We live in times where the freedom to believe in any god of your choice is considered to be a given. Here I am in Milos island. It is June, the heat is quite comfortable, it blows a cool wind and I am visiting the important churches of the island. Easily. Undisturbed. But it was not always like this. In older times, here in Milos (and to many other places of course) Christians were chased away for their beliefs. And they were hiding in catacombs.
I wonder about them while strolling downhill the street from Trypiti village to the archaeological site of ancient Milos, near to the field where the famous statue of Venus of Milos had been discovered (I do not search for this… magnificent statue. It is located… a little further away: in the Louvre Museum,Paris ,France !!!
“Prrr… eee… Psariii… eee… Kanelaaa…”. A very young shepherd shouts at his goats as they stand still in the shade of a cave, carved out of the soft white volcanic rock of the island. “Am I going right for the catacombs? ” I ask him.
“Ouououou… “he shouts with a small bold laughter. “The goats are in there too…” he says.
In where? What does he mean?
“Yes the kid was right” said the guardian of the archaeological site. “Certain catacombs beside the main road are folds today …”. I admit that I did not feel comfortable for the cultural heritage of my homeland. But, so what? Is it the first time?
Carrying these thoughts I walked down the steps and from the dazzling afternoon light I entered inside…a cool darkness.
Awe! This is how I felt! If you were to come to Milos– and you have to come because it is a spectacular island, mostly unexplored! – this is a site you should not miss by any means! Because those are the only catacombs which have been saved in Greece! Nowhere in the whole country have been found such catacombs. This proves that Christianity came quite early in Milos. Probably this happened because during the Roman times a flourishing Jewish community existed on the island. Jews possibly were attracted by the mining wealth of Milos.
Do not think only of just five or six holes in the ground… It is an impressive archaeological site. The length of the catacomb’s corridors reach 184 meters and they are packed with burials.
These catacombs were discovered accidentally by antiquities thieves in 1840 and they were researched by the Bavarian professor of the University of Athens Ludwig Ross in 1844.
291 graves have been found (they are dated between the 1st – 5th A.C. century) and the archaeologists believe that there had been at least about 1500-2000 graves on the island. I walk softly and in silence thinking of the impressive fact that here, 8.000 bodies (others say 10.000) were buried while each grave had a lot of burials!
The catacombs are vaulted (named arkosolia) and the burials were at their base. If you were to come here today you will see two rooms with arkosolia (other rooms are not accessible by visitors), and enough burials while at some of them you will observe very few worn out traces of signs and drawings, even signs of smoke from the oil lamps!
These signs are very important. Because they have preserved precious information from the farthest antiquity of the island to today. In some graves exist signs with old Christian names (Asklipis, Helpizon, Agaliasis, Eytychia, Klaydiani etc.) and titles and ranks of an ancient lot (presviteros, diakonissas etc).
One of the most touching signs is the one at the burial of boatswain Thomas, which calls Christ “the sailors’ port”. How poetic! In any case you do not try to read those signs (unless you read byzantine Greek of course…). They are quite worn out. However if you look carefully you will see them .
The modern spotlights of the catacombs and the whole presentation of the site create a genuinely evocative picture which is intensified by the humidity and the heat of the subsoil. In the first room while I entered I saw in the centre a very significant grave, called the “Bank of martyrdom” (Mensa martyrum). Very impressive.
Catacombs exist everywhere in the near-by area, (many exist at the coastline between the port of Adamantas and Klima village) but unfortunately most are still unexplored while some catacombs are used as depots as well as sheep pens!
Well…I realized that earlier.
While I was on my way out of the catacombs, I saw Psari and Kanella, the two goats, stupidly chewing again and again their afternoon dinner.
This time standing outside their occupied catacomb…
Where am I?
The catacombs of Milos are located next to the ancient city, between the villages Tripiti and Klima.
The catacombs are open to visitors daily between 08.30-18.30
(Tel. 22870 22445).
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