The church of Agia (Saint) Matrona with its characteristic palm tree lies to the east of the main street in Phoenikia on Santorini and was built in 1859 by Frangisko Plati, a shipowner from Oia. In the old days Phoenikia was the farmers’ quarter of Oia. But here one also found the kanaves (cellars) belonging to Oia residents and the ruling class who stored their wine barrels, farming equipment and quite often even their livestock in these impressive enormous underground spaces. In the beginning of the 20th century there were more than 150 of these kanaves, but they were abandoned after the war. Today many have been transformed into pensions, while others remain abandoned; very few are still used for storage.
The feast day or panigyri of Agia Matrona in Phoenikia takes place on October the 20th, after the hordes of tourists have departed and the local population can have some fun amongst themselves. On the eve, at 7 pm, the church bells ring to announce the evening prayers and the faithful gather for the service. Just opposite in a beautiful half-ruined building, a former vedema, with a large courtyard, tables and benches are set up along with two big cauldrons, one for cooking meat, the other for rice. As for the music, apart from local instruments, the violin and lute, people also flock from neighbouring islands with their own instruments (tsabounes and toubakia) and there are moments when they all play together – of course without loudspeakers – creating a Dionysian atmosphere.
Some foreign visitors are invariably present at the panigyri, and they dance local dances in their own special way.
People sing, dance and make merry till sunrise when, after snatching a couple of hours’ sleep, the faithful reappear at the morning service and follow the procession of the icon of Agia Matrona through the village alleyways which have been strewn with sweet-smelling rosemary and rose geranium branches.
The panigyri of Agia Matrona is rightfully considered one of the most colorful church festivals on Santorini.
- AddressPhoenikia, Santorini