First published in ekathimerini.com
Amorgos, the easternmost of the Cycladic Islands, “would well repay a visit… for its quaint costumes and customs and unadulterated simplicity. But those are luckiest who can visit it at Easter,” wrote James Bent, British archaeologist and explorer, in 1885. Easter indeed remains the best time to visit, when spring colors and aromas challenge the senses.
The houses and streets are whitewashed, against a background of blossoming flowers in the courtyards and on the surrounding hills that further enhance the atmosphere of celebration.
As in Byzantine times, the narrow streets through which the Easter funeral bier passes on the night of Good Friday are strewn with sage and oregano, which release essential oils into the air as they are trampled on. Residents sprinkle eau de cologne on the procession from their doors and windows, while wood-burning ovens are lit and visitors are offered bread, olives and special sweets for the fasting period. In contrast with the rest of Greece, Easter in Hora, the main village, does not end on Sunday but continues for an entire week. Observing customs recorded in ancient inscriptions, sacred icons are taken out of the extraordinary Monastery of Panaghia Hozoviotissa on Sunday and carried through the town for blessing ceremonies. In the afternoon, young people gather in the church courtyards to take part in special games for the day.
On Tinos, one of the western Cyclades and home to Greek Orthodox Christianity’s biggest annual religious festival on August 15, the Dormition of the Virgin, the Easter biers of the different churches, Orthodox and Catholic alike, converge at the port where the two churches, divided since the 11th century, briefly join forces in chanting hymns before each bier follows its own itinerary through the neighborhoods.
The bier of Aghios Nikolaos — patron saint of sailors — is taken into the water at the beach at the western end of town — in memory of a popular young sailor who drowned there in the mid-1980s. The burning crosses on the nearby rocks in the cove, the torches, the sirens of the ships at anchor, the hymns chanted by the hundreds of participants in the procession and the bier in the water present a haunting image with a good deal of mysticism.