Agio Gala, Chios
MAY to SEP Tue-Sun 11-19.
|Classification:||Karst cave cave church.|
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
|Address:||Spilia Agio Gala, Agio Gala, Chios 821 03, Tel: +30-22740-22004, Cell: +30-697-2311019.|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|13th-14th century||village Agios Gala founded.|
|1721||wood carved icon screen.|
|1969||explored by the Greek Speleological Society, Anna Petrochello and the Gourvellou couple.|
The small village of Agio Gala is located on the northwestern side of Chios island. There is only one road along the coast, so you cant miss it. The village is located beneath the road, and it is possible to park at the village and walk uphill on staircases to the cave. But the cave is actually located at the road, so it is possible to follow the road south for one kilometer and then turn right on the parkaring lot. From here its just a few steps down to the cave. Actually it is the place of a church located in a shady forest with a small brook. There is also a recreational area with a cafe, that serves coffee, refreshments, and a complete lunch if you like. The place was once the location of a monastery, and the monks lived here very simple live. The area was transformed into a sort of open air museum showing their daily life.
The church is named Panagia Agiogalousena or Church of the Virgin of Agio Gala. Agio Gala means Holy Milk, so this translates actually Virgin Mary of the Holy Milk. Its highlight is an ornate wood carved icon screen from 1721. This kind of carvings is characteristic for Chios art. However, if you have a close look at the Christian art you may find pagan symbols and other hidden details.
But the most interesting part is that there are actually three churches. Behind the normal church is a cave with a cave church, and behind the cave church is a another cave. This last one was used both as a church and a hideout.
During the Byzantine times a king exiled his daughter to Chio Island because she had leprosy. She found refuge in a cave where a woman in black clothes cared for her. Three years later, the king regretted his decision and went to retrieve his daughter. When he arrived at the cave, he saw that his daughter was completely healed by the miraculous water from the cave. The king ordered to build a church near the village to thank God for the healing of his daughter. However, the workers had massive problems, as all their materials vanished from the construction site every night and were found every morning at the entrance of the cave. This happened several days in a row. When the King heard this, he decided it was a sign from God and gave order to build the church at the entrance of the cave. The church was called Agios Galas, because of the healing water. The village was originally named Agios Thaleleos but soon it was also called Agios Galas.
This old legend explains the strange name of the church. Superstition converted into Christan legend. The cave contains the chapel of Agia Anna which houses the island’s oldest wall paintings (11th-12th centuries). The limestone rich water from the stalactites here is milky white and is collected in pots. Until today people believe that it has healing power.
So far the cultural aspects of the site, now for the speleological aspects. The cave is a former river cave with impressive erosional forms at the walls. It also has numerous speleothems like stalactites and stalagmites. The dripping water is, as always in karst caves, very rich in dissolved limestone, which may become solid when the carbon dioxide in the water vanishes into the cave air. The white limestone normally precipitates as speleothems but may also form white particles in the water which explains the milky water.
The cave has three distinct sections, the entrance section with its archaeological remains, the cave chapel Saint Anna, and the more or less unchanged cave behind. The cave was frequented by humans since prehistory, excavations revealed Neolithic remains between 8,000 and 7,000 years old. Also animals bones including cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), leopard, wild boar, and deer were discovered. The findings, including ceramic vessels, tools and statuettes are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Chios. The remains revealed the diet of the ancient people, which included small animals, fish, and mussels. Pieces of pottery from Bronze Age and Roman times were discovered, and even some from Byzantine times. The part of the cave was used as a refuge since the Middle Ages at various occasions.
The second part of the cave was used for the cave church, or better chapel, of Agia Anna (Saint Anna). However, except for the ceramic vessels which are used to collect the dripping water there are little changes. The only spectacular human intervention are religious paintings on the cave walls.
The rest of the cave is in an more or less original state. It was used as a hideout at various occasions, but was never altered very much, except for the trails. The 220 m long main passage is quite irregular and winding and almost devoid of speleothems. This part was renovated some years ago with new trails, steel railings and new light system.