Whilst on holiday on the beautiful Greek island of Skiathos, I stumbled across the Alexandros Papadiamantis House-Museum. Built in 1860, this pretty bougainvillea-strewn building features the original furniture, paintings and letters of the famous Greek writer and his family.
It is a perfectly preserved time capsule nestled in a quiet little square in Skiathos Town. Local street cats lounge about outside, languidly observing the passing tourists with their claws at the ready for the occasional pounce.
Alexandros Papadiamantis was a prodigious Greek writer famous for his lyrical style. He was born on Skiathos in 1851 and went to school in the nearby islands of Skopelos and Piraeus. After studying philosophy at the University of Athens, he worked as a journalist and translator before returning to the island of his birth where he died in 1911.
I bought a copy of The Murderess, which he wrote whilst living in the house, from the museum bookshop. It is a deeply sinister read. Like Charles Dickens, Papadiamantis was an astute observer of the human psyche, good and bad, and his characters inhabit microcosms of the world in which he lived. His works feature modern and ancient Greek influences and his novels, short stories and poetry vividly capture mid-eighteenth century island life.
The writer’s grave is in a peaceful corner of a cemetery in the Acropolis district. It is marked with a cross made of wood instead of the traditional white stone. There’s also a memorial bust in his honour outside the Bourtzi fortress. I needed a translation of the Greek inscription and was very grateful to a local man who kindly offered to phone his daughter, coincidentally also called Rebecca, and read it out to her so that she could translate it into English for me.
During a walking tour of Skiathos Town, the guide mentioned to us in passing that the skull of the writer may have been preserved in a local church. Intrigued, I decided to investigate…
Maria at the ice cream shop in the new port area wasn’t convinced about the authenticity of the claim. She rightly pointed out that it’s customary in Greece for only the skulls of saints to be preserved in this way. But as I polished off my ice cream, I couldn’t help continuing to wonder…
So I got in touch with Professor Georgia-Farinou Malamatari, president of the Papadiamantis Studies Society at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who explained that the skulls of distinguished persons who were not canonised were sometimes kept in churches in veneration of their memory. It is not a sign of sanctification, although Papadiamantis is known in some literary circles as the ‘Saint of Modern Greek Letters.’
I eventually found myself in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (Panagia Limnia) high up in Skiathos Town’s upper neighbourhood. Built in 1838, its beautiful bell tower can be seen from the boat approaching the town. The skull was indeed inside the church, hidden away upstairs beneath a silk sheet. I had a feeling of trepidation as I followed the church warden up the stairs and must admit that the viewing was an unexpectedly slightly grizzly experience.
It’s always such a pleasure to visit the amazing island of Skiathos. I can’t wait to continue exploring!