What to visit in Skiathos: the Monastery of Evangelistria
Religion plays an important role in the life of the Greeks, and particularly in the islands, where many people still strictly respect religious traditions, like fasting, for example. The rich sailors’ families often had their own chapel, so that the saint or the Holy Mary would watch over their safety. In Skiathos, as in all Greek islands, these chapels abound. They were usually erected in spectacular locations, with splendid views. Do not hesitate to go on a hike uphill and inland on the dirty roads to visit some of them. You will always find there a bench to rest, sometimes a fountain with fresh water and a moment of peace.
Among the must excursions during your stay in Skiathos, you will certainly include the magnificent Monastery Evangelistria. Whether you are a believer or not, this beautiful building is worth a visit for many reasons: the extraordinary landscape that surrounds the high-quality restoration that was done there in recent years, largely financed by European funds, the role it played in the construction of modern Greece, its museums of everyday life and musical instruments from around the world and its store local produce.
The Monastery of Evangelistria is on the northeastern edge of the island, about 5km away from Skiathos Town, on Mount Karaflytzan
akia, the highest peak of Skiathos, near the headwaters of the river Lechouni amidst lush and impressive nature. It dominates the Aegean Sea which sometimes looks like the Atlantic Ocean when it crashes wildly on the rocks 450 m below.
If you are fans of hiking, you can reach the monastery on foot, about an hour on a paved steep sloping road. For those who prefer to keep their breath to marvel at the top, the monastery can be reached by car in about 20 minutes. Only the last meters will be covered on foot.
The monastery was founded by two monks, Niphon, a native of Chios and Gregory Hatzistamatis, from Skiathos, forced to leave Mount Athos as a result of a dispute with the monastic community. Gregory had inherited from his father a vast land in the mountain where he decided to build the monastery. The construction began in the 18th century, in 1794 to be exact, and was completed in 1806.
The community of monks who resided there provided a significant support to the pre-revolutionary movements against the Turks and to the Greek Revolution of 1821. Do you know that the first Greek flag, with the white cross on a blue background, was designed, woven, blessed and raised for the first time in the Monastery of Evangelistria?
In the mid 90s, when the old abbot Gerasimos died after 39 years of loyal service, for two years, no replacement came to take in hand the destiny of the monastery. The risk of desertification was real. Fortunately, in 1997, the arrival of the dynamic and charismatic Pater Angelos marked the beginning of a long period of creativity, progress and intense and very successful renovation of the sanctuary. Craftsmen restored most of the buildings and realized a beautiful landscaping of the gardens all around.
During months, they were involved in the construction or repair of the church of the three domes topped with a roof of stone, dedicated to “The Annunciation of the Virgin”. They also repaired the cells of the West Wing, the guest house, the kitchen, the bakery, the folklore museum, the library, the vestry of the chapels of St. John and St. Demetrius, residence of the abbot, and paved the eastern courtyard of the tank. A vineyard was planted, and many fruit trees, ornamental plants and flowers.
The Monastery had finally recovered its beauty and its majesty.
Not only the location is stunning, but in the museum of ecclesiastical life, visitors can admire the ancient vestments, manuscripts and books from the 17th century, old wooden crosses and silver Byzantine icons.
Twice a year, the monastery is invaded by the faithful and by many foreign tourists. One of course is the procession of the Virgin, on the eve of August 15. The islanders sing candlelight praise to the Virgin and it is difficult to remain indifferent to this feeling of reverence.
Another important moment in the life of the monastery is the Holy Week, which culminates in the Mass of the Resurrection, during the night from Saturday to Sunday. At the time of the resurrection, the church is plunged into darkness. The priest then brings the Holy Light, who came from Jerusalem by a plane chartered by a wealthy ship owner from the island. The light will be progressively diffused into the church and outside, from faithful to faithful, from candle to candle. This gradual illumination is punctuated by ” Christos anesti ” (Christ is risen) and “Alithos anesti” (really, he is risen).
Apart from these two moments of intense activity, the monastery is a haven of peace, a nice break from the bustle of the holidays, which will prompt you to meditation.