April 13, 2012

The Dirge of the Panagia: A Good Friday Tradition

The "Dirge of the Panagia" (Μοιρολόι της Παναγιάς) is a long narrative funeral song which narrates the Passion of Christ as it was lived by the Virgin Mary and the Myrrhbearing women. One could find hundreds of variations throughout Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor and southern Italy. According to the the Swiss Hellenist professor of the University of Geneva, Bertrand Bouvier, in his book Le Mirologue de la Vierge (Geneva 1976), there are two hundred and fifty six variants. In fact, there may be over a thousand, since each village has its own unique version, and in certain Greek islands like Samothraki there are at least three versions circulating.

These songs probably date back to around the 13th century and are based upon the canonical and apocryphal Gospels, as well as the ecclesiastical hymns of the Church. In other words, it is a folk liturgical drama of the Middle Ages which can be found in both east and west. They are today one of the most striking and beautiful examples of Greek folk music.

According to the study of Samuel Baud-Bovy, these melodies were used for actual laments. In these dirges or laments of the Panagia ordinary women with song share in the pain of the Panagia, who is a universal and timeless symbol of all mothers who attended the martyrdom of their children and experienced the absurdity and inevitability of death.

Although there are local differences in individual elements of the song or the melody or the pronunciation, structure and form of the laments, the functions are strikingly similar from southern Italy to Pontus and Cyprus.

Photios Kontoglou, in one of his writing "Σήμερον κρεμάται", gives us a basic version of the the Dirge of the Panagia:

Today the sky is black,
today is a black day,
today they crucified,
the King of all things....

Or in Greek:

Σήμερον μαύρος ουρανός,
σήμερον μαύρη μέρα,
σήμερον εσταυρώσανε,
τον πάντων βασιλέα.
Σήμερον όλοι θλίβονται
και τα βουνά λυπούνται.
Σήμερον έβαλαν βουλήν
οι άνομοι Εβραίοι,
οι άνομοι και τα σκυλιά
οι τρισκαταραμένοι.
Σαν κλέφη τον επιάσανε
και σαν φονιά τον πάνε
και στου Πιλάτου τις αυλές
εκεί τον τυραγνάνε.
Κι' η Παναγιά η δέσποινα
κ' οι άλλες οι γυναίκες
έπιασαν το στρατί στρατί,
στρατί το μονοπάτι.
Το μονοπάτι τς' έβγαλε
μεσ' στου ληστή την πόρτα.
Τηρά δεξιά, τηρά ζερβά,
κανέναν δεν γνωρίζει.
Τηρά και δεξιώτερα
βλέπει τον Άγιο Γιάννη
-Άγιε μου Γιάννη Πρόδρομε
και βαπτιστή του γυιού μου
μην είδες τον υιγιόκα μου
και σένα δάσκαλό σου;
-Δεν έχω γλώσσα να σου πω
γλώσσα να σου μιλήσω,
δεν έχω χεροπάλαμο,
για να σού τονε δείξω.
Βλέπεις εκείνον τον γυμνό,
τον παραπονεμένο,
οπού φορεί πουκάμισο
στο αίμα βουτημένο;
Οπούναι τα ματάκια του
ραμμένα με μετάξι,
κι οπού φορεί στην κεφαλή
αγκάθινο στεφάνι;
Εκείνος είναι ο γυιόκας σου
και μένα δάσκαλός μου.

In places like Cyprus these dirges have even become an art form with more elaborate music, as can be heard here, here and here. Most other places have a more simple melody, as can be heard in Kalymnos below:

It is worth noting that Samuel Baud-Bovy (Δοκίμιο για το Ελληνικό Τραγούδι) says that the Greeks of Asia Minor, especially the Cappadocians, would sing in Turkish the History of Abraam, the History of Joseph, and the Dirge of the Panagia.

The Dirge or Lament of the Panagia is sung on different occasions and with different methods according to local folk tradition. Some women sing it following the Service of the Twelve Gospels on Holy Thursday either standing or sitting or kneeling around the Cross of Christ. Others sing it the following morning as they are decorating with flowers the tomb of Christ. While others sing them after they have decorated the tomb of Christ as they stand around the epitaphion, or even following the Service of Lamentation when the epitaphion has been processed around the church or village. They are traditionally only sung by women, usually beginning with the older women and gradually the younger women join in as well. The song takes usually around 30-60 minutes, and in some places the women sing them all night either in the church or going from church to church lighting all the oil lamps along the way.

Today in most churches the well-known Lamentations of Good Friday are sung within the liturgical Service of the Lamentations on Good Friday, so in most parishes the Dirge of the Panagia has fallen into disuse being now replaced by the offical Lamentations.