Byzantine Church Supplies: Another World

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We were strolling home from the Acropolis, past the inviting portals of an Eastern Orthodox church, and decided to take a quiet, narrow street we’d somehow missed on previous forays.

We only encountered a few folks (a rarity in Athens), including a priest and his friends.

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They were looking at a grand house up the street, with well-dressed security guards strategically placed around the perimeter. Our initial impression was that it must be an embassy. That’s when we met Tony, a local restauranteur passing by, who explained that this is the headquarters of Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens’ Greek Orthodox Church.

We realized that they were flying the Greek flag with a cross on top – a reminder that in Greece there is no separation of church and state.


Tony went on to explain that this area of town is home to merchants who cater exclusively to the needs of Eastern Orthodox Churches – everything from vestments for the clergy to chandeliers for the interiors.


We studied the shop windows in amazement, completely out of our element, but enjoying the exotic atmosphere. Several businesses were tailor shops, featuring floor-to-ceiling bolts of exquisite silks and brocades with rolls of embroidered trim.

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Men were meticulously hand sewing stunning clergy vestments, fashioned from luxurious fabrics, each piece with its own religious significance.

Orthodox vestments

Other stores specialized in items for church interiors or religious services, ranging from chalices and censers to icons and lecterns.


But my favorite shops are for everyday religious folks who are shopping for something special. Specifically – a miracle. Athenian writer Adrian Vretto explains that when you’re raised a devout Orthodox, you learned that,

“Miracles were had for the asking in all the Orthodox churches. You can get them by offering tamata.”

Tamata are votive plaques made of rectangular pieces of metal that convey prayers and wishes for many purposes, like a new house or healthy baby (similar to Milagros in the Latin tradition).

When a loved one is ailing, Greeks buy tamata with miniature body parts shaped on them. According to Vretto,

“You can find tamata ranging from ears to ankles and fingers, but in the odd case they don’t have the right body part for you, vendors can be inventive. For example, a friend of mine looking for a kidney was offered two livers.”

Now that’s creative! There’s even a tamata if you’re dreaming about a new car!

Terri IMG_3769   Photo Credits: 8. By Testus via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

33 thoughts

    1. The tamatas are so fun, Sue. We would study some of them trying to figure out exactly what body part they were! 🙂 When I saw the Volkswagen I just had to giggle. ~Terri

      1. So hilarious Terri. I love the way you and James find the obscure and little known places and facts. Inspires me to always be on the look out for the hidden treasures.

    1. Thanks Andrew. We first encountered the concept in Mexico (milagros) where they are much smaller – more like a charm. The tamata in Greece are considerably larger and fascinating with all their embossings. I haven’t visited Tinos – would you recommend it? ~Terri

      1. I went ten years ago so it might have changed but it was well off the normal tourist routes. The town/port was less busy than mainstream holiday islands and the church is well worth a visit.

        Inside there is miraculous icon which according to tradition was found after the Virgin appeared to the nun, St. Pelagia, and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. By coincidence (if you believe this sort of stuff) the icon was found on the very first day after the creation of the modern Greek State and henceforth Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the Greek nation. Every year hundreds of pilgrims visit the island and crawl on their hands and knees from the port to the church.

      2. Andrew, that is great information! I had no idea. Now I really want to go there. You keep expanding my “must see” Greece list. Thanks! ~Terri

  1. It’s such a child like, simple way to look at the world, isn’t it? Beautiful and yet strange to outsiders. I’d never thought about the industry behind all those garments, either. There are all kinds of ways to make a living! (and a good one, from the look of things 🙂 )
    That first photo took me back instantly to Greece, Terri.

    1. You make a great point Jo about all the industry behind different religions. The people selling these products seem to have carved out an interesting business niche – and their online shops are fascinating to explore. When we were in Amman, Jordan there was a similar type of shop selling huge crescents for the tops of mosques. Fascinating! ~Terri

  2. Fascinating find Terri. The Tamatas must be a carry over from pagan religions. Hindus use votive plaques exactly like these, made out of pure silver or real gold! Have no idea what they are called though! Need to check. I know of someone that offered a silver hair strand to the temple, to stop hairfall!! 😀

    1. That makes total sense Madhu – the concept probably is a carry over from early religions. So many interesting practices are around the world. 🙂 I did notice a glass case that held tamata that appeared to be made of precious metals. I was so glad that they also sold low-cost tamata for average people. I love the silver hair offering – very creative! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. True Laura, I guess everyone’s definition of a miracle is different. In addition to the car tamata we also saw houses and motorcycles, but the majority of people were buying body parts, so it appears that curing illness is top of mind. ~Terri

    1. Wow, thanks Bronwyn. It’s hard to go wrong ion photos n Greece with their gorgeous skies and beautiful color palette.

      It was great that we’d been inside numerous churches and seen the various items used in services – it helped it all make sense. I certainly had never thought about the organizations and people who create all these beautiful items. It was fascinating watching the tailors sew the splendid vestments – what skill! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Many thanks Jennie. And about those tix for Greece, I think if I were you I would opt for the all-seeing, all-knowing eye tamata – maybe that will work! 🙂 ~Terri

  3. I’ve always liked all the ceremony involved in ancient religious ritual, even if I would never want to sit through a two- or three-hour religious ceremony ever again. Your pictures are really interesting. I’d like to visit Athens someday.

    1. Thank you. Like you I am fascinated by religious rituals – always asking what do they mean and how did they come about. It seems that no matter where I travel there’s always a religious ritual that piques my curiosity. And as for Athens, it’s one of those destinations that helps “connect the dots” of ancient civilizations … and democracy! 🙂 So glad you stopped by. ~Terri

  4. Wow, if the price is right we could go overboard! We could ask for one with raindrops for Texas and California- that would really be a good miracle!

    I see my tamata- top row, silver on the right… a new leg.

    Although, remembering that old W.W. Jacobs story, “The Monkey’s Paw”, maybe I should just let fate take its time to heal the one I have! 😉

    1. I just read about your tumble Jonelle. So sorry. If I had a leg tamata I would be sending it your way. But the tamatas I brought home are 2 ears (since I lost my hearing a few years ago). But now after your reminder of the “The Monkey’s Paw” I realize I might end up looking like Francis the Mule! 🙂 What’s the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Hope you’ll be back on your feet soon. ~Terri

      1. LOL! I just left you a reply about your vivid visual word art… Francis the mule wasn’t exactly the image I had in mind, but it does bring a smile!

  5. Candles, lots and lots of them– thats what I remember outside of Greek Orthodox Churches, Terri. Then there are the Saint Relics you can pray to for whatever ails you. Lot’s of those are body parts, as well. But I like the tamata body part concept although is does send my mind reeling just a bit thinking up possibilities. Like who needs viagra? The thing about tamatas is that they are so specific. It reduces the chance of error in getting repaired what you need to be repaired. 🙂 –Curt

    1. Curt, you totally crack me up! Although I didn’t see the specific tamata you’re alluding to, I did see some pretty well-endowed female torsos! Like I told Jonelle (above), I just brought home a couple of ears. Not sure these tamatas are working … yet! 🙂 ~Terri

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