Virgin Mary is a holy figure for Greeks not only because she gave birth to Jesus but because worshippers have connected Her with the Greek nation’s freedom in many cases. As a result, the mother of Jesus has been given several different names all over Greece as locals wanted to thank Virgin Mary for her aid in some of the woes they faced. It’s the same holy figure, having taken different names, though.
TINOS: Greek nation’s Virgin Mary
The icon of Virgin Mary was discovered underground on January 30, 1823, after many excavations. St. Pelagia was then a nun on the island. One night, she dreamed of a lady who explained how much she had suffered all those years buried. The lady ordered the nun Pelagia to wake up early in the morning and begin digging in the field of Ant. Doxaras to find her ruined mansion. After many futile efforts, they discovered the icon of Virgin Mary in the Kechrovouni area. A few years later and until today, officials decided to celebrate Her Grace from August 15-23.
IMATHIA: Pontian Greeks’ holy figure of Panagia Soumela
Panagia Soumela, the Virgin Mary’s monastery located in Imathia area, is the symbol of Pontian worship to Her. The icon of the Virgin Mary was iconographed by Evangelist Luke, but after his death, his apprentice, Ananias, transferred the icon to Athens and it was renamed Panagia Athiniotissa.
In the late 4th Century A.D., Virgin Mary appeared in front of monks Sofronios and Varnavas as a vision and asked them to follow her to build a monastery in Her favor. They headed for the Mount Mela in Imathia prefecture where they were forced to stop. That’s why Virgin Mary is called Soumela, since in the Pontian dialect ”sou Mela” means “at Mela (mountain).”
MIKROKASTRO in Kozani: Riding horses to celebrate the Dormition of Virgin Mary
A special celebration on Assumption Day is that of Mikrokastro village in Kozani. On August 15, thousands of locals as well as foreigners visit the village to celebrate and admire the Virgin Mary’s icon, which dates to 1603. Many riders accompany worshippers on the way to the Church
PAROS: The Virgin Mary Church’s 100 doors
According to tradition, this church of Virgin Mary on Paros island, which is also called Panagia Ekatontapiliani, has 99 visible doors and one that cannot be seen. The 100th door will be revealed only when Greeks occupy Istanbul, which they call Constantinople, again.
In Markopoulo village on Kefalonia is located the Dormition of Virgin Mary Church. According to locals, from August 6 through 15 many snakes of all sizes can be found inside and outside the church, earning them the name Virgin Mary’s snakes.
Myth has it that there was a monastery in this area. One day, pirates attacked and nuns asked Virgin Mary to turn them into birds or snakes to save themselves. Since then, snakes appear in the temple on the Assumption Day but do not attack worshippers. People believe it’s a bad omen if snakes do not appear, as happened in 1940 and in 1953, when the island was hit by major earthquakes.
KOUFONISSIA: Worshippers go to church on boats
Many Christians celebrate the holiness of Virgin Mary on Koufonissia. After the service, worshippers gather around the church and are offered food. After the feast, they organize a kind of a sailing race with their boats.
Three-day-long paniyiria are held in many villages of Zagorohoria in Ioannina. All together, locals and visitors attend the service and celebrate till the early morning hours with much food and wine, as well as with traditional dances of Epirus.
These are only some customs and festivals organized all over Greece on August 15 in honor of Virgin Mary. Whenever one is found on that Day, they will definitely find several other events and paniyiria to celebrate!