“Tinos, where the little hanging offerings of crutches, bandages and paintings, testify to the miracle having taken place, and remind one once again that here, as in the ruined and forsaken shrines to Aesculapius, healing and divination are one.” Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’
Very close to Mykonos is the island of Delos, an interesting archaeological site that we visited one day during the first week of our stay on Mykonos. Allegedly the birth place of Apollo it is the epicentre of the Cycladic ring and an uninhabited island ten kilometres from the holiday island, and is a vast archaeological site that together with Athens on the mainland and Knossos on Crete makes up the three most important archaeological sites in Greece.
Delos was well worth a visit but here are two bits of advice, firstly don’t miss the last boat home or else you will be stuck on the rather remote island all night long and secondly take plenty of water and a snack because there is only one small shop on the island attached to the museum and it is meteorically expensive!
On another day during the first week we took a ferry ride to Paros and I think that it was sitting on the top deck of the ferry enjoying a mythos in the sun that was the beginning of my fascination for Greek ferries and island hopping holidays. We didn’t stay on Paros for any length of time, just long enough to wander through the back streets of this very busy town, a sort of hub of the Cycladic ferry system, have a drink and a meal and then a return journey to Mykonos.
Having acquired a taste for using the ferries to visit other islands we took a trip during the second week to the intriguing little island of nearby Tinos, which is a secretive place that doesn’t feature very often on holiday itineraries. As we approached the port we could see that not being a tourist island it wasn’t going to any special effort to become one and the harbour front was functional and utilitarian and without the ribbon of colourful bars and tavernas to which we had become accustomed.
Tinos is an intensely religious island famous most of all for the Church of Panagia Evangelistria which holds a reputedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary and is the venue for an annual pilgrimage that is perhaps the most notable religious pilgrimage in the region of the eastern Mediterranean. Many pilgrims make their way the eight hundred metres from the ferry wharf to the church on their hands and knees as sign of devotion. It was extremely hot and it was hard enough work just walking up the long hill to the church so I imagine that you would have to be seriously determined to do it on all fours, although to be fair there is a strip of red carpet at the edge of the pavement to stop pilgrims ripping their hands and knees to shreds.
On the way to the church there were old fashioned stores selling various sizes of candles to take to the church and instead of postcards there were racks of cards each with a picture of a part of the body. The shopkeepers could speak no English so couldn’t explain what these were but we eventually worked it out for ourselves. If you have a bad knee or an ankle then you buy a leg picture, a poorly arm, an elbow picture and so on and then you take this to the Church and ask for a cure and leave it their so that God doesn’t just forget about it after you have gone.
We reached the brilliant white Renaissance style Church and went inside to see the miraculous icon which according to tradition was found after the Virgin appeared to the nun, St. Pelagia, and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. By coincidence the icon was found on the very first day after the creation of the modern Greek State and henceforth Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the Greek nation. Inside the church it was hard to find because it was dark and oppressive with the sickly aroma of incense exaggerated by the heat of the burning candles but eventually we found it, almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and with a line of people waiting their turn to admire it and place a gentle kiss upon its base.
After we had seen the church and wandered around the gardens for a while we walked back down the long hill and back to the harbour where we walked rather aimlessly until we came across the best of the bars that we could find and stopped for a drink while we waited for the return ferry to Mykonos.