Our Lady of Hundred Gates
One of the most renowned Greek Orthodox temples, dedicated to the Holy Mother of Christ, is the Ekatontapyliani at the Greek island of Paros, central Aegean Sea. Ekatontapyliani is actually a complex of temples built around a central yard, similar to a monastery’s. The most ancient of those temples is the one dedicated to St Nicholas, patron of mariners, constructed in the 3rd or 4th century.
According to legend, the mother of Greco-Roman Emperor Constantine (early 4th century) sailed from Constantinopolis (called Istanbul today) and was headed to the Holy Land, in order to find the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. The boat she sailed on pulled in the hospitable port of Paros and Helene Augusta prayed in the little temple existing at the time. There she had a vision about the successful issue of her mission and she solemnly promised she would built a larger, more magnificent temple after accomplishing it.
Helene eventually returned to Constantinopolis, newly-established Greco-Roman capital, having restored the Holy Cross. Following these events, the Emperor financed constructions on the site, either by expanding the original temple or by building a new one, dedicated to the Mother of God. The existence of Mary’s temple is testified with certainty from the 6th century onwards, when Emperor Justinianus undertook works on the said temple.
Ekatontapyliani church in the island of Paros Ekatontapyliani means “[The Temple] With Hundred Gates” — but this name appears for the first time in the early 17th century. Most probably the name is a corruption of the adjective Katapoliani, meaning “The Downtown [Temple]”; nevertheless, it was the folk tale about the Hundred Gates that prevailed finally. The popular legend goes as follows: When, in 1453, Constantinopolis, last rampart of Greek Orthodoxy and former wealthy and powerful capital of the Byzantine Empire, was sieged and conquered by the Ottoman army (the so-called Fall of the Polis) the hundredth gate of Ekatontapyliani vanished by miracle and the temple was left with only ninety-nine doors. People expect the gate to reappear when Istanbul is once again restored to the Greeks.
The religious feast of Our Lady Of Hundred Gates is celebrated with great honors each year on the day of death, or Dormition of the Mother of God. The 15th of August, or Dekapentávgustos, as it is called by the Greeks, is a public holiday and a major solemn celebration all over Greece, with various events, processions and festivities organized to commemorate it. The Greek islands exhibit a special and intense devotion to Virgin Mary and their mid-August religious feasts are always exuberant, a touching experience for those who wish to participate.