Festival of Saint John in the ancient city of Vrykous

This is a very old custom that takes place in the ancient city of Vrykous, in the island of Karpathos. The cave church of Saint John celebrates and the believers walk for one and a half hour from the nearest village through a difficult road.
Photography / Text: George Tatakis

This is a really interesting custom that takes place in the ancient city of Vrykous in Karpathos island. This city belongs to the Olympos community. In order to reach the place you have to go to the nearest village of Avlona and walk for one and a half hour to the city of Vrykous. The road is not easy and will take you through a mountain. The second half is the most difficult as there is a very steep downhill. There is always the option of taking the boat from Diafani port. But you will miss all the fun.

I decided to go along with papa Yannis, the priest of Olympos, who is the one to arrange the schedule. Since I followed him, I knew that I wouldn't miss anything. Papa Yannis came along wearing normal clothes so it would be easier for him to walk. He would put on his vestments when he would arrive. 

Indeed as we arrived, just before the camp, papa Yannis stopped to put on his vestments. The place has many ancient house ruins but also ancient tombs. It is a complete city and the whole place looks very surreal. We then moved towards the camp set for the celebration. This is a fixed installation set especially for this reason.

After sometime he will strike the bell, to signal the Evening Mass. He will go down the stairs to the cave church to carry on with the Mass. The church is really beautiful and very very old. Inside, there is a pond and water drips from the cave's ceiling keeping it always filled with water. 

Everyone had found the place to spend the night and set up their sleeping bag. The place is quite crowded and it will only fit so many people, so it is a good idea to pre-arrange your space. After church is done, everyone passes along to get some of the blessed bread and Greek doughnuts (Loukoumades) with Ouzo (traditional alcoholic drink with anise seed).

They will proceed to the tables set in order to have dinner and listen to music and dance. 

After everyone is finished with dinner the singing starts. As with all Olympian customs, the singing starts with table songs that are very slow and you are not meant to dance and then they move to Mantinades. These are songs with on-the-spot made lyrics that speak about each others' families, praising the members or may speak about deceased relatives or even express nostalgia about passed times. 

People get very emotional during the Mantinades, with many of them even crying. After a few hours a very slow dance begins, so that people get in the mood for dancing. This dance may keep on for another few hours. Then the fast dance (Pano Choros) will start and keep on until the morning. This is a very energetic dance that is danced in a circle. Men are allowed to dance next to their women relatives or to wives/ fiancees. The one dancing at the end of the line will be the next to get in front of the line next. 

When the sun rises, there are boats coming to pick people up to take them to Diafani port, so many of them decide to go back. The locals told me that in the older times, no one would leave in the morning. Some go back on foot and carry goods with their donkeys, if they have one. It is a much better idea to start your way back early in the morning because it is much cooler. 

At eight o'clock in the morning there is the Morning Mass. Not everyone has stayed for that so it is less crowded. Papa Yannis once more will strike the bell and procees to the Morning Mass. 

After the Mass most of the people pack their stuff to go back home. Some stay to have lunch and yet some more singing and maybe dancing. The food served is roasted goat with rice or Makarounes (local traditional hand made pasta). I decided to go back early in the afternoon which was very difficult because the temperature was very high. Fortunately, I had a white jumper with me, which I put under a tap and soaked it with water. I then tied it up on my head to make it easier to go back. 

#ancient #church #cave #overnight #camping #religion


Festival of Saint John in the ancient city of Vrykous

Unnamed Road, Karpathos 857 00, Greece
Olympos, South Aegean, Greece

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