The numerous churches and monasteries of Sifnos are closely related to the history, the architectural tradition and the religious – social life of the island.
From a historical point of view, the Sifnians made the best of the privileges granted to them by the Turk sultans, regarding the free expression of their Christian faith. Therefore, in 1646, the Archdiocese of Sifnos has been founded, including Sifnos and the islands of Amorgos, Anafi, Astypalaia, Irakleia, Ios, Mykonos, Serifos, Sikinos and Folegandros.
Later, the Sifnians used to donate their assets to churches or monasteries and to take on various responsibilities towards them, with the organization of rites (mainly feasts).
A solid proof of the religious tradition of the Sifnians is the number of churches and monasteries existing on the island. This number is the highest in comparison to any other island of the Cyclades, relative to the size of the island, and it is said that “…in Sifnos there are over 360 churches, one for every day of the year”.
Many of the churches and the monasteries of Sifnos are of high architectural and religious interest and they have been designated as historical monuments. The ecclesiastic committees and the “management committees” look to the maintenance of the churches and monasteries, even if they are situated in areas that are not accessible by vehicles, with remarkable reliability and by offering – in many cases – voluntary work.
There are eight parish churches in Sifnos: the parish church of Saint Spyridon in Apollonia, which is also the Cathedral of the island, the parish church of the Virgin Mary of Kochi (Panagia tis Kochis) in Artemonas, the parish church of the Taxiarchs in Agios Loukas, the parish church of Saint John the Prodromos, in Pano Petali, the parish church of the Life-giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi) in Kato Petali, the parish church of the Virgin Mary the Merciful (Panagia Eleousa) in Kastro, the parish church of Saint Nicholas in Exabela and the parish church of Saint George in Katavati.
Even though there aren’t any active monasteries on the island nowadays, Sifnos’ monasteries are still of an exceptional historical and religious value:
The monastery of Vrissiani in Exabela is one of the biggest monasteries of the island, which was built in the 17thcentury and which is consecrated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This monastery houses the Ecclesiastic Art Museum, which contains copies of old editions, a gospel dating from 1796, reliquaries, cherubim banners, holy utensils, vestments, icons, a cope of exceptional art, etc.
The monastery of the Prophet Elias the High (Prophitis Ilias Apsilos), situated high on the top of the homonymous and highest mountain of Sifnos (at an altitude of about 700 meters), which was built on the ruins of an ancient citadel. To the right of the monastery there is the small church of Saint Eliseus.
The monastery of Saint John Chrysostom in Kato Petali: It is a historical monastery of Sifnos situated to the east of the village, which, according to the tradition, housed the first Greek school of the island (possibly in 1650). Since 1835, the monastery housed the famous School of the Holy Sepulcher.
The monastery of the Virgin Mary of the Mountain (Panagia tou Vounou), situated 500 meters from the road leading from Apollonia to Vathi, with an exceptional architectural beauty and a wonderful view of the village, the beach of Platis Gialos and the small island of Kipriani. The church is of three hypostases – consecrated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, to the Saints Constantine and Helen and to Saint Nicholas – and it was built in the beginning of the 19th century.
The Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Firogia (16th century), which is situated a bit after the southern exit of the village of Katavati, on the way to Vathi, on the crossroads with the circular road of Apollonia. It probably owes its name to the red color of the soil in the area. In the past, the monks of Saint Elias the High (Aï Nigias Apsilos) used to live here during the winter. The monastery was restored in 1978 by the Hellenic Society for the protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage and the project of its restoration was rewarded with the special prize of Europa Nostra.
In Sifnos there are many churches with a dominating presence, thanks to the “adjacency” of their white color with the Aegean Sea, the most important of which are: The church of the Virgin Mary of Chrissopigi, the patron saint of Sifnos, the history of which is joined with a series of religious traditions and legends, and which is a reference point not only for the Sifnians but for all orthodox Greeks. The church of the Virgin Mary Poulati, a private church, built in 1870, on the eastern side of Sifnos, under Artemonas, the church of the Seven Martyrs (or Eftamartyros), built “in” the sea and under the hill of Kastro, the church of the Cross of Faros (at the homonymous village) and the church of Saint Sostis, at the old silver mines of Sifnos, which are believed to be the most ancient silver mines in the world.
However there are many more churches that the visitors can visit in each village of Sifnos:
In Exabela: the churches of the “Old” Saint Nicholas, where is located the grave of the great poet Aristomenis Provelegios, of Saint Athanasius, of Saint Demetrius, of Saint George, of Saint Kyriaki, of Christ, of Saint Barbara and of the Virgin Mary, while in the periphery of the village, there are the churches of Saint Stylianos, of the Virgin Mary of Straoodi, of Saint John in Korakia, of Saint Fotini, of Saint George the Mastichas, of Saint Tryphon, of Saint Anne.
In Katavati: the church of the Virgin Mary the «Angelochtisti” (built by angels), a three-aisled church, with a connoid cupola and icons painted on its walls, which according to the tradition was built and officiated by Angels. Next to it, there is the church of Saint Eleftherios. Other churches of Katavati are: the church of Evangelistria, of the Forty Saints, of Saint George, of Christ, of Saint George Apelaïtis, of the Prophet Elias the Low, of Saint John the Merciful (Eleïmon). In the southern edge of the village, there is the picturesque church of the Virgin Mary of Koukkia (Myrtidiotissa 1614).
In Apollonia: The church of the Virgin Mary the “Ouraniofora” or “Geraniofora” (who holds geraniums), the churches of Sotiras, of the Cross, of the Taxiarch, of Saint Athanasius, of Christ, of Saint Sozontas, of Saint Anthony, of Saint Nicholas (in Pigi), of the Virgin Mary of Barou, and in the wider area of Apollonia, the churches of Saint Barbara, of the Saint Apostles, of the Unfading Rose, of the Holy Trinity, of Saint Artemius (which housed the first school of mutual instruction and the first “Scholarcheio” (: a 3-form school for children aged 10-13) of the free Sifnos), the old convent of Saint John the Theologian (in Mongou).
In Artemonas: The churches of the Virgin Mary of the Sand, o the Virgin Mary of Bali, of Saint Peter, of Saint Spyridon and of Saint Anne.
In Agios Loucas: the churches of Saint Constantine, of Saint Luke, of Saint George ”Afentis”, of the Virgin Mary of the Basins (Panagia ta Gournia), which owes its name to the basins of the river, where the housewives used to wash their clothes. In this church – which has two hypostases, since it is consecrated to Virgin Mary and to Saint Nicholas – there are frescos created by the Sifnian monk Agapios the “Secondary”, the most important of which is the fresco of the Circle of Life.
In Ano Petali: the churches of Saint John the Theologian (Theologaki), of Saint Tryphon, of Saint Paraskevi, of Saint George of Patsana, and of Saint Antipas (monastery dependency of the Mount Athos, which housed during the Greek Revolution the first preparatory school of Sifnos, founded by Nikolaos Chryssogelos).
In Kastro: the churches of Theoskepasti, of Saint Nicholas, of Saint Catherine, of the Assumption of Mary, of Saint John Prodromos, of Saint John the Theologian, of the Taxiarchs, of Saint George of the Coast (“Gialos”) of Seragia etc. The plethora of churches of the village of Kastro is proved by the toponym “Of Many Churches”. On the right side of the entrance of the village, there are two churches: the church of Saint Stephen and of Saint John the “Kalivitis”, which housed from 1687 to 1835 the famous School of the Saint Sepulcher, also known as the “Educational facility of the Archipelago”.
In Kato Petali: the churches of Saint Nikitas, of Saint Sostis, of Saint George, of Saint Paraskevi, of the Virgin Mary of the Stairs (“Skalakia”).
The church of Saint Symeon and of Saint Nilias (or Elias) of Troulaki (or the “Low” to distinguish it from the “High”) that dominate over the bay of Kamares, the church of Saint Andrew on the hill of the Ancient Citadel and of Saint Nikitas in Selladi, the church having two hypostases of Saint Polycarp and Saint Panteleimonas at the picturesque bay of Cheronissos, the two-aisled church of the Taxiarchs in Vathi, the church of the Saints Anargyron in Agia Marina, in Kamares, and on the road of Apollonia, the church of the Virgin Mary of Toso Nero, the church of the Virgin Mary of Kitriani or Kipriani, on the island of Kipriani, outside Platis Gialos, which dates back to the end of the 10th-11th century, the country church of Saint Charalampus on the path that connects Glipho and Chrissopigi, the churches of Saint Sophia and of Saint George the “Karavostatis” in Platis Gialos, are only a few of the churches which are worth visiting, not only for religious reasons but also to admire the many and different images of Sifnos.
It is also worth taking a walk in the “Natura” area of Sifnos, in order to visit churches of unique beauty and simplicity, such as the monastery of the Taxiarch of “Skafi”, the country church of Saint Eustatius, the church of Saint Marina and of Saint Constantine in Flampouro, the churches of the Virgin Mary of the Sun, of Saint John of “Mavro Chorio”, of Saint Nicholas “t’Aerina” or Saint Catherine the”Kapfari” and of Saint Polycarp in Kalamitsi.