The Picnic at Ag. Igionnais – Samos
The priest, all smiles at first welcome, seemed to be becoming a little more hostile. The weathered, seamed face framed by thick white hair and a full silver beard shifted from pleasant to irritated as he realised that we were not going to pay to enter the small church. His attire, a well-worn white shirt, faded blue trousers with broken zip only held up by a pin at the waistband , the front flap threatening to reveal a sight that no servant of god should be sharing with his flock, was not the usual standard black frock and made me wary.
Ag. Igionnais is a small secluded cove on the South side of Samos island, reached by a long rutted bone rattling, body bouncing track. Perched above a small pebble beach and hidden by tall swaying bamboo , that backdrops the inlet, is a tiny abandoned monastery and church. Deciding to take a break from the churning waters of the North and head to the South where it is hotter and a lot calmer when the wind blows, we set off for a swim followed by a picnic in the shady monastery grounds.
After parking we walked over a 4 step in long wooden bridge. Lush vegetation thrust up around us rooted close to the flowing tributary below. We left our food under a vine-covered terrace and wandered into a small orchard containing peach, lime and orange trees. This is where we came upon the priest. Further back was a terrace containing olive trees and trailing vines loaded with ripening grapes and beyond that the reason for the existence of the monastery – a spring . The monks had taken the concept of the traditional well one step further and built a pool to accommodate the water burbling to the surface. It was here that I saw an azure blue, 12 cm, gauzy winged dragon-fly on my first visit many years ago. It was also here that when stung by the only jelly fish to be lurking in the waters around Samos, and there being no resident priest at the time, was administered first aid (vinegar rubbed over the infected site ) by another visiting family.
Once the priest realised that we were not willing to pay an entry fee for a church that should be open to all worshipers he told us to take our food and be off. Actually what he said was to take our stuff as he could not guarantee the safety of it ( kilometres from anywhere and no one else around!) We got the subtext.