August for Greeks is the month of the Virgin Mary, as she is remembered and commemorated on the celebration of Assumption of the Virgin Mary on the 15th August. Thousands of faithful, with souls full of hope and devotion, are counting on countless pilgrimages, where the miraculous images of the Magnificent are being harnessed to cast their own favor on her grace.
From the first of August, where there is a church of the Virgin Mary and mainly where there are monasteries dedicated to the Assumption, pilgrims from the surrounding areas flock to the daily prayers and devotions to worship the image, to light their candle with this year's crop of oil.From the first of August, where there is a church of the Virgin Mary and mainly where there are monasteries dedicated to the Assumption, pilgrims from the surrounding areas flock to the daily prayers and devotions to worship the image, to light their candle with this year's crop of oil.Some Cretans, known as the "Decapentarists", spend all these days in the monasteries either in monk’s quarters or in makeshift huts in the area around the monastery and the family and friends makes pilgrimages, practicing ascetic life and fasting in honor of the Virgin.They took with them the essentials such as saucepans, legumes, herbs, coffee, wine, raki, toasted bread, flour, honey, almonds and the new crop of oil. They made a quiche of honey and grapes syrup, the "gourd" of Panagia.In the morning, after a breakfast of coffee or herbal tea (Dittoam etc.) lunch was made in the monastery's dining room. The food of the day was simple. Bread and olives, plentiful fruits and vegetables such as sprouts, tomato and cucumber salad, vegetables, lettuce, boiled potato, boiled corn, as well as peculiar soups (kale soup, tomato soup).The making and kneading of bread in the wood-fired oven of the monastery was one of the most graphic occupations. The custom of "brunch", offering a small amount of bread to neighbors and friends was one of the main events of the day.All this time in Panagia Faneromeni Gournia, one of the oldest monasteries in the area of Ierapetra and Eastern Crete, built on a steep cliff high to overlook the Bay of Merabellos and the Cretan Sea, thousands of pilgrims from the town of Agios Nikolaos and the villages of Gerapetritika and Merabeliotika visit. Every day around the clock you will see groups of mostly young children - with good stamina - going out with friends up to the monastery. And every afternoon hundreds of vehicles carry pilgrims to worship the miraculous image of Our Lady of Faneromeni."Decentralization" usually ended on the afternoon of the great feast on August 15. That day was always special as the monasteries offered lunch of beef or goat to all pilgrims. Immediately after the table the departure process began. The mules and corpses of animals were again adorned with colorful fabrics and in caravan formation, animals and humans formed graphic processions. In the villages this day is a bank holiday so everyone can go to church, just like on Good Friday and Resurrection, so the 15th August celebrations are sometimes referred to as "Easter of the Summer". It’s a great feast for the Orthodoxy and brings great joy for the faithful. At noon they meet family or friends for lunch because the table unites and creates bonds between people.We have learned to honor these bonds of tradition and will offer you a recipe as old as this day that all the wood-fired cooks in the village used to roast meat and potatoes. I chose to make a slice of lamb in the oven.
2 kg of lamb
Ask the butcher to give you a side and a front of lamb. Do not wash it because the skin will become soft. Look to see if it has any bristles to extract or burn off. Salt very well on all sides.
Place the lamb in a pan and bake at 200 degrees for two hours. If baking in a wood oven, the oven should reach 250 degrees and also remain closed for two hours.
In about an hour and a half open the oven to turn the lamb on the other side and pour lots of stock into the pan.
Potatoes can also be added. Fill the pan with potatoes, a little salt, oregano, juice from one lemon, 100ml olive oil and half a glass of water. Put the lamb on top and bake in the same way.
(We thank our folklore-journalist and partner Leonidas Koudoumogiannakis for describing local customs on the 15th of August).