I really liked this hillside town, each home and building facing west to Hora but with a range of hills blocking a straight view of the western Aegean. Behind the town rises the eastern ridge of mountains, of which Mt. Zas (Zeus) at 1001 meters calls me back for a later climb. For now, I’m content to walk the backstreets, see the uppermost village falling into ruins, and marvel at the hive-like nature of these homes of farmers and craftspeople.
I learn later from Nicoletta at Hotel Grotta that Filoti men have a reputation for quick tempers and violence, thus the need for high livestock walls between fields. Disputes and conflicts can go on for generations, so it’s better to pile on another stone than risk the wrath and vengeance of your neighbor.
One quite dramatic feature of the Filoti landscape is a rocky upthrust on the southern road out of town. Carlos and Gabriela and I drove past it en route to the cave we hiked to, but it didn’t register that it was a place I could visit easily. So it was by chance in driving the southern road away from Filoti and past the mountain that I noticed a small road on the backside which seemed to head upward. Eyeing the very steep grade and wondering if my little Hyundai could make it, I decided that this is what 1st gears are made for and punched the accelerator. The road was all concrete and mostly free of major potholes and cracks, so up and up I went. There was no guardrail of course, and a couple hairpin curves with the entire Naxos coastline visible to the west were heart stopping. If I had been riding as a passenger in a car driven by someone else, I would probably have been screaming at this point. Once I rounded those corners, it was smooth going to a big open area just down from the chapel.
Awaiting me were spectacularly pretty fields of daisies and other wildflowers on the northern side of the peak. After many minutes admiring and photographing and just hanging out soaking up the tremendous view, I clamored up to the chapel, expecting to find it closed, but the door was strong and latched and opened easily. Inside, I might as well have been in a cave somewhere since the shadows fought back against the light spilling in.
What I saw was a chapel to John the Baptist, who is venerated in Orthodox Christianity because, as a prophet, he paved the way for the coming of Jesus. He’s called “Saint John the Forerunner.” If you recall your biblical history, King Herod granted the wishes of his daughter Salome to have the imprisoned John’s head on a platter.
So that’s what this chapel venerates: John’s critiques of the rotten times of the Roman occupation of Palestine, and the coming of a Messiah. The images are vivid, bloody, and gruesome to my eye, in harsh contrast with the abundant beauty outside the building. Like the big monastery on the mountainside above Hora, with its five little windows that can hardly do justice to the grand scenery they face, Greek Orthodoxy seems to be a turning away from the world so that religious “truths” can be perpetuated, from one generation of male priests to the next. (On Mt. Athos in the northeastern part of Greece, a group of monasteries have relative autonomy from the Greek mainland and government, and make their own rules. One must have a passport issued from Mt. Athos to disembark and spend time there, with only men allowed. They don’t even allow female animals, save for cats to serve as deterrents to the rat population. Buddhism may have been a thoroughly male monastic enterprise, but its monks never denied the world, only managed access to it so as to create a boundary that could serve spiritual practice.) There appears to be no place for women in the church hierarchy, and yet they are among the most faithful practitioners.
It is a relief to exit the chapel and be once again outside, looking at the field of wildflowers as well as to Filoti and the huge view in all directions. For this last trip on Naxos, my cup runneth over.