Tinos is often said to be the “most Greek” of the Aegean islands, probably because foreign tourists seldom visit. It has other names as well: Tinos of the windmills … of the 1000 pigeon-houses … of the Venetians … of sculptors and painters … of the basket weavers. It is also the home of Aeolus, god of the winds. On the morning we arrived Aeolus was working up a full throttle “meltemi” wind.
As soon as we step off the ramp from the ferry we are approached by a woman who introduces herself as Nikoleta. She shows us a photo album of photographs of her “domatia” (rooms for rent), and the rate was quite reasonable. She claims the place is only 500 meters from the waterfront, and she has a car to drive us (and our backpacks). We agree to take a look, and (as promised) she delivers us to the rooming house in a few minutes.
After settling into our room, we walk back to the waterfront to explore the town, which extends not more than a kilometer from the sea. The capital, also called Tinos (a common practice in the islands) is where most of the population lives. A broad paved street leads from the harbour to the low hill, on top of which stands the magnificent church of Panagia Evangelistra.
The complex is built around a miraculous icon which according to tradition was found after the Virgin Mary appeared to a nun (St. Pelagia), and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. The icon is widely believed to be the source of numerous miracles. It is by now almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and is commonly referred to as Megalochari (the Graced Madonna). The church is often called the same, and is considered a protectress of seafarers and healer of the infirm. Also, since the icon was found within a few days after the creation of the modern Greek State, Megalochari was declared the patron saint of Greece.
The edge the street leading to the church is carpeted with a narrow strip that extends to the top of the hill. This is to accommodate people who come to pray at the icon and invoke its healing power. It is said that the icon has cured many illnesses over the many years since it was uncovered.
The most devote supplicants literally crawl up the hill to the church on their hands and knees (hence the need for carpeting). However, even with the carpeting, those who do not use padding on their hands and knees are often bloodied by the time they reach the hilltop. We saw several elderly women in obvious pain – praying for a miracle as they crawled up the street.
Even Greeks say that Tinos is a very religious island. Because of the occupation of the Venetians many centuries past, a large population of Roman Catholics co-exist with the Greek-Orthodox. Tinos is called the island of the 800 churches, Tinos of Megalochari, Tinos of the Monasteries, of the religious refugees.
After speaking with the proprietor of a book exchange, we discover we have arrived on the island at a most propitious time – the anniversary of the discovery of the famous icon. We are told the public presentation of the icon on July 23rd is a really BIG affair.