April 29, 2011

Panagia Tripiti of Aigio

Among the most beautiful and original religious monuments in Greece is the historic shrine of the "Life-Giving Spring" (Zoodochos Pege) known as "Panagia Tripiti" in Aigio. It is located on the beach of Aigio, built on a steep cliff 30 meters above the sea in a cave ("tripa" in Greek means "hole", in reference to the cave).

Anyone who first visits the shrine is impressed by the beauty of the landscape: high trunk cypresses and shady pines provide a unique and evocative grandeur. A scale of 150 steps connects the Holy Shrine to the public road. There is also a second route from Kyparissona. Once the visitor comes closer to the church, one notices a small cave of 3 meters depth on the cliff with a width of 2 meters and a height of 2 meters. The opening is built with stones and has a small door and window. According to tradition, this was the monastic cell of the Captain/Navigator who found the icon. But if the admiration of the pilgrim from the beauty of the surroundings is great, the more impressed and stunned they will be when entering the church. The marble front of the temple is engraved with the message: "With the Fear of God and Love Draw Near", to remind the pilgrims of the sacredness of the place and the obligation to approach the miraculous icon of the Life-Giving Spring with fear of God, faith and love in their hearts.

In the narthex there is holy water in an artistic marble fountain with a cross shape. Out of the mouths of three carved angels holy water continuously runs into a marble basin. The fountain is carved with the well known inscription (which in Greek can be read the same backward and forward, even in the reflection of the water: "ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΝΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑ ΝΟΨΙΝ") "Wash Not Only Your Face, But Your Sins", that is, wash yourself clean of all your sins thoroughly with repentance first and not just your face superficially. Then the pilgrim enters the main part of the church, the nave, and the soul opens to the evocative set decoration. Right in the cave is the icon of the Virgin Mary with her sweet face with eyes both lively and full of sympathy that captivate the pilgrim, and with her left hand holding the child Jesus, who blesses with his right hand and holds a scroll in his left.

According to pious tradition - which in the Orthodox Church is credible - in the middle of the sixteenth century, ie around 1550, a navigator of the Corinthian Gulf distinctly saw a light at nighttime indicating how close he was to the shore. This gave him the courage and hope to enlist all his strength to get to the shimmering light. He approached and saw with great surprise that it was the front of an icon of the Virgin Mary which was surrounded by light.

The grace-filled icon of the Virgin Mary was hidden in this rocky cave, unknown till then. This is how the icon of Panagia Tripiti was discovered. The navigator, moved with reverence, knelt and venerated the icon. The next day he told the city authorities of Aigio. Clergy, people, and rulers came to venerate the icon and offer up a Doxology.

The founder of the icon became the first hermit and a servant of the Virgin Mary. He then helped to begin the task of building the church. Initially it was decided to be east of the area where the holy icon was discovered, because the original place was rocky. On the evening of the first day that work began on the building, the rock where the icon had been found quaked and was reshaped for a small church. So people felt that the Panagia "built her house", and the magnificent church of today was built at this location. The main cave in front of the church in which it was built has a depth of 11 meters, width of 7 meters and height of 4 meters. To make the altar area where the holy icon was found, the sanctuary faces southeast and not east according to Orthodox tradition. Over time, the first hermitage evolved to a splendid monastery. The church took its present form in the 19th century. The monumental, renaissance style, exterior marble staircase, which connects the coastal road to the church, was built in 1870 by project engineer Angelo Korizi.

By Royal Decree of 8 May 1933 the feast of Panagia Tripiti was established as an official religious holiday of Aigio. On Bright Friday there was to be a solemn procession of the holy icon. Finally, with the No. 10/16-5-1970 regulation of the Holy Synod of Greece, it was recognized as a "Panhellenic Sacred Shrine" and characterized a Public Entity.

With the proclamation of Panagia Tripiti as a Panhellenic Sacred Shrine, it formalized the devotion of many devout Christians who flocked there for pilgrimage. The many magnificent wonders of the Virgin Mary over the years reveal this sacred place to be a great spiritual center of Panhellenism.

It is very moving to see - on Bright Friday - thousands of Christians from all over Greece - of all ages - to climb the long staircase (150 steps), many on their knees, barefoot, and with tears in their eyes and with gratitude in their hearts as an "offering" to the Virgin, who listened and accepted their plea and released them from any need or illness.

Many are the miracles of the Virgin which have become known through testimonies, letters of the faithful, and publications in the daily press. A faithful replica of the holy icon was produced in the year 1991 and is available to those who desire.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos