Easter in Syros: A Tale of Two Churches
In these turbulent times we live in, we can always do with more feel good stories. How about two religions happily co-existing side by side?
That’s what you get when you visit Syros, the administrative center of the Cyclades, also known as the Pope’s island. Back in the day, Syros was part of the Venetian portfolio, and unlike much of the rest of Greece (part of the Ottoman Empire) it enjoyed the benefits of the Renaissance, with all the accompanying comforts of an enlightened occupier. Fast forward a few centuries and Syros continues to be a beacon of hope and diversity. And that is immediately visible from the moment you set foot on the lovely, colorful port and set your gaze on the two hills dominating the skyline. Both have churches, but one is Catholic and the other Orthodox. To be clear, you won’t get two different Easter celebrations. Catholics and Orthodox Christians have made it an Orthodox affair and both communities celebrate the Eastern branch.
The island is as cosmopolitan as they come. With remnants of medieval, Cycladic, neoclassical and Venetian influences, Syros is unlike most Greek islands. It doesn’t depend on tourism, and most of the residents are actually of working age. The vibe in the island is markedly different from other Cycladic isles and that shows from the fact that Syros is one of a handful of Greek islands that doesn’t completely shut shop in winter; it is fully functional and operates all year round.
The capital itself, Ermoupoli is deserving of a visit on its own. The colorful neoclassical mansions and the mix match of styles is just pukka. A visit to the grandiose Saint George cathedral in Miaouli square is imperative, as is the 19th century Apollo theater (modelled after Milan’s La Scala).
Easter time is the most important religious celebration in Greece. The rituals and the pageantry are unrivalled, even when considering Chios’s rocket war or Corfu’s recklessly fun pot throwing tradition. Things aren’t as intense in Syros, but the cracking of the red dye eggs, the superb magiritsa soup and the roasting of lambs on Easter Sunday are non-negotiable. If you thought you’d be losing weight in Greece, think again. Better postpone that gym membership for after Easter.