• Christopher Mounsey

Happy Saint Germanos's Day!

Ok, you can't say "Happy Saint Germanos's Day" in Greek, but never mind! Today, May 12th, is the day of Saint Germanos, or Ayios Germanos in Greek. And in the Prespa village of the same name that means all the residents have a holiday and a day off!

The 11th century church of Ayios Germanos

Who the village was named after isn't exactly certain. It could've been a local priest or bishop, although it's incredible 11th century church is dedicated to Germanos, patriarch of Constantinople. The paintings inside this small church are magnificent. And the village still retains the tradition of villagers sleeping in the church on the eve of the saint's day.

The 17th century frescoes inside of the church dome

A festival ('panigiri' in Greek) is also held on the eve of a Saint's day. So last night, as every year, the Cultural Association of Ayios Germanos hosted a night of food and music. It's the first panigiri of the year in Greek Prespa, with the other villages all having their own patron saint and festivities throughout the summer.

The clarinet leads the dancers at the panigiri last night

Interestingly for the foreign reader, the Cultural Association invites different bands to play a variety of ethnic music - Vlach, Pontic and Dopia - which provides a good opportunity to delve into the region's history.

Prespa suffered from a massive population decrease in the 1940s due to the evacuations from the Second World War and subsequent Greek Civil War. Many people didn't, or couldn't return home, and so in the 1950's the Greek state invited people of the Vlach (Aromanian) ethnicity to settle in Greek Prespa, of which the majority of Ayios Germanos residents belong.

A bit earlier, in the 1920s, Greece and Turkey agreed a forced population exchange of some 2 million citizens. In an amongst them were Pontic Greeks from the Black Sea region, some of which found themselves settling in Prespa and whose descendants live here today. The exchange is a sad and tragic page in history, one we don't hear about in Northern Europe, and it's well worth a read. A good start is the Wikipedia page, but we strongly recommend buying Twice a Stranger by Bruce Clark and Birds Without Wings, a fictionalised, but super account by Louis de Bernieres. He's more famous for his Captain Correlli's Mandolin, but this one's far better and the author's own favourite.

And finally Dopia. This is the Greek word for 'local', and it refers to the brass band music of the people who have inhabited this part of the Balkans for many centuries.

As with everything in the Balkans, there's a complex history full of disagreements and controversies. It's part of what makes the region fascinating though.

Agios Germanos from above yesterday

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