We all know St Valentine’s Day, the festival of love. But how many people know that in Crete the day of love comes many months later, on 3 July, the feast of St Hyacinth, known here as Agios Yakinthos?
The day of Agios Yakinthos is not particularly promoted. What lover has given or received a gift, from a flower to a solitaire, on 3 July? Indeed, few people knew that there was a patron saint of lovers called Yakinthos until the late 1990s.
Agios Yakinthos is the Orthodox St Valentine. The patron saint of love, youth and loving couples, his feast-day, according to the Orthodox Church, is on July 3.
Agios Yakinthos became widely known in Crete in 1998 when the composer and singer "Loudovikos ton Anoyion" (Loudovikos of Anogia), founded the not-for-profit company “Agios Yakinthos” along with the inhabitants of the mountain village of Anogia, and persuaded Anthimos, the Metropolitan Bishop of Rethymnon, to build a small church in honour of Agios Yakinthos on Mount Psiloritis. The proposal was accepted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the church was soon built.
The small, stone-built church was designed by architect Stavros Vidalis in the style of a traditional Cretan “mitato”, the round shepherds’ hut used in the mountains of Crete.
It is set at an altitude of 1200 m. on Psiloritis, the highest mountain of Crete in the centre of the island, in the Fourni area 12 km from Anogia. The surroundings have all the beauty of the Cretan mountains: a rough landscape of rocks and stones, with trees whose trunks are knotted by time, dotted with a few stone mitata.
Yakinthia festival in Anogias
On the feast-day of Agios Yakinthos on 3 July, various cultural events are held in Anogia each year. These are the “Yakinthia”, which are gradually becoming better known.
Agios Yakinthos was originally celebrated not in order to replace the imported St Valentine, but to form the opposite pole to the completely commercialised day of love.
One of the founders of the Yakinthia, the Anogian songster Loudovikos ton Anogion (PHOTO), says:
“...Agios Yakinthos as an ideology can be expressed in three words: the Saint of emotions, remembrance and expectation.
That’s why I tell them, when you go to Agios Yakinthos, light two candles, one to remembrance and one to expectation.
In this place of prayer I am bound, on the one hand, to remember a great love I have lost, but I can also, on the other hand, pray to be visited by the emotion again.
So Agios Yakinthos is not the Saint of Love, but the Saint of remembered and hoped-for emotions.”
Churches dedicated to Agios Yakinthos in Greece
Agios Yakinthos in Anogia is not the only church in Greece dedicated to this Orthodox saint of love:
Near Patras there is a Church of Agios Yakinthos at the 116 Fighter Squadron in Araxos.
There is also a church at the skiing centre of Kalavryta, and another on Mykonos, in the Panormos area, in a holiday resort of traditional houses.
PHOTO: The sign that points to Agios Yakinthos church on Mt Ida near Anogia in Crete
The Life of Agios Yakinthos
Agios Yakinthos (St Hyacinth) was born in Caesaria in Cappadocia in 98 AD. The ruler of the mighty Roman Empire was Trajan, who fought against the spread of Christianity. Yakinthos worked in Trajan’s service as a cubicularius or chamberlain.
When Trajan unleashed his persecution of the Christians, Yakinthos gathered up the courage to reveal to his lord and master that he had embraced the Christian faith. This was to cost him dearly. Trajan considered this a monstrous ingratitude by his hitherto trusted servant Yakinthos, and had him imprisoned.
Yakinthos would be released if he ate idol meat, i.e. meat which had been offered in sacrifice to an idol - in other words if he renounced Christianity. Yakinthos withstood 40 days in prison without food, until on the 41st he departed this life as a Christian martyr, at just 20 years of age.
The saint’s life does not seem to have any direct connection to love or lovers. But let us not forget that the young Yakinthos was martyred for his great love of Christ, “divine love” as it is described in religious writings.
The calendar of the Orthodox Church includes another St Hyacinth, who is honoured on 18 July. This Hyacinth was born in Amastris on the Black Sea, to devout Christian parents. His faith was so great that he is said to have performed his first miracle at the age of three, when he resurrected a little child. His end, however, was a tragic one and he is honoured as a martyr. One day he uprooted a tree which he saw being worshipped. The local lord, Castrinsius, had him punished for this sacrilege. He was beaten mercilessly and his teeth were pulled out before he was dragged outside the city with ropes and pierced with sharp canes. In the end he was thrown in prison, where he died.
Hyacinth in Greek mythology
Ancient Greek mythology tells of Hyacinthus or Hyacinth, a young and handsome prince of Sparta who lost his life due to the jealousy of his friends.
Legend has it that Hyacinth’s friendship was contested by Apollo, god of fire and music, and Zephyr, god of the West Wind.
One day when Hyacinth was throwing the discus with Apollo, Zephyr became jealous because he preferred Apollo’s company, and made the west winds blow the discus back at Hyacinth, striking and killing him.
From the blood of the young man sprang a beautiful flower, the hyacinth.
Agios Yakinthos, an unpublished song by Alkinoos Ioannidis
Agios Yakinthos wakes at noon
He takes Crete in his wings, love in his arms
Goes down the mountain along the path
As soon as the sun sees him, it smiles and sets.
Agios Yakinthos opens windows
He brings breasts and bodies together and builds the bridges
To make people fall in love and grace the world
To make basil, oregano and spearmint flower.
Agios Yakinthos wakes on Psiloritis
If only he could come and pass by your house too
To bring you and tell you his Holy Love
So that you’d wake at once and come near him.
Ο Άγιος Υάκινθος ξυπνάει τα μεσημέρια
Παίρνει την Κρήτη στα φτερά, τον έρωτα στα χέρια
Κατηφορίζει το βουνό, το μονοπάτι παίρνει
Κι ο ήλιος μόλις τον κοιτά χαμογελά και γέρνει
Ο Άγιος Υάκινθος ανοίγει παραθύρια
Σμίγει τα στήθια, τα κορμιά, και χτίζει τα γιοφύρια
Ν' αγαπηθούν οι άνθρωποι, να ομορφύνει ο κόσμος
Ν' ανθίσει ο βασιλικός, η ρίγανη, κι ο δυόσμος
Ο Άγιος Υάκινθος ξυπνάει στον Ψηλορείτη
Να 'ρχότανε να πέρναγε κι απ' το δικό σου σπίτι
Να σου 'φερνε, να σου 'λεγε τον άγιο έρωτά του
Να ξύπναγες απ'την αρχή, να 'ρχόσουνα κοντά του