The Church of Panagia Megalochari in Tinos, Cyclades: The church of Panagia (Virgin Mary) Megalochari is not only the patron saint of Tinos, but it is also considered as the saint protector of Greece. The name (Megalochari) means "with all graces" and is one of the names given to describe Virgin Mary. The church is actually dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and is also the most popular pilgrimage in Greece.
The church of Panagia Megalochari is located on a hill above Chora, the capital of Tinos. Many pilgrims cover this distance on their knees, from the port to the church, those who keep a solemn promise to the Virgin Mary. As the path is very rough and their knees can get injured, a long red carpet has been laid from the entrance of the church to the port, only for this reason.
According to the tradition, the church was built following the dream of a local nun from the Monastery of Kechrovouni in Tinos who later became a saint, Pelagia. The nun used to have frequent dreams of the Virgin Mary telling her to find her home and showing a particular place. When the nun dug in that place, in January 30th, 1823, she found an icon depicting Virgin Mary praying.
This icon was considered miraculous and today it is put inside the church. Pilgrims leave their offerings on that icon which actually represent their wishes, usually for good health. This icon is adorned with many offerings and one can hardly see it. However, there is a copy of that icon in the chapel on the ground floor.
Historians date the icon from the 7th century A.D and therefore it belongs to the Byzantine period. When the icon was found in 1823, the Greek Revolution against the Turks had just started and this was considered a good sign. In fact, many Greek leaders came to Tinos to pray to the icon, such as Karaiskakis, Kolokotronis, and Markygiannis.
The Church of Panagia Megalochari in Tinos is actually a monastery complex. It was originally built on the site of an early-Byzantine church dedicated to Saint John, which was actually built on the site of an ancient temple of Dionysus, as excavations have shown. On the ground floor, there is the Chapel of the Apocalypse. This chapel started to be built in 1823 when the holy icon was found.
On top of the small chapel, the whole monastery was built. Right next to the copy of the holy icon, there is a fountain from where you can take holy water. There are also two rooms where baptisms take place.
Once you climb up a small stair, you will see the main church, an impressive building all made of marble. This white marble is from Tinos and the church was constructed by local artisans. A beautiful bell tower stands by the church and a lot of stairs lead to the entrance. The atmosphere inside is solemn and peaceful. Services are performed every day. A date on the wooden iconostasis informs visitors that the church opened in 1825.
The church of Panagia Megalochari celebrates three times a year: on January 30th, the date when the icon was found; on March 25th, the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin; and on August 15, the day of the Assumption of the Virgin, which is also the greatest feast celebrated in every part of Greece. Pilgrims and officials flush into the island, while the Hellenic Navy sends a ship to give more glory to the feast. A Holy Service is performed in the morning and then a procession of the icon around Chora follows.