My Personal Greek A to Ω – T (Tau) is for Τήνος or Tinos

“Tinos, where the little hanging offerings of crutches, bandages and paintings, testify to the miracle having taken place, and remind one once again that here, as in the ruined and forsaken shrines to Aesculapius, healing and divination are one.” – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’

Having acquired a taste for using the ferries to visit other islands we took a trip during the second week of a holiday to Mykonos to the intriguing island of nearby Tinos, which is a secretive place that doesn’t feature very often on holiday itineraries.  As we approached the port we could see that not being a holiday island it wasn’t going to any special effort to become one and the harbour front was rather functional and utilitarian and without the ribbon of colourful bars and tavernas to which we had become accustomed.

Actually, although it didn’t seem a tourist hot spot to us as we approached the harbour, it turns out that Tinos, a large island just northwest of Mykonos, is in fact the most visited of all Greek Islands.  Not with overseas visitors however because 90% are Greek and since Greeks come looking for an authentic experience even the most tourist friendly places retain a feeling of originality and visiting the island is a more genuine and unique experience than say Mykonos or Santorini.

One of the reasons so many Greeks visit Tinos is that it is an intensely religious island famous most of all for the Church of Panagia Evangelistria which holds a reputedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary and is the venue for an annual pilgrimage that is perhaps the most notable religious pilgrimage in the region of the eastern Mediterranean.

Many pilgrims make their way the eight hundred metres from the ferry wharf to the church on their hands and knees as sign of devotion.  It was extremely hot and it was hard enough work just walking up the long hill to the church so I imagine that you would have to be seriously determined to do it on all fours, although to be fair there is a ragged strip of dusty red carpet at the edge of the pavement to stop pilgrims ripping their hands and knees to shreds or getting stuck in the melting tarmac.

On the way to the church there were old fashioned stores selling various sizes of candles to take to the church and instead of postcards there were racks of cards each with a picture of a part of the body.  The shopkeepers could speak little English so couldn’t explain what these were but we eventually worked it out for ourselves.  If you have a bad leg then you buy a knee picture, a poorly arm an elbow picture and so on and then you take this to the Church and ask for a cure and secure it to an icon and when you leave just to be certain so that God doesn’t just simply forget about it shortly after you have gone light a candle to remind him.

We reached the brilliant white Renaissance style Church and went inside to see the miraculous icon which according to tradition was conveniently found after the Virgin appeared to the nun, St. Pelagia, and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried.

By suspicious coincidence the icon was found on the very first days after the creation of the modern Greek State and henceforth Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the Greek nation.  Inside the church it was hard to find because it was dark and oppressive with the sickly aroma of incense exaggerated by the heat of the burning candles but eventually we found it, almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and with a line of people waiting their turn to admire it and place a gentle kiss upon its base.

All of this icon kissing means quite a lot of unwanted spit and saliva of course so to deal with this, cleaning ladies with spray cleaners and dusters circulated constantly to deal with the slobber and the germs on a continuous and never ending polishing circuit of the church.

After we had seen the church and wandered around the gardens for a while we walked back down the long hill and back to the harbour where we walked rather aimlessly until we came across the best of the bars that we could find and stopped for a drink while we waited for the return ferry to Mykonos.

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9 responses to “My Personal Greek A to Ω – T (Tau) is for Τήνος or Tinos

  1. Hi,
    That is incredible about the cards, I doubt I would of figured it out, I just can’t get over that one. 🙂

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  2. Similar to my own experience Andrew. I can certainly remember the heat and it was only May! I didn’t make the connection at the time I was writing it but the Chapel of Bones in Evora had a similar theme going on.

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  3. What you have there is a kind of sympathetic magic left over from ancient times when similar items would be left for the pagan gods to work a cure,. there are similar items that have been found in Roman Bath at the shrine of Sulis Minerva for example. In Italy many of the churches have a shop selling such votive items.

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  4. I really want to visit the Greek Islands now! What an adventure

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  5. Absolutely fascinating Andrew. And I’d never even heard of it until you clued me in. Thanks. So glad the pilgrims have the carpet to protect their hands and knees – it sounds like a tough climb. Of course, I guess that’s what most pilgrimages are about. ~Terri

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