I apologize for disappearing for a few days. I took a few days off and went to stay with friends in a small village at the foot of Mount Parnassus.
As part of their wonderful hospitality, they took us to visit a Byzantine church; Panagia Skripou.
Readers often comment on how the mystical and real mix in my works. This is hardly surprising, as I was raised with stories like the one surrounding this church.
The church was built by Leon, head of the Emperor’s personal guard, in 874. We know this from one of several signs that decorate the church interior. Indeed, the very name Skripou seems to derive from scriptus, Latin for inscription.
We visited on a cold day, about to snow:
Thankfully, the inside was warm enough. They were decorating it for a Christening about to take place. While the church had been burned down in the 90s by unknown arsonists, the damage has now been largely restored.
The church had two unusual features: a well in its middle (!), quite deep and full of water:
And the second unusual feature was a glass-covered hole on the floor, through which you could see the remains of an ancient Greek temple, probably to goddess Artemis or Aphrodite (Venus).
The church was built on top of the old temple, and Leon had used the fallen columns to decorate the walls of his new church:
The church itself is part of a larger archeological complex that includes the second-largest Mycenaean chamber tomb, dating from the early Bronze Age. A magical place, indeed.
A Modern-Day Miracle
The church is better known for a modern-day miracle attributed to the Virgin Mary. I have mentioned in the past how beloved Virgin Mary is in Greece, and this story may explain why.
In 1943, Greek partisans ambushed a group of Italian soldiers. In retaliation, German tanks were sent to burn down Orchomenos and kill the inhabitants on September 10. If you’re in any doubt as to what the aftermath would have been, this would have been a precursor to the notorious Distomo massacre when SS forces slaughtered almost 228 men, women, and children in nearby Distomo. According to survivors, the SS forces bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest. So, there’s little doubt of what would have happened had the Germans reached the city.
As the German force was driving past Panagia Skripou, however, their tanks stalled. The German commander came out of his tank, claiming he had seen a woman stand in the middle of the road, hand raised, forbidding him to move any farther.
It took the Germans two days to get the tanks moving again. During this time, the German commander visited the church and said he recognized the woman from the icons of the Virgin Mary.
So shocked was he by this that, after the war, he continued to visit every year on September 10. He also had an icon commissioned, commemorating the event. Even today, a celebratory Mass service takes place each year on that date to thank the Virgin Mary for saving Orchomenos:
Growing up in a country like this, is it any wonder that I can’t help but inject a bit of magic into all of my stories?