Panagia of Tinos, also known as the Megalochari of Tinos (Great Grace) or Evangelistria of Tinos (Our Lady of Good Tidings), is the declared national patron saint of Greece, because its discovery coincided with the very first days of the creation of the modern Greek State, and has since become the most venerated religious icons in all of Greece. It has three festivals in the Church calendar: The anniversay of the finding of the icon (30 Jan); The Annunciation (Mar 25); and the anniversary of the vision of St Pelagia of Tinos (July 23). The icon was rediscovered miraculously, attracted many pilgrims from all over Greece, and the construction of the Church of Panagia Evangelistria was begun and completed by 1830.
The icon is a beautiful portrayal of the Virgin Mary kneeling with her head bent in prayer. It is regarded as being older than the Byzantine period, and many scholars regard this icon to be the work of the Apostle and Evangelist Luke. It is assumed that this icon was so highly esteemed in the Byzantine era it was either hidden or lost around the time of the Moslem invasions.
According to the tradition, the Mother of God appeared to Sister Pelagia, a local nun from the Monastery of Kechrovouniou requesting her to unearth a wonder-working icon buried. The sister ignored this vision on many occasions considering that it was merely her imagination, however, the Virgin Mary appeared to her one final time and rebuked the nun for her disbelief and warned her that she would fall ill if she continuted to resist.
The tradition continues that the sister visited the bishop for his thoughts on her visions. A few years earlier, another local had visited the bishop for the same request by the Mother of God. The bishop, therefore, believed that these visions were authentic, and he rang the church bells to gather the entire town and inform them of the request.
Excavations commenced in September of 1822. While searching for the icon, ruins of a small old Byzantine chapel were found and this in turn covered the foundations of a 4th-century edifice that had been dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. In the vision to Pelagia, the Virgin Mary had told her that this church had been burnt down in the 10th-century by Arab pirates.
The cornerstone for the church was laid on January 1, 1823 and the chapel was named in honour of the "Life-Giving Spring" (Gr. Ζωοδοτος πιγις) since an ancient well had been found on this site also. On January 30, the excavations were continued and, as locals from the village of Phalatas where leveling the foundation a few metres from the well, their shovel struck the icon. They uncovered the half of the icon with the Archangel Gabriel holding out a lily to the Mother of God. They later discovered the matching half of the Virgin kneeling accepting her role in the Incarnation. These two pieces have since been joined together.
Description of the Panagia Evangelistria Church
This is a large church paved with lovely pebble and marble mosaic courtyard, sourced from the islands of Tinos and also from Paros, including green-veined Tiniot stone. It is surrounded by offices, chapels, a First Aid health station and seven museums. A broad flight of marble stairs leads to the main church and it also has an architecturally distinctive bell tower built in 1824. The main patronal feastday is for the Dormition of the Mother of God, and it celebrates the three feasts surrounding the Panagia of Tinos icon.
The upper church is decorated, on the inside, with gifts of gold, silver and precious jewel votives. Some of the more well known gifts include the golden orange tree, donated by a blind man who regained his sight miraculously. There are also votives of cars, houses, cribs and many ships some of the more smaller items include metalic hands or foot ornaments and lots of jewellery.
The lower church, called the Evresis, contains the crypt used when the icon was found. This crypt is surrounded by small chapels including a baptismal font filled with silver and gold votives. This crypt is often crowded with pilgrims dressed in white seeking to be symbolically 'baptised' by the holy-water from the font. Another chapel, to the left of the font, is dedicated to an attack made on the Greek ship 'Helle' on the day of the Dormition in 1940. The Tinoites believe that through the assistance of the Virgin Mary of Tinos, the Greek army was able to overpower the attack of the Italians.
Within the walls of the church are various museums and galleries. To the left is a gallery for 19th-century religious art, there is also a gallery housing Byzantine icons and also various offices. Another gallery is the sculpture museum which is up the flight of stairs. There is also a small Archaeological museum just below the cathedral.
Numerous reports of miracles have increased the fame of this Church to the point that this is the most venerated icon in all of Greece.
In 1842, a Greek criminal named Christodoulos Dimitriadis hid in one of the overhanging balconies of the church. He took the chalice, various altar utensils and also the icon which was covered in gold and precious stones much like it is today. By noon the next day, he was caught trying to escape to Andros.
- A Greek-American regained his sight and offered to the church the famous silver miniature Orange Tree that is meticulously crafted with small replicas of the fruit and miniature candles on the uppermost branches. It is on the right of the church as you enter through the doors.
- 1915, King Constantine of Greece was cured from a serious life-threatening condition. He presented the church with a golden plaque depicting himself on a horse which is affixed to the wooden kneeler near the icon.
- Healing of a Crippled Child.
How to get there
To get to the island, also known as the "Island of the Winds", one must take a state ferry from Athens. The voyage will take approximately three hours. Disembarking at the port, a few 100 metres to the left, a pilgrim is confronted by the second largest street known as the Leoforos Megalochares (the Street of Great Joy) which leads up to the neo-classical church at the top of the steep slope. This street is heavily lined with merchants, on either side, selling ecclesiastical bits and pieces such as oil lamps, replica icons, postcards etc.
It is traditional for many pilgrims to crawl the entire length of this street on their hands and knees, crossing themselves first, as a physical ascetical offering in preparation of meeting the icon of Tinos. This offering should be done in supplication, or thanksgiving for prayers answered or in repentance.