The Monastery of the Kathara, pilgrimage and reference point for all inhabitants of Ithaca, is built on the south-eastern peak of the Homeric Mount Nirito in a nice corner, 600m from the sea and 15 km. from Vathy. The history of the monastery begins in 1696.
The history of the image of the Virgin is even older, as reported by Father Theodosius Dendrinos in the second edition of his book 'The Monastery of Our Lady of Kathara, Ithaca'. In local dialect the name “Kathara” means the twigs and small shrubs which are cut and burned to clear some place.
Tradition says that shepherds from Epirus were persecuted by the Albanians so they had to leave their homes and flee to Ithaca where they settled on Mount Nirito at Mazos location, 400 approximately opposite the current monastery. They realized that the miraculous picture depicting the Genesis of the Virgin was missing. One night they saw a blinding light at the location where there is now the church of the monastery. Despite all the research they never found anything there. The same phenomenon was repeated for several nights, so they decided to cut and burn the bushes and twigs to clean the place to see what is going on there. When the fire was extinguished they saw a picture that was not burned. It was the painting of Genesis of the Virgin. They decided to built a small church so they could place the painting inside.
Another version of how the church got its name is that it was founded by followers of the Catholic heresy of the Cathars. According to archaeologist-author W. Gell in his book "The geography and antiquities of Ithaca," the site was dedicated to Apollo.
Another theory concerning the name comes from author Ms. Rita Tsintili- Vlisma who says that there used to be a pagan temple (probably of Goddess Athena) at the location where the church is today. One of the many nicknames of the Goddess was ''Kathara”.
A little further from the monastery there is a bell tower and the chapel of Saints Constantine and Helen. During the years of occupation and mainly because of the earthquakes of 1953, the bell tower was destroyed and rebuilt. The view from the bell tower is breathtaking: You can see the southern part of the island, part of eastern Kefalonia, in the far left you can see Echinades Islands, the west coast of Aitoloakarnania, and far in the distance when visibility is good you can see the Peloponnese and Zakynthos on the right. The painting of the Virgin is attributed to St. Luke and represents the birth of the Virgin. In early 1993 monk Theodosius (aka Elias Vlismas) comes to the monastery and offers his services to the grace of Mary. Kathariotissa is a patron and protector of the island and is celebrated on September 8th every year. Bibliography: 'The Monastery of Our Lady of Kathara Ithaca' (second edition) Father Theodosius Dendrinos.
Source: Municipality of Ithaca Website