Church of Our Lady of Tinos
The shrine of the Holy Church of Panagia Evaggelistria of Tinos (Our Lady of Tinos) is the most important orthodox shrines of pilgrimage in Greece and one of the most famous throughout the world. The Church of Evaggelistria was built on the site where the Icon of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was miraculously discovered, after the Nun Pelagia had a vision. The faithful believe that the Icon performs miracles, and there are inspiring stories of the redeeming intervention of the Virgin Mary, which people have been fortunate enough to experience after dedicating fervent prayers to Her during difficult times in their lives.
The history of the Holy pilgrimage and the modern history of the Greek State run parallel. The discovery of the Icon in 1823 was considered a divine omen for the justice and the success of the revolution against the Turkish occupation, while the erection of the grand church was the first large architectural project of the newly-established Greek state.
The shrine of the pilgrimage of the “Panagia of Tinos” operates as a legal entity under public law, under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs, and is a financially independent charitable foundation, operating under the name “Pan-Hellenic Holy Foundation of Evaggelistria of Tinos", with charitable activity extending throughout Greece and abroad. It is governed by a 10-member committee that consists of nine elected members, and its Chairman is the Venerable Metropolitan Bishop of Syros-Tinos. The finances of the Holy Foundation are monitored and approved by the board of auditors while its budget and accounts are submitted for inspection and approval by the Ministries of National Education and Religious Affairs and Economy and Finance.
The Pan-Hellenic Holy Foundation of Evaggelistria of Tinos, on the basis of its declared purpose and relevant legislation, can, in addition to its operating expenditure, undertake other expenditure only if this is for philanthropic or general charitable purposes. The economic independence of the Institution and all its assets originate exclusively from donations, bequests and alms given by pilgrims from all across Greece and the entire world, who are led by their faith, and know that the funds will be used for the purpose of alleviating human suffering. The donations of the faithful are given back to society through the carrying out of philanthropic and charitable work.
The Church of Evaggelistria was built on the site where the miraculous Icon of Mary was discovered following the visions of a humble Nun, Saint Pelagia. In 1821 the Virgin Mary gave the first manifestation of Her purposes, showing Herself in the dream of a lowly, aged gardener, Mihalis Polyzois, leading him to the field of Antonios Doxaras, to dig for and find her icon. The efforts remained fruitless however, and, followed rapidly by disappointment, they were abandoned.
Two years later, Sister Pelagia, over three consecutive weeks, (Sunday 9, 16, 23/7/1822) saw the Virgin Mary in her dreams asking her to organize excavations for the unearthing of the icon and the restoration her Church, buried in the field of Antonios Doxaras, in Hora. The Nun, accompanied by the Mother Superior of the Convent, notified the Metropolitan Bishop of Tinos, Gabriel, who invited the local authorities and the people of Tinos to the Metropolitan Church of Taxiarches, and asked them to contribute, each in their way, to this purpose.
The people willingly started excavations in early September of 1822, and they discovered the remnants of an old church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. However, no trace of an icon was found, and the optimism slowly dissipated, leading people to gradually abandon the endeavor. Works started again with greater organization and tenacity, and on 31/1/1823, the pickaxe of Dimitris Vlassis, a volunteer worker from the Falatada village struck the miraculous icon of the Annunciation, splitting it in two, with the Virgin Mary on one side and the Archangel on the other.
Immediately after the discovery, the message rapidly spread throughout the Hellenistic world. People arrived from every corner of Greece to humbly worship the Divine Icon and beg for the liberation of the Nation. Greeks now felt certain of liberation. The event was taken as a clear Divine message of Greek-Orthodox Christianity, favoring the justice of the revolution. Important figures of the revolution arrived at the island to pay homage to the icon, among them Kolokotronis, Miaoulis, Nikitaras and Makrygiannis.
The discovery of the Divine Icon was followed by the building of the Church. It required great quantities of marble, which were mainly transported from the neighboring island of Delos. It also required a great number of workers, skilled in the processing and installation of marble, but mostly a lot of money; the lack of funds often left the project’s overseers in an awkward position as they faced difficulties both in paying workers at the end of each week and paying for materials. But again, as if by a miracle, all problems were resolved with generous contributions both of time and money by the people of Tinos, as well as from the entire Christian population of Greece and abroad. By mid-1832 the east wing of the complex had been erected, together with the section to the east of the bell tower and the section east of the central entrance. All construction work was completed in 1880.
Τhe Contribution of the Church
1. Throughout its history the Church’s vaulted ceilings have resounded not just with the prayers of the congregation who turn to Her Grace for healing, but with the heartbeat of Greece through all the critical moments of our Nation’s history from 1821 to this day. During the Turkish Occupation the Foundation gave sanctuary to thousands of persecuted refugees who came to Tinos from all corners of Greece.
With the assistance of the Foundation the first schools of liberated Greece were founded in Tinos, the only ones in operation during the 1821 revolution. After the liberation, the Foundation provided generous financial support to the newly established Greek state for the creation of the National fleet, the foundation of the University of Athens, the expenses of recruitment, and contributed large sums to the Cretan revolution.
In December of 1940, the committee of the Foundation, placed all valuables and gold relics of the Church, the Foundation and the Holy Icon at the government’s disposal towards the war effort and the country’s salvation.
2. The foundation, apart from its obvious general charitable and social work, stands out as the great protector and patron of education, the Letters and the Arts. The symbolic significance of the date when the Holy Icon was discovered is apparent, as the 30th of January is the day when we celebrate the memory of the Three Holy Heirachs, influential fathers of the early church.
- By October 1833, 11 schools were financed by the Holy Foundation.
- From 1838 a School of Ecclesiastical Music operates within the Foundation.
- The foundation also contributed to the establishment of the Silk Making School and the Holy Monastery of Kehrovouni as well as the establishment of the Crafts School of Tinos.
- In February of 1953 it funded and built the High school of Tinos.
- From 1840 it has funded scholarships for young Tinian people who distinguish themselves in their studies, whatever their creed (orthodox or catholic). Among them are Dimitris Filippotis, Nikiforos Lytras, Nikolaos Gizis, Giannoulis Halepas, Lazaros Sohos, Nikolaos Lytras, Georgios Vitalis, academic Nikolaos Louvaris and many others.
- As of 1956 it has financed the Preparatory and Professional School of Fine Arts of Tinos.
- In the 1960s the building of the Ecclesiastical Preparatory School of Tinos was erected, today housing the Ecclesiastical High school of Tinos with students from all across Greece.
The Holy Foundation financed the building of the Cultural Centre of Tinos, which today hosts a well-organized Library with thousands of books. Today it supports schools, school committees and the parent associations of Tinosin many ways, with generous sums donated for the repairs of their facilities, for purchases of educational aids, for the organization of various events, for awarding students who excel, etc.
Finally, it donates €3000 to the Academy of Athens each year for an award for the best theatrical play with a theological theme.
3. Even though the completion of the foundation’s complex required huge expense, it never stopped giving away part of its income for the care of poor and defenseless refugees who came to Tinos to escape the Turkish occupied territories. In particular, it offered protection to orphans who had lost their parents to the Turks. It funded dozens of families who undertook the care of these children.
In 1957 it renovated and made available a complex of buildings to be used as an old people’s home, which was renovated again in 1985 at the foundations’ expense, to provide additional comforts for its guests. Today it operates as an independent legal entity under private company law, financed by the Holy Foundation.
- It also contributes to the financing of the Hospital of Tinos, including the establishment of the Health Centre of Tinos, and supports the improvement of Health care in every way.
- Today it continues to make monthly and lump sum payments to the destitute, ill, aged and people no longer able to work.
- It also provides accommodation for poor pilgrims gives dowries to indigent girls, supports old people’s homes, hospitals, artificial kidney units, charity organizations, etc.
- Finally, it supports and provides financial aid to people hit by major natural disasters, epidemics, hunger or war, within and beyond Greek borders.
4. To this day the Foundation continues its ecclesiastical activities in all its forms, supporting foreign missions with large sums, aiming to make the Orthodox faith heard even in the remotest corners of our planet.
- It supports and protects ecclesiastical foundations including metropolis cathedrals, monasteries, and churches around the world.
- It provides financial support to all the churches and chapels of Tinos and donates ecclesiastical items.
- It supports the Apostolic Diakonia of Greece, the Holy Metropolis of Syros-Tinos and the Greek State as the successor to the fund TAKE in order to cover the insurance of clerics.
- It generally takes responsibility for meeting the spiritual needs of pilgrims and all those who turn to the Holy Foundation from across the world.
- Every day the Divine Liturgy, vespers and invocations are held in the Church, and clerics are always available to conduct the sacrament of Holy Confession.
5. Its social work activity has been intense, even from the early years of its establishment. Huge sums have been spent to carry out town planning projects within and outside the city of Tinos, to improve access for pilgrims and assist in the island’s financial and cultural growth. For example, we could mention the development of the old Evaggelistrias road and the new Megaloharis road, the island’s electric lighting network, the dredging of the harbour of Tinos, the dock, the harbor breakwaters and many others. It also finances the Municipality of Tinos on an annual basis for the construction of works to serve the needs of pilgrims, as well as other Local Government Organizations to carry out public utility works.
6. It established and maintains the Foundation of Tinian Culture after the renovation of the magnificent building which houses it, in Hora of Tinos. The Foundation of Tinian Culture hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as cultural and scientific events. Its main activities are the research, study and promotion of the history, art and the tradition of Tinos.
The Holy Foundation finances publications of literary and religious content. It participates in auctions and the purchase of important works of art of Tinian artists which are displayed in the various exhibitions at the Holy Foundation or the Foundation of Tinian Culture. It supports the Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the Schools of Byzantine Music and Iconography operating in the Foundation’s facilities, training dozens of young people.
The Church and its Facilities
1. The Church
The imposing Church of Evaggelistria was built at the site where the Icon of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (Evaggelismos) was discovered after the Nun Pelagia had a vision. It is a magnificent edifice, the first notable architectural monument of the liberated Greek nation. It is located on a prominent site in the Chora of Tinos. The church is a three-aisled Basilica with a cupola over the Holy Altar. It consists of two five-arched colonnades with four marble columns each, starting from the facade up to the Church’s chancel screen. When entering the church from the central gate, to the left of the entrance you can see the iconostasis where the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary is kept, which is surrounded by votive offerings (small metal plaques) left by pilgrims.
The Church’s chancel screen is carved out of wood, gilded on its lower section, and its upper section is of plaster with wooden friezes. It generally follows the design of the tall post-Byzantine carved wooden chancel screens. It was constructed in 1825 by Fragiskos Kanahilis.
The Holy Sanctuary is located three marble steps higher than the main nave of the Church and it has three alcoves. The central one is located behind the Holy Altar, and the eastern one was made into a Holy Altar in honor of the Assumption of the Lord. The western one honored the Transfigurations of the Lord, but today it honors the Assumption of the Mother of Christ. The Church remains to this date without substantial changes, except for the main facade and the bell tower. Next to the Church to the west, is the old (pre 19th century) Church of John the Precursor.
The bell tower stands dominant, authoritative and imposing. The Church’s first bell tower was 34 meters high, and had four bell mounting compartments. The strong north winds of the island however made its reconstruction imperative for reasons of safety. Today it stands 29 meters high and it has retained its original stone base. The base has the same height as the Church. From there it extends upwards in three marble compartments (lanterns), culminating in the cross. It was constructed by Ioannis Filippotis, from the village of Pyrgos of Tinos, while its design and supervision was undertaken by the architect and academic Anastasios Orlandos.
2. The Church of Zoodochos Pigi (Life-giving Spring) & the Discovery
This church is located directly beneath the Church of Evaggelistria. It is the Site of the discovery of the holy Icon, above which the church of Evaggelistria was built. Three vaulted covered parallel arcades comprise the lower Church. The arcades communicate with each other via arched openings in the intermediary walls.
In the first arcade, where the holy water is kept, is also the location where the Holy Icon was discovered. The central arcade is used mainly for baptisms. In its center we find the remnants of the early Christian Church of Saint John the Precursor (also known as John the Baptist) which were discovered during the excavation of the Holy Icon. The third arcade contains the baptism area for people of other religions.
3. Exhibition of Icons and Relics
This ha s been in operation since 1956, exhibiting old icons collected by the Holy Foundation from the Parish Churches of Tinos, which it has conserved, promoting the island’s tradition of Orthodox Iconography. It includes more icons, which are the product of dedications made by the faithful from various places, as well as the wooden carvings, engravings, and ecclesiastical relics that complete the exhibition.
Special reference should be made to the “Charta” (=map) of Rigas Feraios, one of the three originals surviving (dated 1797), the Patriarchal seal of the national martyr Patriarch Gregorios the fifth, the ring of Theodoros Kolokotronis, his own offering to Her Grace, the engraving of the icon of Her Grace, a work by Tinian painter Fragiskos Desipris (1858), and the dedicated offerings of Olympic medals.
The Foundation’s rich sacristy includes only part of the dedications, mainly works of ecclesiastical silversmithery and gold embroidery, exhibited in elegant showcases.
This was founded in 1961 from a donation to the Holy Foundation. It includes many important works by Greek and foreign painters. The last part of the building houses an exhibition of valuable European masterpieces, African sculpted ivory (donated by Greeks abroad), as well as portraits of the donator’s family.
6. Museum of Tinian Artists
It contains sculptures and paintings by Tinian Artists. It was established in 1930, and it has been expanding ever since. Only a part of the collection of works of art comes from purchases of the Foundation, which has never ceased to support the Arts and Letters. Many of the works have been donated by their creators, as evidence of their gratitude for the scholarships granted by the Foundation towards their studies.
Among many important Tinian sculptors, there are works by the Fytalis brothers, Georgios Vitalis, Dim. Filippotis and Lazaros Sohos. There are also paintings by leading painters Nikiforos Lytras and Nikolaos Gizis.
7. Antonis Sohos Museum
A special exhibition is that of the works of Polytechnic university professor and academician Antonios Sohos (Ysternia 1888-1975). There are 16 sculptures, a donation made to the Holy Foundation in 1966 by the artist himself, mainly in wood and plaster, as well as clay and marble, that cover his entire sculptural oeuvre.
8. The Elli Mausoleum
This is a monument dedicated to the first victims of World War II in Greece, the members of the crew of the battle cruiser ELLI that was torpedoed in 1940 in the port of Tinos. There are still various objects recovered from the ELLI.
9. Offices of the Administrative Committee and the Foundation’s Services Department
Located on the eastern side, on the first floor, is the conference room of the Foundation’s Administrative Committee, and adjacent to it the office of the service which provides information to pilgrims on matters that may concern them, such as the declaration and conduct of various religious ceremonies (marriage, baptism, etc.) or offering their dedications to the Virgin Mary.
This space is located in the exterior central entrance of the complex, where pilgrims may light their candles. The burning of candles is not permitted inside the main Church in order to protect its interior decoration, and the arrangement aims to improve the free movement of pilgrims during peak hours.
11. First Aid Station
There is a First Aid Station on the north side of the complex, offering first aid to visitors.
Confessionals are located on the west side, where the fathers provide spiritual guidance to the faithful and prepare them for the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Guesthouses are located on the eastern side of the complex, and each pilgrim may be accommodated free of charge for up to three days. (Here it should be mentioned that anyone interested may refer to the information leaflet, which is available free of charge and describes the history of the shrine as well as the administration and activities of the Holy Foundation).
14. Reception Hall
On the same side we find the reception hall, where the Foundation's official events are held and the Administrative Committee entertains its official guests.
The Four Great Celebrations
1. The Celebration of the Discovery of the Miraculous Icon (30/1)
On the eve of the celebration, the Holy Icon is taken in procession to the lower Church of the Discovery and placed near the location where it was buried for centuries. After that vespers are officiated, in a special service. A service is also held later in the night, attended by a large congregation.
On the next day a Divine Liturgy is held; after that a memorial service, and then a wreath is deposited at the bust of Archbishop Gabriel. In the afternoon there is a procession of the Holy Icon inside acanopied enclosure carried by honoured residents and visitors to Tinos. The litany and the procession follow the same route through the alleyways of Tinos as was followed the first time by the Icon in 1823. Then prayers are held at the dock side and the procession returns to the Church from the Eastern side of the city.
Before vespers members of the Administrative Committee deposit wreaths at the Tombs of the "Ktitores” and the Venerable Chairman of the Committee or his deputy gives the official report of the previous year’s activities.
During the night of the same day, the island’s school children lead by the Metropolitan Bishop, the Priests, the Mayor and the Municipal Board, with many Tinian resident and foreigners, follow the custom of the candlelight procession as they chant local hymns.
2. The Celebration of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (25/3)
Up to 1920, Greeks from the part of Greece not yet liberated, residents of Asia Minor, flooded Tinos having boarded dozens of steamships and sailboats, in order to ask for the liberation of their homeland.
Several thousands of people continue to arrive for the celebration in present times, despite the difficult weather conditions during this time of the year. On the eve of the holiday, vespers are held, and there is an all night vigil. On the day of the Annunciation there is a Hierarchal Liturgy and after that a procession of the Holy Icon and prayers at the beach.
3. Anniversary of the Vision of Saint Pelagia (23/7)
A day dedicated to Saint Pelagia, who on 23/7/1822 was granted the Supreme Blessing of seeing the Virgin Mary in her monastic cell. On the morning of this day, the icon is taken to the Monastery of the "Lady of the Angels" in Kehrovouni, where it remains throughout the day. A panegyric Liturgy and Invocation are held at the Church of Saint Pelagia. Thousands of people attend to worship the Holy Icon. The Mother Superior and the Nuns welcome the people who patiently wait for the hour of its return.
In the evening, the clerics and the thousands of people in the congregation accompany the Holy Icon, which is taken through the city on foot. When the Icon of the Virgin Mary passes by, the bells of the churches and the chapels ring out joyously. Old people and ailing residents go out into the central street to worship the Holy Icon. When the Holy Procession reaches the city, prayers are held on a raised platform on the beach, fireworks are set off, and late at night, the Holy Icon is transported to its Church.
4. Celebration of the Assumption of the Holy Mary (15/8)
Starting in early August, large numbers of pilgrims visit the Church to attend the invocations that are held every day, until the 13th of August when the last important invocation is held in the courtyard of the Holy Church. On the eve of the big day, the island is decorated festively and large crowds of the faithful flood the island. Tinos is turned into a vast guesthouse. Many people come to Her Grace to give alms or to thank Her for her benefaction. On the eve of the celebration many representatives of the Government, the armed forces and other officials arrive to pay their respects. In the evening Great Hierarchal Vespers are held, then an Invocation, a Divine Liturgy and following that Holy Communion.
On the morning of the celebration there a Hierarchal Liturgy is held in the Church of Her Grace. As part of the Liturgy, the official representative of the Government, the Admiral of the Fleet and the other officials board a Greek Navy torpedo boat and throw wreaths over the watery grave of the Greek cruiser Elli, which was the object of a cowardly torpedo attack just outside the port of Tinos on 15/8/1940. After the end of the liturgy there is a grand procession. The canopied frame holding the icon is carried by men of the Navy, surrounded by detachments of representatives of all military corps and security forces. It is followed by Archpriests and other officials.