Ζωηφόρος

Saint Maura,

Saint Maura

Saint Maura, and the church dedicated to her and her husband, St. Timotheos in Mahairado, hold a special place in the heart and minds of the island, as well as drawing countless visitors every year.

The legend of the martyred Saints, the miraculous icon of Saint Maura, the ubterhal beauty of the church, the belfry that dominates the surrounding landscape, are some of the factors that make this a shrine to be remembered.

No exact dates of the birth of Saint Maura and St. Timotheos can be given. But they are known to have lived in Thebes, Egypt, during the third century A.D. Both were the offspring of devout Christian families, dedicated to helping those less fortunate than themselves. And both were persecuted for their faith, suffering horrendous torture before being crucified at the instigation of the ruler of Thebes, Arrianos. (who was subsequently coverted to Christianity and was in turn tortured and put to death).

Legends abound where St. Maura is concerned: the water into which she was plunged, supposedly scalding hot in order to boil her alive, and which regained its natural temperature when she was immersed in it - "Thielthen thia piros ke idatos exigage me is anapsihin" she prayed.

Another legend was the way her miracle-working icon was found: it was originally brought to Zakynthos from Egypt by the Tzavaria family. Later, it was found by a shepherd in a small ravine after he was guided to the spot by a strange light. Three times he took it with reverence to his own village church in Lagopotho and three times it disappeared, only to be discovered each time in the same place he had first found it. So the church was built by the devout villagers of Mahairado on exactly the same spot.

The original church -more a chapel- and its miraculous icon drew worshippers from the entire island. Later, a larger church was built by the Tzavaria family, and later still, after an earthquake destroyed it, the present church was built (circa 1631). The earthquake of 1953 once again badly damaged the church, and yet again devout Christians rallied round and helped re-build it.

The bell tower, built in 1802 and standing 27 metres high luckily was not affected by the earthquake. The specially melodious chimes of its bells can reputedly be heard over almost the entire island.

The external features of the church are those of a simple basilica, but its interior is enhanced by some beautiful works of art. Among those are: the famous icon of St. Maura itself, measuring 1.75X0.89, exquisitely ornamented in silver (the work of George Papastefanou, 1849) and placed on a carved wooden stand made by Andonis Kourelis, a deservedly famous local artist from Mahairado - the carved and gilded iconostasis -the frescoes and wall paintings by the well known aghiographers N. Latsis (1840-1909) and Spiridon Pelekasis (1842-1916) - the silver adorned icons of St. Timotheos and Saint Maura - and many other heirlooms such as a silver engraved collection box, the "Epitaphio" stand (used on Good Friday of Holy Week) also worked by A. Kourelis, a silver tray portraying the Saint by Giorgos Diandis Befos and several icons brought from neighbouring churches destroyed in the earthquake.

Also worthy of mention is the special Litany composed by the Zakynthian hymnographer Giorgos Yanoulis, a monk born in Zakynthos who returned to the island after studies in Mount Athos and Constantinople. This litany is allways chanted on 3rd May. And the first Sunday after Pentecost, usually in June, the Saint's Feast Day is celebrated, one of the island's chief ecclesiastical events. The Saint's icon is reverently carried around the church. The service is then followed by the usual village feasting, music and dancing, when the local "stiffado" is served with "Eftazimo" (the bread of seven yeasts).

And throughout the year the faithful come to light their votive candles in prayer and thanksgiving.

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