Academic journal article Folklore

The Folk Cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus, and Its Relationship with the International Tale Type 804

Academic journal article Folklore

The Folk Cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus, and Its Relationship with the International Tale Type 804

Article excerpt


This paper discusses, from a historical perspective, the basic elements of the folk cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus--namely, the custom of preparing phanouropita (literally, "St Phanourios pie"), which is connected with the belief that one can find something lost or obtain good luck in general--and the oral narratives associated with St Phanourios and his mother, which seem to constitute the Greek adaptation of the international folktale type 804. The investigation is based on recently collected material as well as the manuscript collections of the public folklore archives.


The folk cult of St Phanourios, a newly revealed saint in the Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition, is widespread in modern times, as much in Greece as in Cyprus. A main element of this cult is the preparation of a special bread-based confection or pie, the phanouropita, which is baked not for the saint himself but "for the soul of his mother." The offering of the pie is linked to a series of predictions, as the believers ask the saint in return to reveal to them (according to the false etymological equation of the saint's name with the Greek verb phanerono, "to reveal") something they have lost or, in more general terms, something good. For unmarried girls this means the revelation of a good "fortune"; that is, a good bridegroom--and, respectively, a good bride for the unmarried men.

We can discern two strands of traditions associated with St Phanourios. On the one hand, we have a limited iconographic and hagiological tradition (both manuscript and printed), which is relatively recent, since the saint is not mentioned in the Byzantine sources. On the other hand, we have a rich but relatively unrecorded folk tradition, which develops both as oral literature and as ritual practice--two fields that are always interdependent.

This paper deals with the conditions in which this folk tradition was shaped and evolved, mainly from the beginning of the twentieth century up to its present-day form. Unlike other folk religious customs that seem to be gradually fading away, or are preserved in a merely occasional and/or revivalist manner within the context of the phenomenon of folklorismus (in festivals, municipal events, and so on), the customs related to St Phanourios are considerably more widespread, as much in rural as in urban areas. Being religious customs, they are incorporated into the ecclesiastical practice, but they also express elements of a rich folk tradition that is somewhat differentiated from the Christian tradition.

This paper is based on a fragmentary corpus of material recently collected during field research in various regions of Greece and Cyprus. The paper also draws on a diverse body of material found in the manuscript collections at the archives of the Academy of Athens, the Greek Folklore Society, and the Centre for Asia Minor Studies.

My approach to the material is a combination of the diachronic and the synchronic methods, as my main objective was to examine the historical evolution of the custom and at the same time to study a situation currently existing in Greek society. Given the lack of any other collections or studies concerning these customs and their associated narratives, this paper details the various aspects of the custom within the wider context of popular religion.

The Written Tradition

The miracles of St Phanourios are described in two manuscripts. The first of these, included in the Cod. Vat. Gr. 1190 (dating from 1542), was written in Crete and was published in the Acta Sanctorum. The second originates from Heraklion, dating from 1600-1640 (Vassilakes-Mavrakakes 1980-81, 226).

Both manuscripts describe a miracle that took place in Rhodes, which caused the saint's cult to spread from Rhodes to Crete. Four Cretan priests on their way back from Methoni and Koroni of the Peloponnese (where they had travelled to be ordained, since there was no Orthodox bishop in Crete during the times of Venetian Rule) were attacked by Turkish pirates and taken as slaves to Palatia in Asia Minor. …

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