This morning, we arrived in Mytilini, Greece on the island of Lesbo. In the 11th century BC, it was an ancient city, confined to a smaller island, lying on the east coast of the bigger island. During Roman times, white stone bridges linked the two islands. In today’s commercial Mytilini, we find many new crafts and old ones alike. There are more than fifteen producers of ouzo, a dry anise-flavored aperitif, popular with the Greeks. The city also exports sardines, olive oil, and ladotyri cheese: a hard yellow cheese, that is salty with hints of spiciness. The milk must come from sheep and goats that have adapted to the area and are fed traditionally. The cheese is preserved in olive oil, a tradition that continued, even after the use of refrigerators. The longer it stays in the olive oil, the more peppery in taste it becomes. They have been making this cheese here for centuries.
The islanders are also known for their woodworking skills, that have been passed down for centuries, as we shall see. But, this morning, we are catching a bus to the village of Agiasos, population 2,500.
A view of Mytilini, before we get off the ship.
I might as well get the olive grove photo out of the way first. The landscape, of much of our trip, will look like this!
Ah, welcome to Agiasos!
Here, we will explore two exceptional churches, one at the bottom of the hill and one at the top. The Church of the Dormition of the Holy Mother, is tiny and museum quality. It reflects the icons and beautiful scriptural walls. To enter the church we first walk through the Bell Tower. Going in……..
It is a tiny church………set in a small neighborhood.
A few doors down from the church, is one of the woodworking shops, still operating today. Note the chandelier……
We’ll walk through the market place now. The walkway is covered in overhanging vines to keep you from burning up!
We might need a little break at one of the many coffee shops.
We had plenty of opportunity to buy an icon of the Virgin Mary. Greek Churches are heavily adorned with them.
At the top of the hill is the Church of the Virgin Mary (Agia Sion) From the market enter the church courtyard, through this set of doors.
In the courtyard is another bell tower. Notice the gnarly tree that looks petrified? Lesbos means forested or woody and there is a petrified forest of trees in Lesbos. I’m glad they kept the tree!
As we enter the church……a post-Byzantine basilica, with three aisles and a temple: a feature in Byzantine churches. The temple, made of marble and silver, provides a barrier between the sanctuary and the alter. It was made in the beginning of the 19th century, with wall paintings dated from 1838. Three previous churches on this spot burned to the ground.
Here is my story of the history of the Church of the Virgin Mary……… About 1200 years ago in Constantinople (Today’s Istanbul) Aghathon, an Ephesian Priest of the Chapel of Palaces, self-exiled to Jerusalem, because he was in favor of icons. An icon is a painting of Jesus Christ or another holy figure, typically in the traditional style on wood, and was used to aid in devotions in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches. In 802, Aghathon heard of Empress Irene of Athens, who was also an iconophile, living in exile on Lesbos Island. Wishing to meet her, he traveled to Lesbos taking with him an icon, “Madonna and the Holy Infant,” a silver cross with wood from the True Cross, a manuscript gospel and other relics. He vowed that the icon “Our Lady.” was painted on wax and mastic (a bushy evergreen-like tree, found in the Mediterranean that has aromatic leaves and nuts similar to pistachios) by Luke the Evangelist. The icon bore the inscription “Mitir Theou, Agia Sion,” which translates, “Mother of God, Holy Sion.” Jerusalem at that time was called Agia Sion.
By the time Aghathon arrived in Lesbos, Irene was dead, so he followed a stream into a remote wooded area and decided to stay. Aghathon hid the Holy Relics and built a hermitage named Carya. Over time, the small humble, hermitage evolved into a monastery, where devout men of surrounding villages came to live. The monks continued to hide all the relics from pirates and disbelievers, until they felt safe enough to reveal them, long after Aghathon’s death. After that, the monastery became a pilgrimage site. Two pilgrimages to Agia Sion were equal to one pilgrimage to the Holy land. And, that is how the village got its name, Agiasos, and it remains a pilgrimage site today. Now, for a look inside the church, as it is today.
Remember the wood working shop we peeked in? They were making a wooden chandelier just like this one!
There are other buildings on the property, possibly a school……….
with beautiful walkways around it.
As we move along to other islands, we are finding they are all intertwined, with many connections to the Virgin Mary. It is extraordinary! And extremely interesting!
I am including this map so you know where we are! Cady