It might be the quintessential cosmopolitan, bacchanalian party paradise for the elite and the glitterati; but -perhap at first glance, paradoxically- Mykonos is very much true to its age old customs and traditions. This is the result of the predominant in Greece, Christian Orthodox religion; which has throughout the centuries determinedly shaped also this island’s culture, ethos and identity. One of it’s most powerful manifestations is the plethora of churches and chapels gracing the dramatic Mykonian landscape. Some say that churches in Mykonos are as many as the number of the days in a year; yet fact is that they are more than 700 -actually one per local family.
Some date from Byzantine times and have been designated as historical monuments by the Ministry of Culture; many were built in the 17th and 18th century, while others were more recently constructed. Traditionally churches in Mykonos are facing the sea as a tribute fostering the safe voyage and return of sailors. They are typically simple and austere, vaulted structures with a red (or in some cases blue) dome and a single aisle; in perfect sync with the infertile, rocky terrain; the Mykonian whitewashed settlements and humble farmhouses. On their inside churches in Mykonos are decorated with intricate religious icons, carved wooden temples and various votive offerings. They are as much as cultural reference points, as they are integral elements of everyday life.
Panigiria in the churches of Mykonos
Many of the churches in Mykonos are built as a testimony of devotion or to commemorate a miracle that is believed to have transpired. But perhaps more interestingly, their large number is attributed to the time honored Mykonian custom of enshrining the bones of their dead within the walls of family temples. This tradition continues well into the present; yet these private chapels not only house the remains of ancestors, but are also the site of various religious feasts and festivals held throughout the year: The so called “Panigiria” which celebrate important religious occasions or their namesake Saint’s day; are a prime opportunity to strengthen community and family bonds as well as a supreme expression of the islander’s hospitality.
On the eve of the festivities, the church will be whitewashed, rows of tables will be set in the courtyard and local specialties shall be prepared. Celebrations start after the evening mass and everyone is welcomed -friends, relatives and complete strangers too! All will be treated to traditional delicacies such as meat stew, onion pies, meatballs or louza along with copious amounts of strong local wine. As palates are satisfied and spirits considerably elevated; dancing until the wee hours ensues, to the sound of violins, “tsambounes’ (bagpipes) and ‘toumbakia’ (small drums). If you chance upon a “panigiri”; by all means go, for it is a one of a kind, primordial and distinctively Dionysian experience.
Not to be missed churches in Mykonos
Embedded in the daily local life, churches in Mykonos are a spiritual haven of calm and serenity; offering visitors a much sought hiatus from the frenzied Mykonian days and nights. And that’s not to mention a uniquely picturesque background for your selfies!
Mykonos Town (Chora) alone has over 60 churches, so you should definitely visit some of them while staying at the Semeli: The only 5* hotel in town blending impeccable style with unsurpassed service, amazing food and drink, as well as ultimate pampering and indulgence; in its recently refurbished rooms and suites; just revamped communal and pool areas and newfound Krama restaurant.
Located in Kastro and built in successive phases from the late 14th to the 17th century, this unique amalgam of five churches -four of which are on the ground and the fifth on the roof- has become a symbol of Mykonos; while it also is one of the most photographed landmarks in the whole country.
In the old port of Mykonos, it is locally known as “Agios Nikolakis”, thanks to its modest size. Built in the 4th century to honor Saint Nikolaos, the patron of seamen and fishermen; it boasts a distinctive blue dome, black and white tiled floor and a starry-night painted ceiling.
The Church of Virgin Rodario
The island’s only Catholic church is found in Alefkandra Square next to the Cathedral
Despite the burning of its Sanctuary Walk in 1991; it remains operational.
Agios Dimitrios, Agia Moni, Agia Sotira
Built with ancient marble parts, Agios Dimitrios is the oldest in the castle. Agia Moni is also one of the earliest churches; whilst if you’re into folk and legends, a bit further down the road, you’ll reach the chapel of Agia Sotira which hosts the grave of the last, ferocious pirate Manolis Mermelechas, who died in 1854.