The Greek island of Tinos.
The Greek island of Tinos. Detours

Greek miracles at Tinos

YOU'D like a miracle? Wouldn't we all.

While most of us never expect such a phenomenon, miracles do happen. And one awaits you on the Greek Island of Tinos.

But the catch is, you'll have to crawl on your hands and knees towards it. For more than a kilometre. Uphill. No stopping to stand up.

It might sound impossible but thousands of people do it on this quiet and unpretentious island.

Tinos becomes a mini Lourdes each year on August 15 as pilgrims come from afar, swarming anxiously out of giant ferries to drop to their knees at the harbour and begin the long uphill crawl to the Church of Panagia.

Once at the entrance to the church and up a series of steps, they must wait patiently with hordes of other miracle seekers for their turn to touch the healing icon of the Virgin Mary.

The church was built in 1823 especially to house the icon found in 1822, and is now the attraction for thousands of Greek Orthodox believers convinced their pleas for a miracle will be answered.

Pregnancy is one of the main reasons for a pilgrimage. Women will crawl on gloved hands and padded knees in the firm belief they will conceive after this important passage. And the strange thing is, they do.

The Church of Panagia is perhaps the most respected and important religious monument in Greece.

It is not grand by the standards of the magnificent Italian basilicas, but it is imposing enough and is comprised mostly of marble from Tinos, Paros and Delos.

It sits high and splendid at the end of a steep and busy road leading up from the harbour.

A strip of worn red carpet runs along the side of the road to make the crawl just a little more comfortable. Shops selling religious icons and artefacts line the road and do brisk business.

We were on the island of Tinos, not for a miracle (although we wouldn't say no to one), but for some of the simple pleasures all Greek islands deliver: consistent sun, translucent sea, rustic tavernas, laid-back indulgence.

We'd been cruising onboard Star Clipper and decided to hop off at Tinos, one of the Cyclades islands just a half hour ferry ride from Mykonos. We were curious to see what this miraculous place was all about.

It was June, not the frantic month of pilgrimage, but we did see several people on hands and knees making their slow and difficult way towards the church.

We found modest accommodation at Voreades Rooms. Stone arches, leafy courtyards and secret winding stairways gave charm to the simplicity of Voredes Rooms. Our room, small and spotless, had a spacious balcony where we could sit and sip Retsina and look out over the pretty harbour.

Our hosts were dismayed we weren't going to hire a car and spend days driving around the island to see the traditional sugar-cube architecture, the countless churches, the unspoilt villages, the cute windmills and the famous dovecotes (pigeon houses.)

“We are content here near the harbour,” we told them and then looked at their pictures of the villages and pigeon houses, making appreciative noises before heading out to the lively little port town to eat stuffed peppers and moussaka and to listen to bouzouki music.

In the morning, we ate thick yogurt and fresh bread and jam in the sunny breakfast room, and then walked to the church (no crawling for us), popping in to many of the shops to examine just some of the thousands of religious trinkets cramming shelves and windows.

We gathered with the crowds at the church to file in sedately to look for the icon of the Virgin Mary, and said silent thanks that during our fortunate lives blessed with children and now grandchildren, we had had no need to call upon a miracle.

And then we caught a ferry to Mykonos – where the only crawling is that carried out by revellers after a night of heavy partying.

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