Greece is one of eastern Europe’s most Orthodox Christian countries with 90 percent of the population practicing the religion. This Church overlooks a national anomaly: the most Catholic region in the heart of the Aegean Sea.
Agios Georgios, also known as San Tzortzis to the locals or the Catholic Cathedral of Saint George to English speakers, in Ano Syros was first built in 1208. Since the 13th century, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt three times. Most recently, in 1617, invading Turks destroyed the church. The Tinian architect Hadjisimos supervised the last renovation in 1834 largely creating the church’s current appearance.
The building is a three-aisled basilica with marble columns. Statues of saints by Italian sculptors of the 18th century dominate the entrance. The wood-carved cladding and Tinian-inspired marble floor decorate the interior. Both were completed since the 1834 renovation.
Numerous buildings surround the historic church: a bell tower, a baptistery, a sacristy, a guest room, a historical archive, an episcopal palace, and a ruined house. The church complex overlooks the town of Ano Syros, the historic medieval settlement of the island.
Ano Syros was initially built during the later Byzantine era. The island shares strong similarities with other Cycladic medieval settlements with dense, narrow roads that resemble a fortified citadel. Catholicism in Syros was introduced immediately after the fourth crusade. For centuries, the island’s population had a Catholic majority so much so that during the 17th-century the island was known as L’isola del Papa, the Pope’s Island.
Today Agios Georgios continues to be a religious center for Catholic Greeks on the island. The Catholic diocese of the island has seven parishes, seven churches, 57 chapels, and numbers around 9,000 worshippers. Agios Georgios is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syros and Milos, a fitting position for the historic church perched on an island hill overlooking the Aegean.
Know Before You Go
The church is located on the highest peak of the island and is accessible only by foot.