Churches on Paxos Island
Over 90 percent of the Greeks identify as Greek Orthodox, with small minorities of Roman Catholics, Jewish, and Muslims in the country. In fact, religion is integral to life in Greece. Marriages, baptisms, and funeral services take place in the church. Additionally, Greeks will go to church any day of the week when they have a problem and light a candle to their favourite saint.
The island of Paxos, to the west of the Greek mainland, is no exception to the way religion pervades Greece. Such is the dominance of the Greek Orthodox religion, that there is a mind-boggling amount of churches on Paxos, considering the population this island has. Although Paxos has only about 2,500 permanent residents, there are 64 churches on this island in the Ionian Sea. That is one for every 70 residents!
It must be said, however, that not all of these churches are in working order. Some are in a state of disrepair or have, due to their age, been reduced to mere ruins. Whether you are religious or not, the churches on Paxos Island offer a great insight into the cultural heritage. The quaint architecture, the icons of archaeological significance, and the remarkable frescoes paint a picture of a time when Paxos was virtually cut off from the rest of Greece.
Christian Churches: Ruins of the Past
While the vast majority of Greeks is Orthodox, there is still some Christian heritage in the country. On the island of Paxos, there are two Christian churches left. They date back to the 6th century AD, meaning they are about 1,500 years old! Needless to say, both churches are now complete ruins.
Agia Marina, Ozias
These two Christian churches are both located southeast of the island. The first church in Agia Marina, which is situated across the bay from Mongonissi Beach. This is a basilica that still conserves parts of its walls but is somewhat overgrown by weeds.
Agios Stefanos, Ozias
The other Christian church is Agios Stefanos in the Ozias area. Now somewhat hidden between the trees and bushes, off to the side of the road between Ozias and Mongonissi peninsula. These St. Stefanos ruins were already listed back in 1686 as not having a roof. Now, the most significant part that is left are some arches and part of a dome.
Greek Orthodox churches
Most of the Greek Orthodox churches on Paxos Island date back to the Venetian era. The Venetian reign, which roughly took place between the mid-14th century and the late 18th century, put an important stamp on the local architecture. With that said, the churches weren’t usually built by the new rulers, but by local families instead. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting churches on Paxos Island.
One of the most remarkable churches on Paxos is Ypapanti (sometimes spelled as Ipapandi). Hidden in a secluded valley, close to Lakka, is the only Byzantine-style church on the island
It was built in 1601 and features a double dome and a marble altar-front. In 1772 a bell tower in Venetian style was built nearby. You can climb to the top, from which you have an amazing view towards Lakka, Corfu, and the Greek mainland.
Agion Apostolon, Gaios
The church of the Holy Apostles is situated in the island’s capital, Gaios. Its exact year of construction is unknown. However, Agion Apostolon was already mentioned in the 1686 church catalogue of Paxos, which counted 39 churches in use at the time.
Despite its age, this church is in perfect condition, and is fitted with notable icons. A belfry was added in 1860, making this a very characteristic building indeed. The cemetery is worth a visit, too.
Agia Triada, Gaios
Also in the island’s capital Gaios is Agia Triada church, which translates as the Holy Trinity. It is located smack in the centre of Gaios in a pedestrian street, close to bars, restaurants, and tourist shops. Agia Triada church is well-known for its pink and white tower with two bells. Inside this church, there are some impressive icons that depict biblical scenes.
Chapels on Paxos Island
Apart from the many churches on this small island, you will find a great number of chapels. Generally simple, whitewashed buildings, these chapels open their doors to the public only once a year – on the name day of the patron saint they are dedicated to.
One of the most striking chapels on Paxos is Agios Spyridon on the islet of Kaltsonissi. Situated at Paxos’ southeastern most point, this chapel may not offer much in the way of architecture, but is located at a spectacular spot by the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea. You can take a photo of it from the Mongonissi peninsula, or swim the 20 or so metres across the small channel that separates Mongonissi from Kaltsonissi.