The Island of the 500 Churches

03/11/2017 10:14

Mykonos, Aegean Capital of sun and beach tourism, parties, debauchery and hedonism without limit, has a curiously disproportionate and unexpected high rate of churches, temples, shrines and chapels. Perhaps it could be to balance excesses.  

From any point in the island is not necessary to look out for long. Soon, next to a road, on a hilltop, from far and near, will be seen the profile of a bell tower or a dome painted in red or blue contrasting strongly with the whitewashed walls. In Mykonos, temples are counted by hundreds and only in Hora, the main city, there are no less than eighty.

The reason can be found on a pious people but perhaps better in those wealthy who, at some point in their lives wanted to thank God to get out from a bad shot. They say they were sailors who have survived a particularly harmful storm, perhaps for a harvest that was going to fret and ended up being plentiful enough to cover a small chapel. Many are dedicated to saints scarcely known, others are identified with a small marble plaque, some even have no name, but they have in common the dull patina that time and the successive white plaster layers have been giving them. Inners are often as simple and easy as the facades but don’t lack of beautiful icons sometimes illuminated by the dim flame of the candles that have been offered. Sometimes the concentration of shrines is unusual and surprising, so much than even local people named kouseyares to the grouping of various chapels as if they were gathered in quietly gossip. Around a small square between the streets Eggotounou, Dimitriou and Agios Panteleimonos agglomerate reach seven churches, four of them lined up next to each other. Also there are that surrounded by the restaurant tables. On Sunday the customers mingle with the faithful. Or maybe not.  

The island’s most photographed church is Paraportiani. Near the entrance of the old Kastro, the old stronghold, and before reaching the neighbourhood of the Little Venice appears shaping unmistakable the Panagia Paraportiani silhouette, one of Mykonos landmarks. Immaculately white, each successive layer of whitewash has dramatically softened its corners. Its name literally means Our Lady of the Side Door and it is actually a conglomerate of five different churches, the first of which dates from 1425. Based in the chapels of St. Eustatius of Antioquia, St Sozon, Cilician martyr, Agios Anargyroi or the Holy Unmercenaries and St. Anastasia. Above them an outside staircase leads to the fifth, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built on top and forming the dome.  

At Little Venice bounds and indeed in the same Alefkandra neighbourhood is Panagia Theotokos Pigadiotisa, Mykonos Cathedral. A double belfry on the side door joins a small two-story bell tower. Almost beside there’s the only Catholic Church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This just opens between late April and October and the reason is that the local population follow Orthodox rite, therefore only tourists flock to their masses. Was raised in 1668 and the icon of the Virgin and Child was brought from Venice in 1715.

Like others, Agia Kyriaki flies a Hellenic flag and in front its door a small cafe spread four tables and near the entrance hangs the obituary of the week. Inside is buried Greek admiral Nikolaos Sourmelis who should be a cherished character as his house, Tria Pigadia, today serves as headquarters for the Aegean Maritime Museum. At barely two steps is camouflaged behind a tree Profitis Ilias church, which, as a plate recall, was once, in 1615, home of the municipality of Hora.

Behind the famous Little Venice multi-coloured facade balconies runs the narrow street of Agios Anargiron. Not even left behind the shops, some steeples succeed one after the other, their naves even have a reasonable size, but a little further, numbers 47, 49 and 51 correspond to individual chapels, the last from 1616 has an icon of Agios Nikolaos and in the floor there are some nineteenth century ground burials.

The port is not devoid of shrines, of course. Near Paraportiani, beside the jetty there’s one more chapel dedicated to Agios Nikolaos. This meets all the requirements of an exemplary temple Aegean, pristine walls and blue dome surmounted by a cross. On inside walls bright a deep blue hue more intense than that of the dome. Among the cafe shops protrude a couple of domes, these have a slightly dull red. The latest is that of Agia Anna, smaller and preceded by a solid rail work and also whitewashed.

In Ano Mera village, in the middle of the island, was built the fortified monastery of Panagia Turlianá, patron saint of the isle held on August 15. It was founded in 1542 by two monks who came from Ekatondopylani monastery, on the neighbouring island of Paros. It took its present form in 1787 when were rebuilt both the monastery and the church. The bell tower, unique for its unorthodox style, was built with marble from the island of Tinos. A fountain, also made with marble, reminds those of Nikolaos Mavrogenus in Parikia. Outside, next to the ruins of the Venetian Kastro is Agias Triados Chapel, the Holy Trinity, as the stronghold dates from the thirteenth century, but this has been maintained. There are still more churches around, Agios Georgios, Agios Nikolaos, Matthias... the list is almost endless. Beyond is the beach.

© J.L.Nicolas


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