Mykonos is a magical island in the Aegean Sea with a rich and colorful history and deep religious roots, counting hundreds of churches and chapels dating back to 500 AD. Below is a very brief historical background of the island and a timeline with the most significant events in Mykonos as a means to illustrate something really exciting.
Fast-forwarding Mykonos’ history
Being inhabited since 4500 BC, Mykonos was originally populated by the Egyptians, followed by the Minoan civilization and finally, the Romans. However, in the early 15th century AD, pirates began to plague the island. The pirates were banished in 1488 when they were discovered by a Venetian captain who had been looking for new lands to conquer or trade with. Mykonos flourished during this time as it became an important trading port of Turkey and Italy.
In 1692, Mykonos even became a part of Britain’s sphere of influence due to its strategic location between Europe and Africa. Finally, during World War II, Mykonos was invaded by Nazi Germany and Italy, who used it as a military base from which to launch attacks on Greece.
As you can realise, Mykonos has been through a whole lot. And, in every single difficult time or milestone moment in Mykonos’ lifespan, it appears that two saints were constantly watching over the island, according to numerous accounts. Allow us to introduce you to Saint Nikolaos and Saint Artemios – the guardians of Mykonos.
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St. Nikolaos – The symbol of generosity, goodwill, and hospitality
It is believed that Saint Nicholas, patron saint of fishermen and sailors, came to Mykonos around 500 AD to celebrate his saint day (and has been visiting the island every year ever since) and brought many gifts with him. The locals have followed the saint’s generosity and kind gesture and continue the tradition to date with a slight variation – they give gifts to children instead of receiving them.
In addition to celebrating his saint day every year, though, Saint Nicholas used to visit the Greek Orthodox churches in Mykonos and bless each one with a gold coin. People would then leave candles or cash behind, praying that the saint protects their loved ones throughout the year!
You can find a 4th-century church dedicated to Saint Nikolaos along the sea at the Old Harbour, exuding humility and humble, divine glory. Over the years, many people fighting with the waves of the Aegean Sea (and elsewhere) have reported sightings of Saint Nikolaos reaching out to them and offering them the protection they needed to make it to the shore safely. The saint’s memory is celebrated every December 6 with a litany of his icon along the coast and a huge feast and various festivities.
Saint Artemios – Watching over Mykonos
Artemios was a Byzantine military commander of Armenian descent who served two different Byzantine emperors. He is considered one of the few saints born in the Middle Ages and was even canonized on May 26, 2000, by Pope John Paul II. Saint Artemios was born in the early 7th century. His father, also named Artemios, had previously served as a military commander and was Governor of Armenia Minor. He was raised by his uncle and began a military career at the age of 12, eventually serving as a cavalryman in the Byzantine army’s “Hetaireia” regiment before being promoted to the rank of Domestic of the Schools (the commander-in-chief of all Byzantine military schools).
Artemios retired from active service, though, and became monastic on Mount Sion. He then took up residence in a monastery near Jerusalem, where he built an oratory dedicated to Saint George. Artemios was tortured and finally decapitated for his religious beliefs and has been associated with numerous miracles and the healing of people (Mykoneans and not only) suffering from various diseases.
Saint Artemios feast day is celebrated with a spectacular horse-riding event held at the old harbour followed by a grand fiesta every October 20. And, as with other religious festivities on the island, there’s lots of live music, traditional foods, and lots of local wine! So, even if you are not particularly drawn to religious sites, you can certainly join the feasts and mingle with the friendly locals or even dance and share a few ouzo shots with them!