St Mamas. Church of St Mamas at Afrodisia

Saint Mamas was born in prison in Paphlagonia, Cappadocia in 260 A.D., to Christian parents who had been jailed for their faith. After their deaths, he was raised by a wealthy Christian woman named Ammia Matrona. The saint obtained the name Mamas because he would regularly call this woman “mama”. Visitors can find the church of St Mamas with its saddle-back roof and impressive belfry right below the modern-day Elementary School at the highest point of Afrodisia. It’s a later structure, last renovated in the 1990s, while the gate that opens onto the church courtyard was erected in 2002. Inside, visitors can admire the frescoes and portable icons and see a carved inscription that mentions the year 1817. Accounts from the revolutionary period state that the initial church was burned to the ground in 1821, so this inscription must belong to the architectural phase just before the destruction of Chios by the Turks.
St Mamas’ relics were kept in Athens initially, but were transferred to Afrodisia on 18 August 2001, in perhaps one of the most important historical and religious events in recent memory, both for the village and for Chios overall. The whole affair was organised by the Association of Afrodisians in Attica “St Mamas”.

There is ample evidence and documentation of population movements from Cappadocia to the Aegean shores and islands in the 16th century. It’s likely that these emigrants brought the cult of St Mamas with them from Cappadocia to Chios in the post-Byzantine period. According to another interpretation though, the cult of the saint may have been brought to the island by refugees fleeing Constantinople in the wake of the Ottoman conquest.
While Mamas isn’t an especially popular saint among Orthodox Christians, there are churches dedicated to him throughout Greece. In fact, there’s even a large settlement in Chalkidiki that bears his name and holds a major three-day festival in his honour every September, when the church commemorates him. And that’s not to mention Mamas’ status as a patron saint of Cyprus, where visitors can find numerous churches and monasteries dedicated to him. You can find churches dedicated to St Mamas in the Chania prefecture on Crete as well as on other islands, such as Syros, Kasos, Kalymnos, Mykonos, Kythera, Karpathos, Melos and Naxos.
Here in Afrodisia, the local festival in honour of their patron saint is held every 2 September. It’s a traditional Chiote festival, considered by many to be the best and largest of its kind throughout Chios. Beginning in the previous evening with the festive Vespers at the church, this festival continues the following day with a Holy Liturgy and feast in the morning and a major celebration that goes on into the night. The festival is organised by the locals, yet another aspect that makes it one of the most noteworthy events held on Chios. It’s definitely worth the visit!

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