TÍNOS still feels like one of the most Greek of the larger islands in the Cyclades. A few foreigners have discovered its beaches and unspoilt villages, but most visitors are Greek, here to see the church of Panayía Evangelístria, a grandiose shrine erected on the spot where a miraculous icon with healing powers was found in 1822. A local nun, now canonized as Ayía Pelayía, was directed in a vision to unearth the relic just as the War of Independence was getting under way, a timely coincidence that served to underscore the links between the Orthodox Church and Greek nationalism. Today, there are two major annual pilgrimages, on March 25 and August 15, when Tínos is inundated by the faithful, and at 11am, the icon bearing the Virgin’s image is carried in state down to the harbour.
The Ottoman tenure here, and on adjoining Sýros, was the most fleeting in the Aegean. Exóbourgo, the craggy mount dominating southern Tínos and surrounded by most of the island’s sixty-odd villages, is studded with the ruins of a Venetian citadel that defied the Turks until 1715, long after the rest of Greece had fallen; an enduring legacy of the long Venetian rule is a Catholic minority, which accounts for almost half the population. Hills are dotted with distinctive and ornate dovecotes, even more in evidence here than on Ándhros. Aside from all this, the inland village architecture is striking, and there’s a flourishing folk-art tradition that finds expression in the abundant local marble.