Agiasos - St Mary of Zion, Traditional Craftsmen and Kaynari

  1. General Information
  2. The Traditional Arts and Crafts of Agiasos
        2.1       Woodcraft and Woodcarving in Agiasos  
        2.2       Agiasos Ceramics and Pottery
        2.3       Pagiavleli: A Perfect Gift for Children and the Young at Heart
  3. The Jerusalem of Lesvos: St Mary of Agiasos
        3.1       Historical Information
        3.2       The Agiasos Ecclesiastical Museum and Folklore Exhibition
  4. Religious Celebrations
  5. Agiasos Events
  6. The Carnival of Agiasos
  7. Agiasos Products
  8. Nearby Attractions

General Information

A wealth of chestnuts, cherry trees, olives and walnuts compose the woodland around Agiasos, the village rightfully considered the most picturesque hillside location in the entirety of Lesvos. The area is splendid year-round, whether you come sweet-chestnut picking in autumn or birding in spring.

Built on the side of Mount Olympus, Agiasos has an altitude of 475 meters. Visitors here can marvel at the views to the fertile valleys and woodlands below, explore the surrounding fruit and nut tree forests and lose track of time in the nature of Agiasos, where wild boar still roam the woods to the intermittent sound of birdsong. A birders’ and botanists’ haven, Agiasos is ideal for an escapade in a timeless setting characterized by its natural beauty, deeply religious sentiment and highly colorful residents.

Wander around the village and you will discover that, in more than one respect, time in Agiasos has stood still. The locals still use horses to negotiate the uneven paths to the hillside, where the olive trees demand to be harvested and cared for, no matter the barely accessible terrain. You are bound to see one or two of the deeply-loved nags tied outside a house or roaming the village streets. Traditional houses painted in all colors of the rainbow, cobblestone alleys, tiny tavernas and cafes with an air of the past, traditional arts and crafts shops selling woodcarvings and pottery, the lively chatter of ‘Agiasotes’ speaking in the local dialect: Agiasos celebrates its traditional character and lulls the senses of its visitors with its many colors, sounds and the scent of frankincense emanating from its famous church.

The Traditional Arts and Crafts of Agiasos

Woodcraft and Woodcarving in Agiasos

Agiasos is famed for its many traditional craftsmen and is an ideal place in which to admire and purchase a range of brightly painted ceramics and furniture or decorative pieces crafted out of olive-wood and transformed into unique works of art. The village has a long history in woodcraft and carving and presents an idyllic setting in which to exhibit the many striking examples of the local craftsmen’s work.

It is believed that the majority of carved-wood furniture in existence in the households of Lesvos has been crafted in Agiasos, a village conventionally known as a producer of fine wooden storage chests (a tradition that originated in the 18th century AD) and where the plentitude of raw material has meant that walnut, olive and chestnut tree wood may assume the shape of an elaborately adorned mirror frame, a handsome saddle or a stunning vitrine.

According to historical records, the skills used by contemporary ‘Agiasotes’ woodcarvers were introduced to Agiasos by the craftsmen of the city of Giannina who came to elaborately decorate its great church of the Virgin. Passed down from generation to generation, these skills have survived to the present, when the nature and religious life of Agiasos continue to become a source of inspiration for its renowned craftsmen.

Take the opportunity to visit one the many workshops and furniture stores of Agiasos and admire a variety of wooden furniture adorned with gloriously elaborate scenes – the Byzantine motif of two-headed eagles, religious imagery, flowers and birds are chiseled by hand and stem from nothing other than the imagination, their deep love for their work and the outstanding woodcarving skills of Agiasos craftsmen.

Agiasos Ceramics and Pottery

The ceramics made in Agiasos are the result of the village’s long-standing tradition in the art of pottery and there are plenty of ceramists who create, display and sell their unique pieces of pottery in the village. A number of them still use the techniques of the artists of ancient Greece and may be observed at work using a potter’s wheel or elaborately decorating their stunning creations.

As archaeological excavations in the area of Thermi have revealed, the art of pottery has been an integral part of the creative life of Lesvos for over five thousand years. Amphorae were used to transport the olive oil and wine of Lesvos to the rest of the Aegean and, in Byzantine years, vessels made out of clay were popular utilitarian objects. The art of pottery received a great boost in the years of the mass emigration of Greeks from Asia Minor to Lesvos. Numerous workshops became established, and the techniques used on the island for centuries became enhanced to suit the needs of the local residents and take best advantage of the raw material present in each individual area.

The pottery crafted in Agiasos is a result of the village’s long-standing position as a center of artistic inspiration and creativity, the use of age-old techniques and the determination of the potters of Agiasos to keep their craft alive. Whether purely ornamental or highly utilitarian, the ceramics of Agiasos are elaborately painted, extremely decorative artefacts able to convey a little of the atmosphere only to be encountered in Agiasos. An annual exhibition of Lesvian Pottery takes place in Mandamados each year, however those interested in admiring a wealth of delightful ceramics should definitely come to the village and choose at least one piece of Agiasos pottery to take home.

Pagiavleli: A Perfect Gift for Children and the Young at Heart

A ‘pagiavleli’ is a small jug-shaped ceramic vessel traditionally made in Agiasos. A traditional toy for children and the young at heart, it becomes a melodic instrument as soon as its owner blows air into the tiny spout. A variety of these brightly painted vessels are crafted and sold in Agiasos and make highly decorative, affordable, easily transportable souvenirs from this hugely creative village.

The Jerusalem of Lesvos: St Mary of Agiasos

Historical Information 

Agiasos is affectionately known as the ‘Jerusalem of Lesvos’, a term that accurately describes the popularity of the village with pilgrims from Greece and around the world. Hundreds of believers visit the village each year and come to its well-known temple of the ‘Panagia I Vrephokratousa’ (the Madonna and Infant Jesus) to pay their respects to a religious icon of Mary that was created in the 4th century AD. The icon is widely believed to have miraculous powers and, according to local legend, was created by Saint Luke.

The icon is said to have survived the Iconomachy wars of the 9th century AD when a monk named Agathon brought it from Jerusalem to Lesvos, an island which had abstained from the Byzantine frenzy against items of religious worship. It is believed his intention was to meet the exiled Byzantine Empress Irene the Athenian and return with her to Constantinople as soon as the Iconomachy movement had been suppressed. It is unknown whether Agathon did meet Empress Irene. But it is claimed he took refuge in a green, uninhabited area behind the current ‘Anagnostirio’ of Agiasos and spent the rest of his life as a hermit.

The area is inexorably linked with Agathon’s icon of the Virgin. According to historical records, Agathon came into contact with the residents of Karini and Penthili and soon began to receive numerous believers, some of whom stayed close to the monk and established the settlement later to become known as ‘Agiasos’.

A small monastery was established in the 9th century AD, Agathon’s icon of the ‘Vrephokratousa’ becoming a pole of attraction for believers who came to pay their respects to the ‘Mother of God, Agia Sion’ as an inscription on the icon read. A visit to the monastery was a visit to the ‘Agia Sion’: the root of the village name of ‘Agiasos’ and an early moniker for Jerusalem.

The church of Agiasos has been built, destroyed and completely rebuilt a number of times. The original temple was constructed in 1173 on the hill where Agathon was ultimately buried. It was preserved for 633 years and, over that period of time, a small settlement was gradually established around the church and became a thriving town. Many Christian families sought refuge in the church when the island of Lesvos was occupied by the Ottoman Empire.

In 1806, the original structure was deemed to have been unstable and a new church was built. Its interior was lavishly decorated with an iconostasis of elaborately carved wood that never came to completion: a great fire destroyed both the temple and a large part of the original town. Miraculously, nearly all the icons in the church survived the blaze. In 1815, the temple was built for the third and last time. The three-tiered basilica of today contains a priceless collection of icons and votive offerings. Its interior decoration was completed in 1838 and was radically renovated in 1977.

Today, the main church of Agiasos is the destination of thousands of believers who come here to pay their respects to the Virgin and enjoy the tranquility of the magnificent temple and churchyard.

The Agiasos Ecclesiastical Museum and Folklore Exhibition

Visitors to the church may visit the Ecclesiastical Museum and Folklore Exhibition hosted within the churchyard. Both are open year-round.

Religious Celebrations

If you happen to be on Lesvos on or around August 15th, be prepared to encounter hundreds of pilgrims who negotiate the distance to Agiasos on foot and hoard to the church to commemorate the Assumption of Mary. It is an event of deep religious sentiment and will give you an insight into the Orthodox Christian faith.

Agiasos Events

A number of cultural events such as amateur plays, choir evenings and concerts are organized and hosted within the ‘Anagnostirion’ (library) building on an annual basis. The Library includes hundreds of books, music scores, newspapers, manuscripts and photographs that will familiarize you with Greek culture and tradition. The Anagnostirion is open between 16.30 pm and 19.30 pm in the winter and between 17.00 pm and 20.00 pm in the summer season. Entrance is free.

The Carnival of Agiasos

The most colorful event taking place in the village is the famous Agiasos carnival, which has become known for its playfully caustic character. The Agiasos carnival is an opportunity to make merry, a time when the local residents indulge in traditional singing and dancing in the village streets and playfully reflect on the political life of the country. It is a tradition that originates from ancient celebrations of the god Dionysus, but became highly political during the Ottoman occupation of Lesvos. Participants to the carnival invent satirical verses that are uttered in the characteristic local dialect and satirize Greece’s contemporary political affairs. If you are on the island in the months of spring, make sure to come to Agiasos and acquire a taste of the Agiasos carnival: it is a major cultural event for which Agiasos is famous.

Agiasos Products

The village enjoys a healthy market area where you can purchase beautifully hand-painted pottery, elaborate wood carvings, unique pieces of embroidery, lacework and weaving, furniture and a variety of memorabilia. While here, do try local treats such as dried figs and ‘halvadaki’ (pieces of nougat coated in sesame seeds) as well as local cheeses and ‘khachles’ (a concoction of wheat soaked in fresh goat’s milk and left to dry).

A traditional Agiasos beverage is the village’s famous ‘kaynari’, an infusion of a variety of spices and a total of nine herbs with a rich red color and a hugely aromatic character. Served scalding hot, kaynari is commonly prepared and consumed in the south of Turkey and is a popular Agiasos beverage all through the year. Should you find yourself in the village, do have a taste of this highly aromatic beverage - the blend of cinnamon, cloves, sage and mountain tea will tantalize your taste buds and you will be tempted to discover each of the ingredients used in kaynari’s age-old recipe. You will never guess the secret ingredient giving kaynari its depth of flavor and alleged aphrodisiac qualities, but (here’s a hint) it grows abundantly in the area!

The ideal site from which to enjoy a great view of Agiasos is the “Garden of Our Lady”, where the cool breeze in the leaves of its age-old plane tree will grant you a few moments of relaxation, bracing you for an exploration of Agiasos with its many sights and the famous church of the Virgin.

Nearby Attractions

The valley of Saint Dimitrios and the fertile area of Karini are located only a few kilometers away from Agiasos and are definitely worth a stop. Karini was a refuge for the famous local folk painter Theophilos, as is testified by the remains of wall-paintings found in the area.

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