Orthodox and Catholic traditions harmoniously coexist, celebrating Holy Week with vibrant customs and ceremonies

Easter Rituals on the Cycladic Island of Tinos

Tinos, a captivating Cycladic island, is renowned for its enduring religious customs and ceremonies during Holy Week. Both Orthodox and Catholic traditions flourish here, with the “Common Table of Love” epitomizing harmony and brotherhood.

Religious fervor runs deep on Tinos, where Easter is observed with reverence. Ancient traditions persist as Orthodox and Catholic communities coexist harmoniously, their churches often situated side by side. Visitors can witness not only Orthodox customs and services but also Catholic ones, such as the medieval tradition of the Passion’s Mysteries. The “Communal Table of Love”, or “Agape”, unites Orthodox and Catholic congregations in a spirit of reconciliation and camaraderie.

As spring envelops the island, fragrant herbs and wildflowers abound, transforming barren landscapes into verdant tapestries of color. In the 600 meticulously maintained chapels, spring and Easter are celebrated in unison. On Easter Day, the warm-hearted locals welcome visitors to their festivities and fairs, treating them to delectable meze dishes, traditional plates, fine wines, and sweet Tinos raki, all accompanied by lively music and dancing. The island’s tavernas also offer these flavors in special Easter menus.

Before we delve into the Resurrection, let’s explore the rich customs and ceremonies of Holy Week, awaiting those who choose to spend their vacation on this enchanting island.

Lantern-shaped pastries and the Catholic tradition of the Passion’s Mysteries

At least 10 days before Easter, households gather to prepare “tsimbita tyropitakia” or “lanterns,” small cheese pastries. The filling is made with fresh, unsalted Tinos myzithra cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. The quantities are generous, as the pastries will be sent to relatives across Greece and saved for the upcoming feasts of Saint George and Saint Mark. These sweets have become so popular that you can find them in all the island’s patisseries year-round.

On Holy Thursday, it’s worth attending the Crucifix’s Deposition at Megalochari and the imposing church of Panagia Rodariou in Xinara. On Good Friday, the medieval tradition of the Passion’s Mysteries takes place in the large Catholic churches. We recommend visiting Panagia Rodariou early on Good Friday to witness the full ceremony. Twenty-nine tools and objects—symbols of Christ’s suffering, painted on wood or cardboard (the “kandrakia“)—are successively raised by children in the center of the church. Simultaneously, rhyming quatrains in the vernacular language are chanted.

The Epitaphios of Saint Nicholas that enters the water

The evening procession of the Epitaphios in the villages is more solemn, while in the city, it’s more impressive. There, the Epitaphios of the four parishes and Panagia meet on the marble platform in the pedestrian street of the old harbor for a joint prayer. As you will notice, the Epitaphios of Megalochari is modestly adorned, as is the one of Saint Nicholas of the city’s Catholic church. The very structure of the Epitaphios is so intricately decorated that only a few additional flowers are needed.

After this ceremony, the Epitaphios of Saint Nicholas heads towards the nearby Kalami harbor. Follow it to see the priest, chanters, and the Epitaphios itself entering the sea, while crosses are lit on the opposite rocky islet, and boats whistle to pay their respects. This particular ritual, which has gained fame for its spectacular nature, was established in the early 2000s following the deaths of two Tinians in a shipwreck of an overseas vessel.

The procession of the Epitaphios in the village of Pyrgos is also impressive, where women sprinkle it with fragrant oil from balconies or windows—a custom observed in all villages. After the conclusion of the Good Friday service, women, men, and children begin holding lanterns to light the candles in the chapels.

Easter with reverence but also “trombonies”

On Holy Saturday morning, the First Resurrection takes place. As the chant “Anasta o Theos krinon tin gin” is sung, the priest of each parish scatters lemon verbena leaves. According to tradition, whoever catches a leaf before it falls to the ground puts it in their wallet so “they never run out of money.” If an unmarried woman catches it, she will “get married within the year.” During the day, households complete preparations for Easter night and cook magiritsa soup. For a fasting lunch, you can choose the small harbor of Panormos, near Pyrgos, with its excellent fish taverns and restaurants overlooking the sea. The bay of Ysternia is also a great choice.

As Easter night has evolved throughout Greece, you won’t escape fireworks in Tinos either; however, you can ask which smaller villages have less noisy celebrations (and at what time). Additionally, in Tinos, they also fire “trombonies” with special guns that are loaded from the front. This custom has been held for years, and the noise was believed to ward off evil spirits. If you choose the square of Megalochari for the Easter celebration, you’ll in in store for a brilliant spectacle due to the grandeur of the space. It is highly likely (as I have seen) that white doves will soar around the time the bells begin to ring.

Easter Sunday with Festivities

As we mentioned, on this day, if you do not eat at a restaurant, you can take part in one of the small festivals organized at the chapels. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, the Vespers of Love takes place, and as described by folklorist and ethnologist Alekos Florakis, the Resurrection icon is paraded through the streets on a pole, surrounded by a wreath of flowers. At that time, there is intense competition between nearby villages as to who will fire the most “trimbonies” (loud gunshots).

The Table of Love on Easter Monday

Throughout Holy Week, various chapels and churches organize the “Communal Table of Love” or “Agape.” Especially on Easter Monday, we recommend visiting Ktikados, Tripotamos, and Kardiani – where you will be invited to sit with them (as long as your group is small). In Ktikados, Orthodox and Catholic believers gather in the courtyard or the large hall of Panagia Megalomata. There, as Alekos Florakis writes, they “drink together in brotherhood at the common table with food that each person has brought – mainly boiled and grilled meat, beef soup, and wine.

Speeches are given by the priest who recommends unity and love, the village’s deceased are commemorated, and white candles are distributed which are lit with the priest’s candle. The villagers ask for forgiveness if their words or actions have harmed one another, they reconcile and depart purified.” In Kardiani, on Easter Monday, a dance is organized with live music, free food, and wine offered by the local association. The “Agape” takes place there the next day at the Church of Saint Peter.

Discover numerous attractions in a single journey

While exploring Tinos during the delightful spring days, you’ll witness the island at its finest. One of the most picturesque routes is the one leading from the Main Town to Pyrgos, meandering through various charming villages. This route, essentially the island’s backbone, concludes in the northwest at the so-called Exo Meria.

Starting from the town on Alavanou Street, follow the signs towards Pyrgos. At 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in, take a brief detour to visit Ktikados, a stunning Tinian village known for its remarkable architecture and panoramic views of the sea and Kionia. Admire the quaint, cobbled alleys, arched houses with marble skylights, and fountains, as well as the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross and the Orthodox Church of Hypapanti or Megalomata. Just a kilometer away is Hatzirados, a smaller village that shares the same enchanting atmosphere.

Return to the main road and continue to Campos, where you’ll find the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Catherine, dating back to 1771. Stop at Tarabados to explore the old pigeon houses adorned with intricate stone carvings. Another must-see Tinian village is Kardiani, which is beautifully built on the slopes of Mount Pateles and surrounded by lush greenery, offering stunning views of the sea.

As you stroll through Kardiani, you’ll come across marvelous houses, marble fountains, vaulted arcades, and several Catholic and Orthodox churches. If you linger in Kardiani until the evening, you can enjoy one of the most breathtaking sunsets while sitting with locals in the central square, featuring a distinctive fountain with sculpted frogs.

Next, make a stop at Ysternia, an traditional Cycladic village famous for its marble sculptors. Boasting masterful architecture and an abundance of marble, Ysternia is truly captivating. Visit the Byzantine-style Church of Agia Paraskevi, which offers a magnificent view of the sea and Ysternia Bay from its marble courtyard. The bay is also a haven for food lovers, as it hosts the renowned Thalassaki restaurant.

Continuing along the main road, pass by the old windmills of Ysternia and head towards Exo Meria, with Pyrgos as your final destination. Although it may be crowded, don’t miss the opportunity to relax in Pyrgos’ famous square, complete with a marble fountain, cafes, and restaurants, all huddled under the shade of a colossal plane tree.

Pyrgos, the largest settlement in Tinos after the main town, stands as a prime example of Cycladic architecture and serves as an open-air museum of folk art. Stroll through its narrow alleys and visit the churches of Agios Nikolaos and Agios Dimitrios. Each neighborhood features houses with flower-filled courtyards, with idiosyncratic architectural elements, such as lintels, window frames, and relief decorations, all intricately crafted from marble, as are the skillfully designed village fountains. Don’t miss the exceptional Pyrgos Marble Craft Museum, the Tinos Artists Museum, and the nearby house of Giannoulis Halepas, a historic monument.

Situated 3.5 kilometers from PyrgosPanormos is small port of Tinos. The scene encapsulates the island’s essence: moored fishing boats, seaside taverns, cafes, restaurants, traditional Cycladic houses, and an array of rental accommodations. The landscape’s uniqueness is further enhanced by the islet of Planitis, featuring a lighthouse first illuminated in 1886, marking the distinctive northern port of Tinos.

Our gratitude goes to priest Markos Foskolos, General Vicar of the Catholic Archdiocese of Naxos-Tinos-Andros-Mykonos, for providing valuable information.

The customs mentioned are sourced from the book “Once Upon a Time in Tinos – Palimpsest Folklore” by folklorist and ethnologist Alekos Florakis.