There are numerous Marian churches along the stunningly beautiful shorelines of the Aegean sea. Some majestic, some humble and unassuming, many of them built on rocks on inaccessible hills, or even in caves. Their histories are filled with religious miracles.
The Monastery of Panagia Chrysopigi on the island of Sifnos
The celebrated Chrisopigi Monastery, the most well-known church on Sifnos, has come to symbolize the entire island.
Built in 1650, it sits overlooking the sea upon a peninsula at the southeastern end of the island which was actually split off from the mainland — a miracle that is said to have occurred when Sifniot women took refuge from pirates there long ago.
Since 1964, large numbers of pilgrims have made their way there on the annual celebration of the Ascension, and many weddings and christenings are performed at the white-painted chapel throughout the year.
Panagia Hozoviotissa in Amorgos
The Monastery of Hozoviotissa in Amorgos is the second oldest in Greece, built back in the year 1017 by Alexius Comnenus I and renovated in 1088. It is literally built into the side of the cliff, perching there precariously at 300 m (984 feet) above the sea.
The monastery was created as an homage to the Grace of Panagia, known as the Virgin Mary, who is the patron saint of the island. Her icon is carried around to all the villages on the island every year.
It is without a doubt, the very pride of Amorgos, with its pristine white walls lined with portraits of monks and other spiritual leaders and numerous smaller artistic treasures, all permeated with the heady scent of incense.
Panagia tis Koimiseos in Folegandros
The largest church on Folegandros, this towering edifice it dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.
Built on a rock above Chora believed to be the site of an ancient temple, its construction was most likely made possible by reusing the stones from the older building. You can see ancient inscriptions, sculptures and statue bases in the courtyard as well as the interior of the church. The church used to belong to a convent.
The church’s icon of the Virgin Mary has also served as part of the plot of many pirate stories and legends.
Panagia Episkopi in Santorini
Located in the village of Episkopi Gonia (also known as Mesa Gonia) is the beautiful Byzantine-era church of Panagia Episkopi.
The church is considered the best example of traditional ecclesiastical architecture on the island.
Panagia Episkopi was built in the late 11th century by Emperor Alexios I Komninos, and as such is an important Byzantine monument. It houses the icon of Panagia Glikofilousa, considered to be one of the three most priceless portable icons in the world.
Panagia Ekatontapiliani on Paros
In Parikia, the capital of Paros, close to the port, stands the imposing church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (also known as the “Church of One Hundred Doors”). It is one of the most important and best-preserved Christian churches in all of Greece.
According to old Paros tradition, it was built in the middle of the fourth century by St. Helen or by her son, Constantine the Great himself, who fulfilled his mother’s vow to construct the edifice. There was a chapel at the same location before the fourth century.
It is said that Saint Helen herself had stopped to worship at this small chapel during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land to find the True Cross of Christ. According to the legend, St. Helen made a vow to the icon of the Virgin Mary that she would build a larger and more resplendent church to Her Grace in Paros, if she found the True Cross.
St. Helen fulfilled her vow; however the church was later destroyed, most likely by a fire, and it was rebuilt during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in the middle of the sixth century.
Panagia tou Charou in Leipsoi
This church is located on the hillside southeast of the capital of Leipsoi, a small island located south of Samos. It is home to the only icon in which the Virgin Mary is not holding Jesus Christ as a child, but rather after his crucifixion.
The icon is painted in a style which is after the Russian school of the nineteenth century. It is said to have been brought there by monks who had been expelled from one of the monastic communities of Mount Athos.
A remarkable event is said to take place there every year from 1943 until today. Every springtime, the worshippers gather lilies and place them in vases in front of the icon of the Panagia. In August, just a few days before the great feast, the flowers, long after they have dried up, begin to bud again, thus raising relevant connotations about the endless circle of life.
Panagia Tourliani on Mykonos
The Monastery of Panagia Tourliani, southeast of the island’s main town of Chora, dates from the 18th century and has a marble bell tower with intricate folk carvings. Originally founded in 1580, the monastery is dedicated to the protectress of Mykonos.
Its massive baroque iconostasis (altar screen), made in 1775 by Florentine artists, has small icons carefully placed amid the wooden structure’s painted green, red, and gold-leaf flowers. At the top are carved figures of the apostles and large icons depicting scenes from the New Testament.
The hanging incense holders with silver dragons holding red eggs in their mouths show a definite Eastern influence. In the hall of the monastery, an interesting museum displays intricate ecclesiastic embroideries and liturgical vestments, as well as wood carvings.
Panagia Tourliani on Milos
There is another church by the same name on the island of Milos, a much more humble church built on the hill above the Klima. Beyond its interesting interior, it is an ideal place from which to enjoy panoramic views of the island, the bay of Adamadas and the sunset.
Kyra Panagia in Karpathos
This church stands out due to its unusual, characteristic red dome. Just below the cliff on which it is perched lies a beautiful, unspoiled beach with crystal clear waters.