November 8 is the largest religious celebration on Symi island- the Feast day of the Monastery of Archangel Michael in Panormitis, which attracts visitors from all over Greece and the world. Panormitis is a holy monastery visited daily by many Greeks and non-Greeks who pray here for health, protection and fertility and is renowned for many miracles.
The monastery of Panormitis is 10 km southwest of Symi and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is believed to have been built during the years of the Turkish domination and has been reconstructed several times but its most important restoration was, done by Anastasis Karnavas between 1777 and 1873. Inside the monastery, are many paintings created by the local artists Nikitas and Michailos Karakostis- a carved screen that bears the image of the Archangel, and many votive offerings.
The 18th-century monastery is located on the seafront of the village and it can be seen from the ferries that usually deck on the mentioned harbour, offering one of the best sights. It is protected by an inlet that leads to a wide harbour and a small beach with fine sand that is usually empty. The Venetian style monastery has great artifacts, such as antique chandeliers, and an impressive silver icon of the Archangel, which is the Patron Saint of the island, as well as the protector of sailors.
Its vestry contains sacerdotal vestments, silverwork, jewellery, icons and offerings. The tradition has it that sailors placed these vestments in bottles, which they washed up on shore. Once visiting the Monastery, you will also see the chalice, ornate gospel, embossed and gold-plated epitaph, and a reliquary. The library of the monastery includes rare books and hand-written codices, most of them being donations by believers.
Outside the monastery, is its celebrated bell, made in Russia at captain Trekas expense, and the watch donated by the Simian sponge trader Faraklis. The locals call Panormitis a thief because, according to tradition, if a vow is not being redeemed, “he takes it back himself.”
At its festival, celebrated on the 8th of November and at Pentecost, the area is swarming with pilgrims from all over Greece. The visitors can stop overnight in its guesthouse, which can accommodate 500 people. Only a few kilometres from the monastery, you can also visit the site of Faneromeni and the islet Seskli, opposite Panormitis, with the Pelasgian fortification walls.
On the feast day crowds of pilgrims flock to the monastery on the southern point of the island. This is an occasion for family reunions and countless Symiots who work in Rhodes, Athens and other regions and arrive to visit their families.
On the eve of the festival, the bishop conducts vespers. On the following day of the feast, Mass is conducted by the bishop and the icon of Panormitis is carried in procession. Clerics and church-goers carry the icon through the large courtyard to the waterfront, through the grove and to the graveyard.
Today, a great number of mostly Greek and also non-Greek travellers arrive in Symi to enjoy this local festivity. Many pilgrims who come here during this period, are offered free accommodation, food and wine. The inner courtyards of the monastery have many exotic plants and trees providing a warm and pleasant environment for visitors. There is also a sanctuary, ideal for those seeking some solitude. Ferries and excursion boats connect Symi town with Panormitis. It is also accessed with a car. The small village of Panormitis provides a great sense of peace and a visit to the great Archangel Michael monastery is soothing to the soul.
Tama (favour) to Archangel Michael
According to tradition, if someone asks a favour of the Archangel they must vow to give something in return. If the offering (tama) is not made the Archangel will find a way to take it.
One famous miracle that still frequently occurs today is the miracle of the Archangel preventing boats from leaving the dock. This is such a frequent occurrence that captains announce over the PA asking whoever has forgotten a promise to the Archangel to get off and leave their tama. Once this promise is fulfilled only then do the boat’s engines work.
As a result, the interior of the Monastery is covered in thousands upon thousands of tamata left by pilgrims, both local and overseas, including model ships made from gold and silver.
Messages in a bottle
Another tradition is the bottles with prayers inside. This originated from Greek sailors, who would cast these into the sea and would end up on the shoreline of the monastery.
Today, many believers around the world still practice this tradition. The Monastery has put many of these messages on display in the museum.
A local custom of the Dodecannese is to offer a traditional broom made of straw or reed. Church tradition has passed down that monks from the Monastery would hear the Archangel sweeping his Monastery at night with these broom offerings.
According to local tradition, many people who gave these offerings have been visited by the Archangel in their sleep.
The icon appeared miraculous and on several occasions was removed only to reappear in the same location.
The Monastery is a very popular place of pilgrimage. It has two museums that house a large collection of ecclesiastical art, icons, ship model offerings and important objects of the island’s folk culture. The Monastery’s dorm-house can accommodate up to 500 people and allows entire families to stay.