September 9, 2013

The Chapel of the Panagia of the Six Orphans in Ithaca

In South Ithaca, on the road towards Marathia, in the region of Brouzi, among old olive trees, on the property of Dionysios N. Cassianos, there are traces of the ruins of a very old chapel named Panagia Xarfaniotissa.

There is a tradition around the name "Xarfaniotissa". We will carefully recount the information we gathered regarding the event that led to the naming of this church. We also will not exclude other versions or related stories, which we wanted to hear and record with great interest and love.

About a thousand years ago, probably in the region of Rizes, which is near Brouzi, there was a family - a father, mother and their six children. The father was a skipper of a ship, and he was away from the house for a long period of time to ensure the livelihood of his family. At one point during his absence, the mother left this temporary world and left her six children orphans. The neighbors, however, saw that everything was neat, clean and they were all well fed. When the children were asked who was taking care of them, they relied: "Mommy!"

But which mommy was this, since their mother had died some time ago?

For this reason they observed what was going on, and they saw a woman in black enter the house of the children to do chores, and then she would leave and go to the chapel we mentioned in the beginning. When she entered the chapel, she would disappear. It is for this reason that the Panagia of this chapel received the name "Xarfaniotissa" (of the Six Orphans), because she protected the six orphans.

There is another related story in which six orphans wandered into the woods and got lost all day and night, and then "some" woman in black protected them and helped them find their way to their poor home.

It was our Panagia!

Although an authentic image of the "Xarfaniotissa" has not been preserved, we will try to describe it based on information of the type of icon it is. It is the Panagia Eleousa. At the bottom of the icon there are six images of children, like little angels, that are embraced with the two outstretched arms of the Panagia. Originally there were no colors, but it was only sketched with either coal or ink. It was elaborate and detailed, and not very large so that it was kept in a case with a glass window. Maria Armeni kept it in her home until the devastating earthquakes of 1953 and perhaps shortly thereafter. From that time and beyond all traces of the icon are lost.

The photo published above is a new composition by the iconographer Mr. Elisha Tsekouras, who painted it pro bono with the advice and encouragement of Fr. Theodosios Dendrinos. He depicts our Panagia with outstretched arms and six orphans around her. At the bottom right is the port of Ithaca, as it appears from the place where the chapel is located. Also surrounding them is the natural environment of the area as it is.

Warmest thanks go to Mr. Diamando B. Michalopoulos from Perachori for his valuable information, and Mrs. Alexandra G. Dendrinos.

It is our innermost desire to find people who will be interested in every possible way in rebuilding this chapel, which has such a beautiful, interesting and rare story. Where there's a will, there's a way!

Source: From the periodical Papoulakos. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.