February 11, 2021

Saint Haralambos and the Plague of 1753 in Trypi


The village of Trypi is 9 km to the west of Sparta and belongs to the municipality of Mystras, in the southern Peloponnese. There, next to the Church of the Holy Trinity, is a shrine dedicated to Saint Haralambos, which is accompanied by a marble cross, at the base of which is the following inscription:

ΕΤΕΙ 1753

God in the Highest
Saint Haralambos
Struck Herein
In the year 1753
The Plague
In the Area of Trypi
In the Form of an Old Woman
Enjoining our Ancestors
To Ascribe

The inscription records an incident we know about from word of mouth and from generation to generation (according to interviews of locals in 1970), when the village of Trypi was struck with a deadly plague in 1753, and having no other means of salvation, the faithful sought the aid of the patron saint against deadly plagues, Saint Haralambos. In iconography, Saint Haralambos is often depicted crushing the plague in the form of a monstrous woman who spews smoke from her mouth. This is because before his martyrdom in the 2nd century, when he was 112 years old, he prayed to God to be allowed to help those who honored his memory to be a deliverer from all plagues and famines. Since then, when the faithful invoke Saint Haralambos, especially if they are in possession of a relic of his, there is an assurance that the deadly plague will vanish, and this has been confirmed numerous times, just like it was in Trypi in 1753.

A man from Trypi named John was the first to show the terrible symptoms of the disease. Frightened, his fellow villagers hurried to isolate their compatriot in a rock cave located at the location "the two high boulders", under the road that still comes from Sparta to Trypi. There, every day, food, water and other necessities went to "Panouklo-Yiannis" (hence his name in the local history and tradition, which means "Plagued-John") leaving them somewhere far away so that they would not come in contact with him and catch the terrible disease. Since then, this cave was named after poor John and is still called: "Panouklo-Yiannis' Cave". Immersed in terror and agony, the inhabitants of Trypi, after the tragic incident, rushed to see who would be the next victims of the plague and did nothing but pray and supplicate to the Virgin Mary and the Saints (especially to Saint Haralambos) to guard against the terrible disease that had knocked on the door of their village, and had ravaged nearby areas.

And then the miracle happened. The Turkish Aga of the village, Bekir Aga, who had his residence in a place overlooking the location "Xenitsa" and was sitting at dusk on the porch, accompanied by his servants who took care of his every wish, saw (both he and his companion) an ugly old woman, toothless and disheveled, coming fiercely from the side of Mystras leaning on a rosy staff. She was none other than the terrible Plague (whom they called Panoukla) that came to infect the ENTIRE village. When the old woman Panoukla arrived at the village, exactly where the Church of the Holy Trinity is today, there was seen from above the road, from the top of the hill where the old Church of Saint George is still located, shooting downhill, a white-haired old man with a long beard, whose face shone like the moon. He was none other than Saint Haralambos who, hearing from his icon located there in in the Church of Saint George, the prayers of the people of Trypi, came to prevent evil. He caught up with Panoukla before entering the village, threw her down and started kicking her in the chest. She screamed horribly and fired from her mouth, struggling to escape the Saint, until she died. Bekir Aga and his Turkish servants confessed what they saw to the people of Trypi and they, with their priest in front, went up to the Church of Saint George and in front of the icon of the wonderworker Saint Haralambos, they prayed and did a Divine Liturgy to thank him for the protection he brought to their village. After a few days, in remembrance of the miracle, they erected at the place where the Saint stopped the old woman Panoukla a thick wooden tree with an iron Cross wedged on its top and on this wood hung a small "Lantern" with glass for the oil lamp of Saint Haralambos, which was reverently lit by the people of Trypi and the passers-by.

And the result in Trypi was that after Panouklo-Yiannis no other Trypiotis got sick from this terrible epidemic disease. That is why the belief of the people of Trypi in the miracle of Saint Haralambos was unquestionable and this miracle survived in the collective memory and is handed down from generation to generation as a testimony of Truth.

As the years passed, as a sign of reverence and gratitude, the people of Trypi built the Chapel of Saint Haralambos right next to the Church of Saint George, on the top of the hill, and when the Church of the Holy Trinity was built, they built at the place of the miracle a marble Cross where they engraved the memory of the miracle together with a shrine with the image of Saint Haralambos. Next to the shrine still stands the wood of the Cross, unaltered after 270 years!, a living witness and testimony of the great and unrepeatable miracle of Saint Haralambos.