Mary’s Land In Greece

by Katerina Katsarka Whitley

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In the circle of Aegean islands called the Cyclades, southeast of Athens, lies an island known as Tinos. It is mostly rugged and mountainous, its land carefully terraced with large stone fences because there is no level ground. At the foot of its dark mountains nestle beautiful white villages, with lovely blue domed churches and blue bell towers. Many of the villages are Catholic.

Modern Greeks claim that because of the events of the past two centuries, Tinos is sacred to Megalohori – the All-Gracious, the Virgin Mary. History does indeed reveal that Christianity has deep roots on this island where there are forty villages and over a thousand chapels.

In 1207, when Greece was called Byzantium and the Orthodox Church was as powerful as the State, the Fourth Crusade brought Westerners to Greek lands and waters. Tinos came under the domination of two Venetian brothers of the noble family of Ghiza. Though the Greeks have usually assimilated other nationalities instead of being assimilated by them, resistance to the Venetians and their Faith seems to have been less vigorous in the Cyclades than it was on the mainland. The people of Tinos gave their allegiance to their Venetian overlords, and most became Catholic. The Catholic influence that began in the thirteenth century is still felt in the Cyclades today.

When the Ottomans invaded Greece in the fifteenth century, Tinos remained firmly aligned with the Venetians and resisted numerous invasions by the Turks. Worn out at last, she succumbed in the eighteenth century, later than any of the other Aegean islands.

Tinos still holds reminders of the Ottoman occupation, and one of them is the secret school in the Greek Orthodox Convent of the Holy Trinity. The Turks generally allowed freedom of education to the Greeks, but when insurrections occurred, the angry Turks would close the schools. At these times, the only education available to Greek children took place in the secret schools of the churches and monasteries. Covertly, sometimes at night, the children found their way to hidden rooms to be taught by the priests. A nursery rhyme that is still popular recalls the days of the secret schools:

My little moon, light the way for me to walk, to go to school, to learn my letters and the things of God.

The priests who taught in these schools had little formal education themselves, but they passed on the traditions of the nation as well as the Christian Faith. Thus they preserved the national consciousness even in the midst of great danger.

On March 25, 1821, the Feast of the Annunciation, a Greek monk raised the banner of the Virgin as the first Greek flag on the mainland. Two days later, Tinos did the same. The war of Independence had begun.

At the same time, according to island tradition, an old man named Polyzoes had a dream. A glorious lady in white appeared to him and said, “Go to the field of Antonios Doxaras which is outside the city, dig, and find my icon; there build a church. I will help you.”

Polyzoes told the priest and the townspeople of his dream, but no one took him seriously. Some even laughed. Finally two men tried to follow his instructions, but gave up in fear of the Turks. The owner of the field found some stones which were later identified as part of an ancient church. But nothing more was done.

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Tags: Catholic Village life Greece Historical site/city Architecture