jump to navigation

Don’t Worry > Bead Happy August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture Heritage.
comments closed

The No-Worry Beads of Greece

Your first sight of komboloi may be in a blur of beads as you see them furiously worked by a nervous Greek passenger in the next seat as the plane starts to descend. Prayer bead or fidget toy, at that moment, komboloi fulfill both purposes. Or you may catch sight of them as you race past an airport souvenir stand, where they dangle by the dozens. Wherever you first notice them, they are bound to be strangely compelling. Once you touch them, and feel the smooth beads sliding through your fingers, you may find yourself hooked.

Like most Greek folk art, the history of komboloi is confused. Some claim that they are a recent addition to mainland Greek culture, arriving only seventy or eighty years ago and then achieving a fashionable status. Or that they are a mimicry of Turkish prayer bead strands, adopted by persecuted Greeks to mock their captors.

Still another theory suggests that the Turkish conquerors forbade their Greek subjects to shake hands, and the beads were introduced as a way of reminding Greeks to not shake hands. Others assert, probably more rightly, that they are derived from the knotted prayer strands (komboskini) used by Greek Orthodox monks. As the word komboloi means “group of knots”, this may be the true origin.

Until recently, komboloi were the special province of men, and were rarely seen in the hands of women. Melina Mercouri was an exception, often handling a silver strand in public as she fought for recognition of Greece’s cultural sovereignty. Modern young Greek men would disdain carrying them. But now, as they transcend cultural tradition and become a fashion accessory, both men and women are carrying them. Beautifully crafted strands are appearing in fine jewelry stores, and older strands are becoming prized collector items.

Most komboloi are strands of about sixteen to twenty beads, with one bead tied and set off, usually adorned with a tassel. They can be strung on leather, string, or fine metal chain. Some are what I call “flippers”, two bigger beads on a short length of cord, which bounce back and forth against the hand.

Varieties of Komboloi

The short strands of komboloi beads come in many varieties, from plastic to ceramic, bone, glass, amber, and coral. Religious komboloi may add a saint’s medal to the strand, often St. Christopher, patron of travelers. Some “secular” komboloi add a medal showing an image from Greek culture; these are produced for tourists.

Amber is a traditional stone for komboloi, but be aware that reconstituted (mastica), partially real, or imitation amber is common and has been used for a long time, so age is no guarantee of authenticity. Buy older strands based on their beauty, not necessarily what the substance is said to be.

As komboloi grow in popularity, other versions are popping up. Long strands with big chunky beads are intended as wall decorations. Small strands may end up hanging from rear view mirrors.

Both of these uses count on an inherent protective quality in komboloi. Some modern strands are made of beads shaped and marked like dice, symbolizing good luck, particularly for gambling or games of chance. Others are made of cobalt-blue eye beads, warding off the evil eye.

Prices vary widely. Most souvenir stand strands will cost a few euro. Lowest prices will usually be for plastic beads, but glass or ceramic beads are much more satisfying to handle and are often the same price as plastic. The cord-strung beads are more pleasant to use, as the fine chain can grate a bit against sensitive fingers or catch on the edge of a sleeve.

Specialty stores, of which the Komboloi Museum and shop in Nafplio is the reigning king, will charge more but will have better quality and a wider selection. The Komboloi Museum also has stands in shops at the Athens Airport. At the main location in Nafplion, the display upstairs includes dozens of ancient strands of komboloi, plus prayer beads from other cultures worldwide. They also offer an excellent book on the history of worry beads, written by one of the owners.

Jewelry shops will charge substantially more, with gold and silver strands with semi-precious stones abounding. There’s no upper limit; fine strands are costing between Euro 250-1000 or more, and are particularly popular with Greek businessmen. As komboloi are growing in popularity, they are actually being imported into Greece, so not all worry beads sold in Greece are from Greece. Ask.

Travel delay? Break out the beads. Temperature too hot? Swirl those beads, you might start a breeze. If a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can start a storm in the Atlantic, why not coax a breeze to yourself with komboloi?


Celebrations in Tinos August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Special Features.
comments closed

Tinos is a typical Cycladic island.

Although sunbaked, year round, and surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches, like the rest of the Aegean islands, Tinos is not a one-town island, like most of the Cyclades. Its interior is dotted with dozens of whitewashed hamlets and about a thousand dovecotes, the fascinating legacy of almost 500 years of Venetian and western rule that ended in the early 18th century.

This history of western European influence has created one of the least Orthodox societies in Greece, a country where 97% of the people declare to be Greek Orthodox. Tinos is only two thirds Orthodox and a one third Catholic. There are Catholic churches and 3 Catholic convents on Tinos, which is the center of the Catholic faith in Greece.

Interestingly, Tinos, with its large Catholic minority, is, at the same time, one of the two religious hubs of the country, along with Patmos, the island where Saint John wrote the Book of the Apocalypse, a few nautical miles to the northeast from here.

The history of the island changed forever in 1823, when the locals dug and found an early Christian icon of the Virgin Mary after Pelagia, a nun at the convent of Kechrovouni, claimed to have dreamt of the Holy Mother telling her where to look for her icon and ordering her to build a church over the site. The church was built, the icon was attributed with healing powers, and the Virgin Mary of Tinos, as Greeks call it, became the site of a year-round pilgrimage, and, in the national consciousness, the holiest place in Greece.

This is one reason to come to Tinos. The other is the landscape and the pace of life here.

The dozens of villages that dominate the interior of the island feature traditional architecture, shaded squares, narrow picturesque streets, whitewashed Cycladic houses, and great views of the Aegean. The best of the them, Pyrgos, about 20 km northwest of Tinos Town, is a delight that you must not miss.

The villages around Xomvourgo, a rock standing 710 meters (about 2,100 feet) tall, a few kilometers north of Tinos Town, are another sightseeing must. Xomvourgo was the center of the island’s Venetian and European rule. The western lords who descended here after 1204 chose this location to build their capital, because it offered maximum security against the roaming pirates of the Aegean.

The locals called the area around the Burgh, “exo apo to burgh” (i.e. outside of the burgh), or, after years of use, Exomvourgo.

Tinos is a quiet island, with beautiful beaches, extremely nice interior, interesting museums and artistic heritage, and good local cuisine. Because, as far as glamour and nightlife, it pales in comparison to neighboring islands like Mykonos, Santorini, and Ios, prices have remained reasonable and affordable.

That is, until August 15 comes around, and the great Orthodox celebration of the Assumption. This is when Tinos becomes a zoo, with thousands of pilgrims descending upon the island, many of them crawling, on all fours, all the way from the harbor up the hill to the church of the Virgin Mary, with vendors’ carts lining the streets to sell all kinds of trinkets, and a lot of human pain and suffering on display, from all those who come here seeking relief and healing.

If you don’t come here for religious reasons, try to stay away from Tinos Town from the 14th to the 16th of August, except maybe for a brief walk around to experience a unique sight. At all other times, Tinos is a delight.

The Highlights
The villages of the interior, especially Pyrgos and the hamlets around Exomvourgo.
The dovecotes, all over the island.
The galleries and museums, in Pyrgos and around the church of the Virgin Mary in Tinos Town.
If you go >
Drive around the island and take in the landscape.
Hike in the numerous paths laid north of Tinos Town.
Visit the church of Virgin Mary in Tinos Town and, especially, the Museums.
Spend a day up north, around Pyrgos, and spend the evening in Pyrgos, for dinner and relaxation.
Come for the August 15 celebrations of the Assumption, to experience a unique feast of religious fervor. 

Celebrations in Paros August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Special Features.
comments closed

For more than 1500 years the 15th of August has been the most special day of the summer on Paros. It is observed as a National Holiday and celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary for whom the ancient and very beautiful Panaghia Ekatontapyliani church is named.

No expense is spared by the Municipality as suddenly the sky erupts unto a spectacular fireworks display high above little fishing boats ablaze with red smokey signal flares and the sound of the ferryboats saluting the occasion with long blasts on their horns and the celebration from the crowd. Colorfully dressed in their traditional costumes the Municipal Dancing Group whirls to the music which is the lifeblood of Greece.

Celebrations continue into the early morning hours not only in bars, clubs and taverns but also sometimes more quietly under the ever-present brilliant canopy of stars.


The Feast of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (Our Lady of the Thousands Gates) is celebrated on the 15th of August; the festivities start with a litany of the icon of the Virgin Mary and continue until dawn with local dances, traditional music, local food, wine and great fun.


The feast of the Nine Days of the Virgin Mary (Enea meres tis Panagias) takes place on the 23rdof August, nine days after the Assumption of the Virgin and a big feast representing the assault of the pirates in thevillage of Paros Greece is organized: young boys dressed in traditional pirate’s costumes jump from the caiques (fishing boats) and run in the crowd to snatch the girls and take them away.

Fireworks, traditional music, dances, local food and wine are composing this great feast.

RELATED LINK > http://www.ekatontapyliani.org/

Celebration of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Special Features.
comments closed

All of Greece goes home for the holiday > 15 August.

All over Greece, rooms are hard to find, tickets on ferries and hydrofoils almost impossible to get, buses and trains are on modified schedules, and fasting Greeks are spending two weeks in reverential deprivation to prepare for the Feast of the Dormition (also called Assumption) on August 15th.

This date in the Greek Orthodox calendar marks the moment when the devout believe that Mary, the Theotokos, ascended into Heaven.

It’s traditional to return to home villages, so even remote locations are busier than usual as the Greeks of the diaspora return to their homeland to connect with family, visit friends, and immerse themselves in the ancient rituals, culture, and practice of being Greek Orthodox.

The Koimisis tis Theotokou, Dormition of the Virgin Mary, or Assumption of the Virgin Mary all are names referring to the feast commemorating what is believed to be the miraculous transport of Mary, in bodily form, to Heaven after her death.

Some accounts claim that she died in Jerusalem; others put her death at the Graeco-Roman city of Ephesus, now in Turkey, and the site of an alleged “House of the Virgin Mary”.

The Ephesian origin is plausible as it was the Council of Ephesus which first proclaimed the feast. The story itself does not appear in the Bible, but is found in apocryphal stories and folklore, with written records dating back to as early as the third century. Accounts of the story differ, but here are the basic details.

Saint Thomas, who had been preaching in far-off India, found himself swept up in a swirling cloud which took him to a spot in the air above her tomb, where he witnessed her ascent. He asked her where she was going; in answer, she tossed her girdle to him.

Thomas ultimately landed near the tomb, where he met the other surviving apostles. He begged them to let him see her body so that he could say goodbye, and that’s when it was discovered that she had left the earth in body and in spirit, to intercede on the behalf of the faithful. The apostles found her clothes left behind in the tomb, where it was said that they emanated a wonderful fragrance, a true “odor of sanctity”.

Churches throughout the country celebrate the feast with traditions which vary from place to place. Rural churches are jammed with not only worshippers, but offerings in the form of animals, property, and food; some churches even hold an auction of these offerings during the celebrations, though this custom -and livestock offerings- are less common today.

Greeks of the Orthodox faith prepare themselves by fourteen days of fasting, from August 1st to the 14th, which is joyfully broken on the 15th. The frenzied travel home that many Greeks undertake is also a kind of pilgrimage, to family, culture, faith, and country. It’s a rich and wonderful, if crowded, time to be in Greece.

August 10th-15th – Lesvos – Agiassos – Preparations for the Day of the Panagia (Virgin Mary)
August 15th – Name Day for Maria, Marios, Panayiota, Despina, Panayiotis
August 15th – Lesvos – Petra – Celebration of the Dormition of Mary
August 14-15th Eleftherna – Cultural Events
August 15th – Dormition of the Theotokos – Feast of the Virgin Mary – Widely observed
August 15th-25th – Lesvos – Stipsi – Celebrations related to the Virgin Mary Feast
August 15th period – Paros – Wine Festival.
August 15th – Paros – Parikia – vibrant festival with boats, fireworks, dances.
August 15th-18th – Crete – Sitia – Feast of Sultana – Musical event with singing and dancing.

Panagia Soumela Monastery August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Special Features.
comments closed

Southwest of Veria, on the slopes of Vermion mountain (18km), lies the village of Kastanies, which is usually snowed-in during the winter. This is the site of the monastery of the Panagia Soumela, founded by refugees from the Pontos.

In our tradition the Panagia (Virgin Mary) has numberless names because she is associated with many local and miraculous icons that have transmitted the grace of Christ to the believers. Such an icon is that of Panagia Soumela, an exact copy of which (one of three) is kept in the monastery. Since Panagia has an eminent place in this month’s feasts and because there is in our church the sacred jewel of her icon of Soumela this article will be dedicated to this miraculous icon.

The original icon is kept in the monastery in Vermion mountain, Macedonia that bears its name, but it came from the famous Monastery of Soumela in Pontos of Asia Minor. The fact that there is a sizeable Greek Pontian community, provides the opportunity to remind all of certain basic facts regarding the icon of Panagia Soumela and of Pontos and the Greek Pontians. The Greek Pontians as a heroic group of Hellenism have achieved great things in history and continue with the rest of the Hellenes to preserve their heritage not only in Greece but also in every other corner of the earth where they have been dispersed and survive by divine providence.

According to church tradition the icon of Panagia Soumela took its name from the Monastery of Soumela in Pontos of Asia Minor. The name “Soumela” comes from “Stou Mela”, i.e. “at the mount Melas” and consequently signifies a particular locality in Pontos. The icon of Panagia that bears the name of this historic Monastery had been kept there for centuries. Yet, according to ancient tradition, it was more ancient than the Monastery. It was painted by St Luke the Evangelist and was originally kept in Athens being called “Atheniotissa.” It was brought to Pontos for the sake of safe keeping by two monks who are also said to be the founders of the Monastery of Soumela, St. Barnabas and St. Sophronios and hence its new name.

There are two views concerning the time of this event. In the first view it occurred in the 4th century. In the second view it happened in the 10th or 9th century. Recently a compromise has been propounded. This icon of St. Luke was kept in the Monastery of Osios Lukas in Viotia. It was carried to Athens by Ananias, the student of Osios Lukas, after the death of his teacher. Then later, when the Saracenes destroyed the city of Athens in the 10th (or 9th) century the holy monks Barnabas and Sophronios brought the icon to the Monastery of Soumela in Pontos for safe keeping.

The Monastery of Soumela, which had been founded in the 4th century by a Pontian Monk Christopher of Trepizond, suffered destructions and renovations through the long and turbulent history of Pontos, but the icon of Panagia remained intact. The heyday of the Monastery was in the era of the Byzantine empire of Trepizond, when it became the spiritual center of Orthodox Hellenism acquiring special privileges from the Komnenoi emperors. These privileges were preserved during the Turkish occupation by means of firmans granted by the Sultans and thus at that time also it stood as a notable center of Hellenic paideia for the enslaved Christian nation.

During the First World War the Monastery was destroyed, but the holy icon of Panagia remained intact.When in 1922 the Greek Pontians were violently expelled from Pontos the monks hifd the icon with other valuable vessels in the rocks of mount Mela. Later on the Turks allowed, following conversations of the governments of Greece and Turkey (Benizelos and Inonou), the monk Ambrosios to visit the ruined monastery of Soumela and retrieve the holy icon and the rest of church valuables and bring them to Athens. In 1951, the holy icon of Panagia Soumela, that had been kept in the Byzantine Museum of Athens, was transferred to the new Monastery of Soumela that was constructed on one of the slops of mount Vermion of Macedonia where it is kept today.  

Panagia Soumela

The Athenian – The icon of the Virgin Mary of Soumela, painted by the Evangelist Lukas, was placed initially in a monastery near the Acropolis of Athens and named Panagia the Athenian. Later, the icon was placed in a temple built in Thiva, one hour (92 km) northwest of Athens to honor her grace. This temple was also named Panagia the Athenian.

The Soumela – In about 380 A.D. the icon miraculously “flew” to mountain Mela in Trapezounta (Trebizond) in Pontos, Asia Minor. After a dream, the two monks Varnavas and Sofronios began a long journey from Athens to find the icon at mountain Mela. Going through Meteora, Agion Oros (Holy Mountain) at the Athos peninsula, Maronia in Thrace, they continued on to Constantinople (Istanbul), and finally arrived at Trapezounta of Pontos at a village called Couspidi. There they were informed about the presence of mountain Mela where they discovered miraculously the icon in a cave one hour (42 km) south of Trapezounta. The two monks decided to build a monastery and the first temple was inaugurated with many festivities in 386 A.D. The monastery earned great respect and reputation throughout the entire Orthodox world until the tragedy of Greek Hellenism in 1922. In 1924, the monastery was ruined completely by the Turks.

The Vermian – Before the monks of the monastery left Pontos, they buried the icon along with some rare heirlooms in the nearby monastery of Saint Varvara (Barbara). In 1931, the monk Amvrosios Soumeliotis brought the icon to Greece and it remained in the Byzantine Museum of Athens until 1952 when Dr. Philon Ktenidis initiated the foundation of a new monastery on the top of the Vermion Mountain, one hour (92 km) west from the city of Thessalonica in Macedonia, Greece. Since that time, Panagia Soumela continues to offer Her Grace to the thousand of believers who visit Her every year.


The prefecture of Imathia borders to the north with the prefecture of Pella, to the east with the prefecture of Thessaloniki, to the west with the prefecture of Kozani and to the southeast with the prefecture of Pieria. The prefecture stretches over the western part of the fertile valley of central Macedonia and is run through by the rivers Aliakmonas and Loudias.

Imathia is covered in densely wooded beech forests. Mt Vermio is ideal for winter holidays offering unique opportunities for mountain climbing and skiing. Excursions to remote villages nestled in lush greenery, the archaeological site of Vergina and the renowned monastery of Panagia Soumela fascinate the visitor.

The mountain mass of eastern Vermio dominates the west part of the prefecture. The valley of the river Aliakmonas is a place of immense natural beauty stretching between Mt Vermio and Pieria mountains.

South of Verria city, on the slopes of Vermion (18 km.), lies the village of Kastania, which is usually snowed – in during the winter. This village counts about 300 people and it is the site of the monastery of the Panagia Soumela, founded by refugees from the Pontos; the monastery that roofs the famous icon of Panagia brought from the monastery of Our Lady of Mount Melas, in the mountains of Trapezounta district (todays’ Turkey). The Apostle Luke painted this icon. On the 15th of August,  thousands of pilgrims come to the monastery that has a number of beds to accommodate them.

Panagia Evangelistria Church and Museums, Tinos August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Special Features.
comments closed

The Church of Panagia Evangelistria (Our Lady of Good Tidings) is the most revered religious shrine in Greece, drawing thousands of pilgrims each year. It is located on the island of Tinos in the Cyclades.

History of the Panagia Evangelistria Church
According to tradition, one night in 1822, a nun of Tinos named Pelagia dreamed that a miraculous icon was buried nearby. Pelagia led her neighbors to the place she had seen in her dream, and when they began to dig, they discovered the remains of a Byzantine church with the icon.

The Panagia Evangelistria icon, depicting Mary kneeling in prayer, is believed to be the work of Saint Luke and to have miraculous healing powers.

The massive Panayia Evanyelistria church, made of marble from the islands of Paros and Tinos, with a distinctive bell tower, was built in 1824 to house the miraculous icon.

To seek the icon’s aid, a sick person sends a young female relative or a mother brings her sick infant. As the pilgrim descends from the boat, she falls to her knees, with traffic indifferently whizzing about her, and crawls painfully up the padded lane on the main street the 1 km (½ mile) to the church.

In the church’s courtyards, the pilgrim and her family camp for several days, praying to the magical icon for a cure. This process is very similar to the ancient one observed in Tinos’s temple of Poseidon.

Description of the Panagia Evangelistria Church
Outside, the church’s marble courtyards (with green-veined Tiniot stone) are paved with lovely pebble mosaics and surrounded by offices, chapels, a health station, and seven museums. A broad flight of marble stairs leads to the church.

Inside the upper church, hundreds of gold and silver hanging lamps and beeswax candles illuminate the holy icon of the Virgin and gifts dedicated by the faithful.

You must often wait in line to see the small icon, which is encrusted with jewels from grateful worshippers.

The votive gifts, in silver, gold and precious jewels, take such shapes as a hand or foot, a crib, a house, or a car. Each gleaming gift tells a tale of thanks for a prayer answered. To the right of the entrance is a gold lemon tree, donated by a blind man who regained his sight.

Even those who do not make a lavish gift customarily light one of the many candles burning inside the church. The pilgrims’ devotion is manifest in these gifts and candles, and in the piety of those who crawl on their knees to the church from the dock.

The lower church, called the Evresis, contains the crypt where the icon was found and celebrates the discovery. The crypt is surrounded by smaller chapels, one of which has a baptismal font filled with silver and gold votives. The crypt is often crowded with Greek parents and children in white, waiting to be baptized with water from the font.

The chapel to the left commemorates the torpedoing by the Italians, on Dormition Day, 1940, of the Greek ship Helle; in the early stages of the war, the Greeks amazingly overpowered the Italians.

Description of the Museums
Within the high walls that surround the church are various museums and galleries, most of which are interesting primarily as curiosities.

The gallery of 19th-century religious art is to the left as you pass through the main gateway; another gallery houses Byzantine icons, and to the left of the foundation offices is a fascinating display of gifts offered to the cathedral.

The sculpture museum, to the right and up a flight of stairs, is one of the best galleries; it contains gifts from sculptors, many quite renowned, who studied with the help of the cathedral charitable foundation.

Just below the cathedral precinct on Leoforos Megaloharis is a small Archaeological Museum, open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30am to 3pm; admission is 2€. The collection includes finds from the ancient sanctuary of Thesmophorion near Exomvourgo, plus a sundial from the 2nd century AD found at the Sanctuary of Poseidon and Amphitrite at Kionia.

If you go >
Location: End of Megalohari, Tinos, Cyclades
Phone: 22830 22256
Hours: Cathedral: daily 8am-8pm (off-season daily noon-6pm)
Museums: Sat-Sun (some weekdays during July and Aug) 8am-8pm (off-season noon-6pm)
Cost: Free
Etiquette: In the church, men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves, and women must wear dresses or skirts and tops with sleeves. Remember that it’s not appropriate to explore the church during a service.

Periclean plague victims found August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
comments closed

Microbial genetic material found in the teeth of recently unearthed 2,500-year-old skeletons support historical claims that Pericles, classical Athens’ greatest statesman, died of typhoid fever along with thousands of his compatriots in the great Athenian plague.

Earlier this year excavations at Kerameikos, ancient Athens’ cemetery, brought to light about 150 skeletons jumbled together in a mass grave. Their position suggested that the bodies must have been dumped in a hurry. The skeletons were dated to the second half of the 5th century BC and researchers had guessed that the remains were those of victims of the plague of 429BC, when people were dying faster than they could be cremated and buried.

This is the first time that such direct evidence of the plague has emerged, according to Manolis Papagrigorakis, a professor of dentistry who helped examine the remains. Until now the sole source of information about the plague has been the historian Thucydides, who described the event in grim detail in the second chapter of his Peloponnesian War. Pericles, Athens’ leader at the time, fell victim to the pestilence after it had carried off up to one-third of Athens’ population.

“On the theory that the skeletons were those of plague victims, my team decided to check for traces of microbial organisms,” Papagrigorakis said. He and a team from the Athens University Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology concentrated on the teeth, as the interior of teeth remains intact for vast periods of time and can conceal microbial matter.

Microbial DNA found preserved in the teeth was separated from the human DNA material. Tests turned out positive for one particular bacterium, salmonella enterica serovar typhi, which is the causative agent of typhoid fever. “We can now draw a safe conclusion that the plague was typhoid fever,” Papagrigorakis said.

Thucydides vividly describes the symptoms of the typhus and social chaos the plague produced. Victims first experienced a severe chill and fever, which progressed rapidly to stomach upsets and diarrhoea. It killed most of those afflicted, though Thucydides himself caught it and recovered. Those who did recover were henceforth immune.

A rumour ran through Athens that the besieging Spartans had started the plague by poisoning the city’s water supply with dead animals. But Thucydides attributes it to the crowded and unhygienic conditions in the city, caused by the arrival of residents from across Attica who had fled within the city walls to escape the marauding Spartans.