We are all familiar with the iconic tourist brochure image of Greece, the white Cycladic church, bathed in sunshine with its blue dome matching the colour of the distant sea. As impressive as this scene is, and many such examples really do exist, these churches are and represent much, much more.
The island of Sifnos is home to approximately 365 white churches. They are located not just along the coast, but are scattered throughout the island, in towns, on mountaintops, in valleys, fields and forests. This number of churches is extraordinary, given that Sifnos has a permanent population of only about 2000 people, on average one church for every 5 or 6 inhabitants. That is approximately one church per family. This situation has evolved for three main reasons: 1. Churches have been built atop centuries-old historic sites, replacing ancient temples and other religious structures of past cultures. 2. Sifnos has a strong maritime tradition and many churches were built by families of sailors in the hope of providing spiritual support to keep their men safe at sea. 3. During the Ottoman occupation, Sifnians were not permitted to own land. Apparently, rather than lose their property, Sifnians built churches and deeded their land to the church as a way to circumvent this law.
Regardless of the reason for their existence, these family-owned churches, steeped in history and passed on from generation to generation, are revered and cherished by the family members who care for them. They are carefully maintained, spotlessly cleaned, and most are left unlocked so that others may visit. To Sifnians, in addition to providing family links to the past, the churches are also reminders of history as far back as ancient times, visual symbols of religious faith, guardians of Sifnian culture, and important social venues for the community.
With 365 churches scattered throughout the island's diverse topography, each one provides a unique visual experience in how it appears in and relates to its environment. Many stand out on the horizon as lonely outposts, sentinels watching over the land, and can only be reached after a strenuous walk. Hiking toward the goal, with the church growing larger and larger, and then finally reaching it add feelings of intimacy, satisfaction and accomplishment to the overall experience. Once there, one is free to sit in the courtyard, to contemplate the surrounding beauty in solitude or to explore the interior. However you wish to experience the site and what it has to offer, you will gain a deeper understanding of Sifnian culture, will know that your presence there is welcomed, and you will be seeing far, far beyond the iconic photo.
This series of photographs was taken in 2012.
Images from the series (click to view): Aghios Nikolaos
, Profitis Ilias
, Efta Martyres
There are other images in this series that are not on this website. If you are interested in more information about them, please leave a message below or email