Skopelos Town today.

Skopelos Town today.

I’m often surprised at the depth of history behind any small church in any village in Greece. Certainly in places like Spain, France or Germany they’d have a plaque or a board with a long historical exposition, a detailed brochure and maybe a trail leading up to it. In Greece, you’ll have to conduct your own research.

And where did such research lead me to..

Take the church of Panagía Faneroméni (Mary Revealed) in the eponymous capital of the island of Skopelos, the Mamma Mia island. It only recently celebrated its 300 years; it was built in 1711 by a Pariot monk, Pahómios Dionysiatis. But this is not any church; it’s actually a Μετόχι (Metochi with the ch strong as in Loch) of Mount Athos.

Metochi is a particularly Greek ownership structure, whereby land was bequeathed to the Orthodox church for tax reasons during the Byzantine era. In the case of Panagía Faneroméni the owner of the church and the land around it is Dionysiou monastery founded in the 14th century. An 1830 village registry notes that Faneroméni had two monk cells in its surroundings while the Athos monastery also owned land “at Stafylos with two olive trees and another piece of land at Gefyri with one olive and one chestnut tree”.

The church of Faneromeni, Skopelos Town, Sporades, Greece

The church of Panagia Faneromeni

More perusal of its history, reveals more surprises, for this is where the first death penalty was admonished in Modern Greece.

On 7 November 1829, George Lemonis, 25, spent the night at a friend’s house and stole some money (377.5 gurus about half of £1). Two days later his friend, Yannis, discovered the theft, challenged Lemonis and threatened to tell the authorities. That night Lemonis returned to his friend’s house with an axe and a machete and killed Yannis, his brother and their elderly mother. He was apprehended and on 28 March 1830 he was condemned to death by the judiciary of the new Greek state.

There had been two previous death sentences before, but the then President of Greece, Ioánnis Kapodístrias, had commuted them to life imprisonment. However, while the Lemonis’s family petitioned Kapodístrias, the prisoner escaped. He was soon found and escorted to prison, but escaped almost immediately. This time he left the island with a boat and found shelter on Mount Pelion, in the mainland. When he was caught for the third time he was a cause célèbre and, much that Kapodístrias was against the death penalty, he couldn’t possibly pardon Lemonis.

So, on 14 October 1830, Lemonis was escorted to the church of Panagia Faneroméni where he spent his last night with the oldest priest of the island, Father George. Twelve armed policemen surrounded the church and kept watch. Lemonis spent the night inside the church confessing his sins to the priest and saying his last goodbyes to his family and friends, who were allowed in two at a time, lest they help him escape again.

The interior of the Faneromeni church on Skopelos, Sporades, Greece

The interior of Panagia Faneromeni on Skopelos.

Next morning at 10am Lemonis was taken from the church to his place of execution, but strangely Father George who’d been listening to his sins all night was taken ill and another priest, father Jeremiah took over. Three soldiers fired at Lemonis simultaneously, whereupon he fell down, his legs still twitching. Three different soldiers then came close and shot him in the head to finish him off.

And thus, a strange kind of history was made.

Only three more executions took place, until Kapodistrias himself was assassinated. His killer, a scion of the Mavromichalis clan from Mani, was himself tried and became the last man to be executed by firing squad in 19C Greece. When King Otto arrived in Athens from Bavaria, he changed the method of execution to the more Continentally fashionable guillotine. This grisly practice never caught on with the Greek public and the firing squad returned in 1913.

The last person judicially executed in Greece was Vassilis Lymberis, who burned alive his estranged wife, his mother-in-law and his two young children. He was shot near Iraklion, Crete, on 25 August 1972.

In 1975, the death penalty was abolished in Greece except for treason; it was fully abolished in 1993.

And all this I unearthed when I decided to focus on Panagia Faneromeni on Skopelos..