Foundation of the monastery
During the reign of Theodosius I (375 – 395), two Athenian priests named Barnabus and Sophronius, while travelling from Athens to Trabzon, found a miraculous icon of Virgin Mary in a cave on a mountain, and decided to build a church there to create a house for the icon. This cave or hollow today forms the center of the monastery.
According to the legend, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, St Luke, made the icon and after his death the icon was sent to Athens. However, during the reign of Theodosius I, the icon wished to leave Athens and it was carried by angels from Athens to Trabzon and put into this cave for Barbanus and Sophronius to find it.
The icon is believed to be of a great age and to possess miraculous properties.
In the center of the Monastery, there was a sacred pool into where large drops of water from thirty or forty meters above were falling. Not only in Christianity but also in Muslim religion Mother Mary is believed to bring health to people. So over the centuries, Christians and Muslims came to the monastery to seek for health from these sacred water drops after offering gifts and sacrifices to the monastery.
Name of the monastery
Sumela is the Greek Name of the monastery, founded in the name of Virgin Mary (Μονή Παναγίας Σουμελά, in English monastery of the Panaghia which is the name of Virgin Mary in Greek).
There are two theories of the reason of the name ‘Sumela’ to be put in this monastery. ‘Mela’ in Greek means ‘dark’ or ‘black’. This may refer to the black forrest and the mountains where the church is built. But it may also refer to the icon of Virgin Mary too because in the icon Virgin Mary is dark, or could be even described as black. Also the mountain’s name became known as Oros Mela (Black Mountain) because of the Monastery.
In the 12th century, it was very common to describe Virgin Mary in black to emphasize the mysterious expression on Virgin Mary’s face. These icons were called Black Madonna mostly used in Georgian art and Eastern Europe which is also believed to be the traces of ancient Indian art. This Black Madonna’s are usually found in the heights of forests in the mountains near a healing spring and is believed to arrive there for a miraculous purpose. These places become a pilgrimage place for Christians.
The icon in Sumela Monastery could also be black by the black wooden surface. Enough research could not be done so we do not have clear information about the age of the icon or if it is a true Black Madonna or not. There is an old photograph of the icon and in this photo the wooden surface and the silver frame surrounding the icon is seen clearly.