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Greece » Cyclades islands » Folegandros island » Folegandros Sightseeing » The Church of Panagia (Virgin Mary)
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The Church of Panagia (Virgin Mary)

Panagia is the most well known church of Folegandros. It is dedicated to the Assumption of Virgin Mary. The church is built on a rocky hill above the town of Folegandros (Chora) and overlooks the place. Whitewashed, it has possibly been constructed on the place of the ruins of an ancient temple which served as building material. In fact, the visitor can observe parts of ancient inscriptions and bases of statues both in the interior and at the courtyard wall of the church. In the past the church served as the Catholicon of a women monastery.

The church is rectangular of the type of one-aisle basilica with many domes. It has also a tall whitewashed bell tower.

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From an inscription of marble dated in 1687, it is suggested that the church had been renovated and restored in this year, while it took its actual form after the interventions and restorations that took place in the years 1816 – 1821. Several famous craftsmen had worked to decorate the church, among them the marble carver Kaparias, coming from the island of Tenos, who had made the marble icon screen, the throne of the archbishop and the pulpit of the church.

One of the most important objects in the church is the silver trimmed icon of Virgin Mary, possibly going back to the Byzantine times. According to the local tradition the icon is wonder working and several stories and tales about pirates’ invasions are connected to it. Following an old custom, the devout people of the island make a process of the icon, which stops at every house of the island, thus celebrating the memory of one of the saving interventions of Virgin Mary.

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“Sat at the traditional café and drinking their raki, the elderly people of the town will tell you the story almost in the same words as they had heard it by their grandparents: Once upon a time, on the First of May of 1790, shortly before the revolt of the Aegean islands, stimulated by Lambros Katsonis, 18 boats with Algerian pirates, the most atrocious of all pirates, suddenly appeared in front of the island. The peaceful residents of the island, scared, ran up to the church of Panaghia begging for her protection. After a long, devout prayer, accompanied by crying, desperate and hoping, they took the icon of Panaghia and brought it at the rim of the cliff, asking her to save them. And, at this very moment, a strong northern wind blew and sank all the pirates’ boats, of whom nobody survived, but a Christian captive of the pirates. When he reached the coast, he told to the locals that, before the boats sink, he had seen a thunder-like light coming down from the cliff and striking the boats. Thus, everybody thought that it was a wonder and ever since the First of May is a very important feast for the island.”

Access to the church is possible on foot, via a stone paved path, departing from the Pounta square at Chora and continuing in zigzag up to the church. From Chora it takes some 15 minutes to arrive to the church.
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