Easter at Patmos island
Patmos is a unique island in the Dodecanese in Greece. The locals depend less on Tourism than on other islands in the Aegean and to that end, they are even keeping from building an airport on the island. It attracts however a lot of religion-related tourism. That makes absolute sense since on the island you can visit the Cave of the Apocalypse, where Saint John has written it.
I have visited the island to experience Orthodox Easter, the biggest religious celebration in Greece. The capital of the island looks majestic, as there is a castle in the middle of it and the whole town is within its walls. I found out that many of the houses are owned by a very interesting crowd, including a princess of Spain. Since it was spring, the flowers were blossoming and created a very rejuvenating landscape.
One of the first people I met was Chryssi, 89 at the time, in her beautiful yard preparing the traditional dish of "giaprakia" (stuffed vine leaves with rice, traditionally served in an artichoke's wedge). She gladly obliged to have her pictures taken.
I, of course, stuck around to try some and they were absolutely marvellous.
On Holy (Maundy) Thursday, a 400-year-old custom takes place, the custom of "Niptiras" (Mandatum in Latin, thus Maundy Thursday). The custom is a representation of Christ washing off the feet of His students before the Last Supper. It was initiated during the Byzantine Empire when the Emperors would wash the feet of the poor.
It starts when the Morning Mass has ended in the Monastery of Saint John. A Litany starts towards the central square where a platform has been built for that purpose. Twelve priests sit around the platform representing the students and the Abbot arrives last representing Christ. The Last Supper is being read and when it reaches the point where Christ washes the feet of the students, the Abbot washes the feet of the priests. The litany then returns to the Monastery.
I have met these days with a local journalist and he introduced me to the Gryllis family in Kampos village who prepare tons of "Patiniotikes"(from Patmos). These are delicious pies, traditionally made during the Holy Week. It's a handful of a pastry pie, with a sweetened Mizithra (Greek soft cheese) filling.
This family still uses the traditional way of baking them, and that is, in a wood oven. The whole family takes part and you can smell the pies from far away. I took the time to make a few images of Moscha, her husband Sideris as well as their children preparing the pies. Thursday is also the day when families in Greece dye their Easter eggs.
On Saturday is the night of the Ressurection. Around Greece this time, Saturday midnight is celebrated with flares, fireworks, and crackers. They start when the priests chant "Christos Anesti" (Christ Resurrected) and the bells of the church start ringing.
Before that, the Sacred Light is delivered to pilgrims, which have arrived from Jerusalem. In Monasteries, such as this one, there is a beautiful custom where pilgrims are called upon to receive the Light by sounding the "Talanto". This is a large wooden plank, hanging from two strings that are rhythmically hit with wooden hammers by the monks. There are three of these planks and the rhythm starts slow and the tempo gradually intensifies. When it reaches its climax it suddenly stops.
Another interesting meeting was with renowned painter Vassilis Kypraiou at his house, one of the most beautiful houses I have ever been to in my life.
I met Vassilis at a local cafe and we started chatting. He invited me to have a glass of wine at his house and I was there on the same afternoon. His house was inside the castle walls of the capital and was comprised of multiple levels. He had a great collection of antique furniture and combined with his great aesthetic taste the house was really something to look at. I visited his studio inside the house and we had some wine on his beautiful balcony, overlooking the castle and the archipelagos.
He used to live in Paris and he was a somewhat rebel student of the famous painter Yannis Moralis. He did a private show once in the US and with the money, he got by selling his paintings at this private gathering, he was able to buy this house.
On Easter Tuesday, that is Tuesday after Easter Sunday, another interesting custom takes place on Patmos island. The Icon of "Panagia Kimitirion" (Madonna of the Cemeteries) is picked up from its place and a litany takes place around the capital, where the Icon is taken inside the houses of the locals, to bless them.
The locals are celebrating and they are all dressed up. They have prepared some kind of treat for the visitors that will enter the house. The Icon is accompanied by the local priest and a wish is read at each house. I have followed this litany and entered many houses to make some images.
Finally, in the next few days, I have managed to arrange a shooting with two local girls wearing the traditional costume of Patmos. We went to a few places to make images, including the Monastery of Saint John, a local house, and at the local windmills where there was a pretty small church nearby as well.
Patmos has really resonated with me and I have great memories of that place. I have tasted great local food and met very interesting locals. The geography and the local architecture of the island also make it a great destination for visitors who want to experience a serene quality time.