Tinos is considered to be the capital of Religious Tourism in Greece. Panayia of Tinos, also known as the Megalohari of Tinos (Great Grace) or Evangelistria of Tinos (Our Lady of Good Tidings), is the declared national patron saint of Greece. The discovery of Her Holy Icon coincided with the very first days of the establishment of the Modern Greek State. Throughout the centuries, numerous reports of miracles attributed to the Holy Icon have rendered it the most venerated religious icon in Greece, and the Church of Panayia Evangelistria a globally known sacred place of spiritual pilgrimage and divine worship.
About the Icon
The Church of Panayia Evangelistria in Tinos is dedicated to an icon discovered in 1823. According to the tradition, Sister Pelayia, a nun form the Monastery Kehrovouniou had a vision: the Mother of God appeared asking her to unearth a buried miracle-working icon. Legend has it that the icon was dug up in a field and as soon as it was brought to light a hard protective shield like glass covered it. The men who removed it from the ground penetrated the shield and everyone who touched it was healed. Among the first visitors to Tinos to see the sacred image of the Panayia were Greek War of Independence (1821) heroes Kolokotronis, Miaoulis and Makriyannis.
The icon portrays the Virgin Mary kneeling and Her head bent in prayer, pronouncing words written in an open book. Opposite to the Virgin stands the Archangel Gabriel holding in his left hand a lily, the symbolic flower of purity, while the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends from heaven.
The art of the Holy Icon is regarded as being older than the Byzantine period, dating back to the early Christian age. Those who studied the origin of the Icon arrived at the conclusion that the Megalohari of Tinos is the work of the Apostle and Evangelist Luke. It is assumed that this icon was so highly esteemed in the Byzantine era it was either hidden or lost around the time of the Muslim invasions.
In our days, the Holy Icon is covered with gold and precious stones placed by those who believe in Panayia, as an expression of faith and gratefulness to Her.
About the Feast
The 15th of August is a day devoted to the Dormition (or Assumption) of Megalohari (Virgin Mary). Thousands of pilgrims from all over Greece and from abroad visit the Church of Evangelistria in Tinos to participate in the Feast of the Assumption celebrated in Byzantine splendour. Masses of people are crowded in front of the Church, while inside the Church the gentle candlelight, the hymns of praises to God, and the scent of the burning incense and myrrh create a mystic atmosphere of devout concentration.
During the celebration, the Holy Icon is carried with great honours and special services around the decorated streets of the town of Tinos. When the Icon returns to the Church, a prayer is chanted in memory of the builders and all those who offered themselves to the construction of the Church. Later in the evening, children led by the orchestra of the Church fill the streets of Hora holding lighted lanterns and singing hymns to praise the finding of the Holy Icon.
On the same day, Tinos also commemorates the sinking of the warship “Elli” in 1940, which was anchored outside the harbor of Tinos for the festivities. “Elli” was torpedoed by an Italian submarine, an episode that caused the Greek involvement in the Second World War.
About the Church
Throughout the centuries, the Sacred Church of the Megalohari in Tinos (“Great Grace”, derived from the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to the Theotokos: “Hail of Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”) has been globally recognised both as a place of pilgrimage and as a philanthropic organization.
The Church was built immediately after the discovery of the Holy Icon; its massive construction (including iconography, and the surrounded buildings) was concluded eight years later, in 1830. The Church is actually a monastery complex. Excavations showed that it was originally built on the site of an early-Byzantine church dedicated to Saint John, which was previously built on the site of an ancient temple of the ancient god Dionysus.
A number of experienced artisans and gifted artists worked tirelessly to carve the brilliant marbles and to design the breathtaking inner ornamentation of this Church. At the same time, gold and silver generously offered to the Theotokos by Christians from all over the world, enormous chandeliers and hundreds of icon-lamps hanging in endless rows compose a magnificent work of Christian art and architecture.
The sacredness of the place and the greatness of the Church create a spiritual atmosphere heightened by the hymns of the Divine Liturgy held every day of the year from the inauguration of the Church to the present day.
The church of Panayia Megalohari celebrates four times a year: on January 30th, the date when the Holy Icon was found; on March 25th, the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin; on July 27th, the day when Sister Pelayia had the vision of Panayia; and on August 15th, the day of the Assumption (or Dormition) of the Virgin.