Cyclades - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The majority of islanders are of the Greek (Eastern) Orthodox faith, though the Cyclades also have a large Catholic minority, the result of long years of Italian rule. Because the islands' Catholic populations are descended—in part, at least—from the Venetians who once ruled the island, religious differences are sometimes exacerbated by class differences.

Beliefs in magic, ghosts, and other spirits are still to be found among at least some islanders. The most widespread and enduring belief, however, is the belief in the evil eye ( máti ). As elsewhere in Greece, no baby is ever seen without its blue bead, medallion, or other object to protect it from the harmful glance of those who have the "eye," and certain Individuals are believed to have the knowledge and skill to diagnose and counter the eye's ill effects.

The islands of the Cyclades derive their name from a holy place, the ancient sacred island of Delos, which once drew pilgrims and visitors from around the ancient world. Today, while the ruins of this ancient glory still attract foreign visitors, other islands such as Mykonos, Naxos, and Thera have also become notable tourist attractions. In addition, the Cyclades are the home of such important contemporary holy places as the Church of the Annunciation of Tinos and the Church of the Hundred Gates at Paros, popular destinations for Greek pilgrims, especially on major holy days. In general, the islands are becoming increasingly attractive to both tourists and urban Greeks who are drawn by the Cyclades's rugged scenery, picturesque towns and villages, and cultural diversity.

Ceremonies. The liturgical calendar structures the ritual year with its sequences of saints' days and other holy days. In addition, the life-cycle rites of baptism, marriage, and death are important familial and community ceremonial events. Each village has its particular saint's day, which is celebrated with a church service, visiting and eating at village houses, and eating, music, and dancing at the village tavernas. As elsewhere in Greece, one celebrates name days (the day of the saint for whom one is named) rather than birthdays. In recent years, these village saints' days ( paniyíria ) have tended to become somewhat commercialized. They are advertised to townspeople and tourists, and sometimes the village even charges admission. The major religious holiday of the Greek Orthodox liturgical cycle is Easter. Preceded by the long period of Lent (Sarakostí), it is a time of intense activity in the island villages. Houses are cleaned and whitewashed, special Easter sweets are baked, and animals are slaughtered for the Easter feast. Many villagers who have migrated to Athens Return to their native villages for the holiday. The climax of Easter services comes at midnight on Saturday, when the church bells ring to proclaim the resurrection and the congregants join in a procession around the village in celebration. Afterward, families return to their homes to break their fast with a large meal, and there follow several days of celebration in the houses and tavernas.

Death and Afterlife. Although conventions of mourning such as the wearing of black are less scrupulously observed by a younger generation, death continues to be commemorated with a long mourning period (usually three years) marked by periodic memorial services ( mnimósina ). At the end of this period, it is the custom on at least some of the islands to disinter the bones and place them in an ossuary, at which time the formal mourning period ends.

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