks for photos provided to Innocenzo Bellizzi.