Church of Our Lady of Victory ”Santa Maria”
Rhodes Town, Dodecanese
The origin of Christianity in Greece dates back to the preaching of St. Paul and so, it coincides with the birth of the Church.
The Franciscan order has been connected to the island of Rhodes since its origins. In 1219, St. Francis went to the Holy Land leaving Ancona (Italy) and traveling through the Aegean Sea islands, and Rhodes was an obligatory port.
The first historical information about the Franciscans in Rhodes dates back to June 12, 1457.
In 1522, during the long and exhausting siege by Suleiman the Magnificent who subsequently won the victory, the Church of Our Lady of Victory was destroyed by the Knights themselves in defense of the city. On January 1, 1523 the Franciscans followed the Knights into exile.
Between 1523-1720, the Franciscans went back to the island four times a year to administer the Sacraments to the Latin Catholic prisoners in Turkish jails.
The Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide, knowing the situation on the island considered it convenient to ask the Sublime Porte to allow two Franciscans to settle in Rhodes. This permission was granted without difficulty.
On the Vigil of the Assumption, August 14, 1897, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide issued a decree under which the Mission of Rhodes was detached from the Apostolic Prefecture of Constantinople and was erected an independent, Apostolic Prefecture which included the adjacent islands.
The Holy See in 1972 decreed that Rhodes should once again become part of the Custody of the Holy Land. The change took place June 17, 1972. Since 2004 the daily administration of the archdiocese is handled by the Franciscan friar, Father Luke Gregory, OFM, the Archbishop’s Vicar General.
The Activity of the Custody of the Holy Land in Rhodes
In Greece the people are mainly Christians Orthodox (about 95% of the population) and the main Church according to Article 3 of the Greek Constitution is “the Oriental Orthodox Church” that is the official Church of the State. The Catholic Greeks, who number between 45,000 and 50,000 (0,5% of the population), are a religious minority and not an ethnic minority. Catholics and Orthodox share common forenames and family names, as well as traditions, especially on the islands. Foreign Catholic residents in Greece number more than 100,000. We let the parish priest of Rhodes, Fr. Luke Gregory, describe the pastoral activities: “In addition to all the regular and usual ministries of any parish we have the added care of the many tourists who visit the islands over the summer months. This often involves frequent hospital visits and at times visits to the police, prisons. It is essential to maintain a good working, liaising collaborating relationship with the Consular services in Rhode and Embassies in Athens. Despite the economic crisis the number of refugees arriving in the Dodecanese continues to increase. Many do not have documents. This has necessitated not only an increase on the amount of food and clothes we need to distribute but also regular visiting of the prison holding cells on Rhodes and the main prison on Kos. We are able to bring some relief to those who spend varying periods of time in prison. We are pleased to announce that a new office has been opened exclusively for Caritas Rhodes work. It is to be found in St. Clare’s parish Hall. During the winter period, free Greek, Italian and English lessons are given weekly at St. Francis’ Monastery. Private tuition is very costly and the free lessons attract many that otherwise would not be able to afford to learn Greek Italian or English, which is of course of the utmost importance for day to day life. There is a large parish library at St. Francis’s church which serves the community and is open to all. It contains books in Greek and most European language. Caritas Rhodes/and Kos continues to distribute food and clothes from its office in St. Clare’s parish hall and often from the monastery door. Toiletries are also in demand. Mothers often ask for milk for their babies. The parishioners and Rhodians are generous and give what they can to Caritas and we are very grateful. The free Greek and English lessons for the poor continue free of charge at Saint Francis’ Monastery. Caritas has been able to help and contribute this year in the food parcels that are made up for the poor in Kos. Items of food and toys are collected or bought and Christmas boxes are made for about 240 families. The families who have young children are given small gifts to ensure the children have something to open on Christmas day. The parish halls both in Rhodes St. Clare’s Hall and Kos, St. Anthony’s Hall form a focal point for different groups to meet and activities to take place. Interaction is essential especially during the winter months when most hotels and restaurants close and the locals are without work for six months. The Franciscan theatre that was restored and reopened a few years ago serves the local community, especially the State Schools and various theatre groups of Rhodes. The many concerts that are held at both Sancta Maria and St. Francis’s Church are a source of pleasure to tourist and locals alike. They give opportunity for those with musical talents to express themselves and to be seen and heard. The children are particularly enthusiastic. As with the Magnificat in Jerusalem, music brings different races, creeds and religions together in harmony and collaboration. It provides a great melting pot for the cosmopolitan island of Rhodes.”
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the Franciscans of Rhodes have been involved in the reception of refugees. This is what Fr. Luke writes in December 2016:
“Refugees continue to flee from Syria and, through Turkey, they arrive in Greece. The numbers are much smaller than last year, but we still have 860 in Kos and around 90 in Rhodes. We have recently been contacted to open the parish hall to the refugees so they can receive free education three times a week. The teachers will be sent from the University of Aegean. ”
Pipe Organs in Rhodes
A music festival takes place every year in the church of St. Francis: this is a unique opportunity to hear the sound of the organ in Rhodes – and possibly – everywhere in Greece. We thank Fr. Luke and the artistic director of the festival, Chris Paraskevopoulos, who have accepted with enthusiasm the idea of collaboration with the Terra Sancta Organ Festival. Chris Paraskevopoulos is one of Greece’s greatest organ players, so we will let him describe the organ of St. Francis.
The organ of St. Francis Catholic Church in Rhodes was built in 1939 by the well known organ manufacturer, Pinchi, but its construction was not completed until after the start of the Second World War, according to the builder’s son, Guido Pinchi. This organ is still the biggest church organ in Greece. It has two manual keyboards and a pedal-board. The console is in the nave of the church and is connected to the pipes by a strong thick cable. This kind of connection is called “electrical action”. The organ has a total of 1609 pipes, 671 of which, belonging to the bottom manual keyboard, are called the Organo Grande (Great Organ) and are distributed in 11 ranks with 7 stops. The upper manual keyboard is named the Organo Espressivo (Swell Organ) and has 842 pipes distributed in 14 ranks with 10 stops. The pipes of this section are enclosed in a swell box with shutters opening towards the nave and the more they are opened by the corresponding pedal, the more sound escapes from the box. The pedal-board section has 96 pipes which are installed at the back of the organ and they are not visible from the façade. These pipes are huge, the biggest being 5 meters tall and played from the first pedal key by the Contrabass 16’ stop. There are six more stops on the console to control various accessories such as Tremolo, where a device causes the sound to vibrate, and the “Unione Tastieri”, where another device connects the two manual keyboards so that when the organist plays on the bottom manual, the upper manual also sounds. Pedal couplers are used also to connect the manuals to the pedals, as are octave intra-manual and inter-manual couplers where the super octave notes are also played from bottom notes. In order for the organ to be played successfully, a huge bellows is set beneath the chests holding the pipes and this provides the pipe systems with the air they need under pressure via leather conduits. The pipes of this organ are of the Flue and Reeds category. Most of them are Flues, like the pipes of the façade. The reeds have a metal tongue which vibrates to produce the sound. The two stops from this family are called Trumpet and Oboe. The organ also has the well known family of string-tone pipes, where pipes with small scaling produce a sound like the orchestral strings. These stops are named Viola and Coro de Violes and if the Celeste stop is added to them, the sound which is produced is undulating. The voicing of the pipes is ideal for Romantic and Contemporary music, but Baroque music can also be played with success. The organ has been restored by the Italian organ factory of Alessandro Giacobazzi under the personal care of the parish priest Father Luke, OFM.
(Text: Chris Paraskevopoulos)
SPECIFICATION OF THE ORGAN
1) Principale 8′
2) Octave 4′
3) Twelfth 2 2/3′
4) Ripieno V Fille
5) Flauto 8′
6) Salicional 8′
7) Tromba 8′
9) I /8 Ped
10) II/8 Ped
11) Acuta I
12) Acuta II/I
13) Bordone 8′
14) Flauto 4′
15) Sesquialtera .. 2 2/3′+1 3/5′
16) Flautino 2′
17) Viola 8′
18) Celeste 8′
19) Coro di Violes 8′
20) Principalino 8′
21) Pienino III Fille
22) Oboe 8′
24) Contrabasso 16′
25) Basso 8′
26) Violoncello 8′