If you happen to be so lucky as to be visiting Santorini during the Easter week, you are in for a special treat, as you will have the chance to experience the most impressive Good Friday celebration in all of Greece!
The most significant religious holy celebration in Greece is Easter. It is even more paramount than Christmas and everybody loves preparing for it. The week before Easter is called Holy Week and traditionally the people fast (no meat, no dairy, no fish and no alcohol) and go to church once a day. The restaurants cater for people who are fasting and there are also several delectable vegan dishes on the menu. If you are visiting Greece during this time, it is a “must” that you enter a church, relax and soak in the glory of the décor and display of faith and love you are bound to encounter. Even if you don’t understand the words, there is certainly a feeling of peace and tranquility that will surround and permeate you. On “Big” Thursday the women and girls dye eggs in red to symbolize the blood of Christ and bake a special Easter sweet bread, called Tsoureki. These will be on the Easter table on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, along with the traditional lamb, of course.
While the Easter festivities all over Greece are illustrious and grand, there is no comparison to the magnificence you will experience than the Good Friday celebration on Santorini. Good Friday is a day of mourning as people reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. It is also the only day during the year when the Divine Liturgy is not read. The Greek flags are hung at half-mast and church bells ring all day in a slow, mournful tone. On the streets of Santorini, you will see girls decorating the Epitaph, the symbolic bier of Christ, in which they parade it throughout the village in a somber march. You will also notice in each village, a 10-meter-high cross elaborately decorated with lemon blossoms and lovely red flowers in the villages. These were created the weekend before on the Saturday of Lazarus and will stay displayed throughout the Holy Week.
Although all the villages on Santorini celebrate Good Friday with the typical Greek traditions, it is in the village of Pyrgos that you will experience an extraordinary, monumental occasion. The village of Pyrgos Kallistis, which means “the most beautiful tower” is one of the island’s five castle cities and was the capital of Santorini for centuries. It was declared a protected settlement in 1995 and today is still well-preserved. There are many sections of the village that one can get a peak of history through the 15th century architecture. Pyrgos is located at a high-altitude location, contributing to the breathtaking, panoramic views of the entire island, all the way across to the village of Oia. Upon strolling through Pyrgos’ streets, one will be transported to another era. However, what happens on Good Friday night, in one of the most celebrated local customs, is truly special.
As it goes, on Good Friday’s night, after the deposition from the Cross, begins the funeral procession of Jesus Christ through the streets of Pyrgos village. The Epitaph is carried along, followed by a choir singing solemn music, the cantors, the church clergy, women bearing myrrh, the altar boys carrying the liturgical fans, scouts and guides, and the people of the region, who sing the hymns throughout the procession. All along its route, holding lit candles in their hands, people scatter flowers and perfumes on the Epitaph and the people following in the procession. This act symbolizes the fragrance the women used when they went to the grave of Jesus to make his body aromatic and discovered that the tombstone was moved, and He had risen. The procession in Pyrgos starts from the Church of the Virgin Mary, at the top of the village, and then proceeds downhill around paths until it reaches the main street and village square (common meeting place). The villagers prepare by lighting up thousands of aluminum cans stuffed with flammable materials and place them on every house, every roof top, every church, every path, on the entire village and on the Venetian castle, creating an unforgettably remarkable picture and unique atmosphere. Whether you are standing down in the crowd at the village square, in the middle of the village halfway up or just looking from a nearby location, the spectacle of Good Friday in Pyrgos, is a one-of-a-kind celebration. As you approach the village from below, the view of the flickering torches is so grand that many visitors come from all over the island just to witness this event. The entire village glows ablaze like a giant torch as the funeral procession of the body of Jesus Christ (epitaph) starts through the narrow winding streets with thousands of people following behind holding candles. The labyrinth streets and the hillside views give followers the opportunity to appreciate the sight from afar while being a part of it. This is most certainly one of the most atmospheric experiences of a lifetime.
If you are fortunate to have booked your holiday in Santorini at this date, I would suggest you claim a spot in Pyrgos village early to view and experience this deeply emotional and beautiful event. You may also want to enjoy a meal and sit back as you watch the festivities surround you. Make sure to make a reservation or arrive early to get a table as there are only a handful of restaurants and tavernas available. They prepare a special menu for the Good Friday and Easter visitors of the island, which is full of spring and festive tastes that will bring you even closer to the Greek and local cuisine and the celebration of Easter in Pyrgos. Be sure to stick around after the procession of the Epitaph as fireworks will be going off in each village. Finally, make sure to soak in the splendor of this incredible evening, talk with the locals and enjoy the love and delight of the mood of the holiday.