On top of a hill above Chora, the capital of Ios, stands a small church dedicated to Panagia Gremiotissa, the saint protector of the island.
The name in Greek means Virgin Mary of the Steep Cliff, probably because of the location of the church. With a blue dome, white walls and a tall bell tower, this church distinguishes for the palm tree that stands right next to it, this is why it can be seen from every part of Chora.
The church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and celebrates on August 15th. It was built in 1797 A.D. and its location offers an amazing view of the white houses of the town, the port, and the blue Aegean Sea.
The local legend has it that the miraculous icon travelled on a raft, with a lit vigil light always next to it, which was not blown out by either the winds or the waves, leading the religionists from the Turkish-ruled Crete to the coasts of Ios.
Another local tradition wants the icon of Virgin Mary with Christ to be found in the bay of Mylopotas, in the rocks, lit by a vigil light. The residents moved it to the church of Timios Stavros. Miraculously, however, each night the icon was transferred in the place we see it today –and this is how the new church was built in honour of Virgin Mary.
Going uphill to the yard of Gremiotissa and further above, to the three chapels that there are on the way to the highest peak of the rock (Agios Nikolaos, Agios Ioannis, Agios Eleftherios), we can understand why the islanders believe that they are constantly under the roof of Virgin Mary.
The celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin starts on the evening of the 14th of August. Believers gather at the church just before the sunset to listen to the mass. It's not just a religious but also a very big social gathering. Everybody is dressed in formal clothing and it's a great opportunity to meet with friends and relatives who have visited the island for the summer.
Due to the summer heat and the small size of the church, most people are sitting outside in the stone-white yard with the breathtaking views of the island. The church is a very famous tourist spot during the sunset as it is built on the highest point of Chora and has an unrestricted view of the Aegean sea. Many tourists arrive unaware of the importance of the day for the locals they can be easily identified by the bathing-suits and casual clothes they wear.
On the 15th of August, the day of the assumption, believers arrive early in the morning at the church for the litany and the holy communion. The position of the church at the highest point of the Chora makes it almost a pilgrimage to arrive.
I arrived very early at the gate of the church where some local kids and their mothers were offering the guests cold water, blessed bread and a traditional sweet called “Loukoumi”.
The priest with the help of locals carries the icon of Virgin Mary out of the church to begin the long way around the Chora of the island.