Saint George (Agios Georgios) is regarded as the island’s patron saint.
The church of St George was built in 1870.
It was initially very small.
Craftsmen from Santorini helped in the building and the mortar was porcelain for its hardness and endurance.
The entrance and the courtyard were built using marble and columns from a Byzantine church whose ruins were near the cemetery.
1890: the altar partition was erected together with St George’s icon signed by six pirates (mariners and smugglers) who had paid for the building.
They also put up old icons of St. John and St Nicholas
On St George’s day the icon was taken around the village to consecrate it, followed by a litany of the faithful.
Immediately the church was built the locals decided to honor the saint in a particular way. The day of St George is celebrated on the 23rd of April unless this is during Lent, when the feast is carried forward to the Monday after Easter Sunday. On that day an islander who has volunteered to organize the festivities, undertakes to prepare a meal for everybody present on the island, in honor and gratitude to the saint for his help. There were hundreds of people present every year. The meal comprised goat’s meat in tomato sauce with spaghetti, meat soup, salad, wine and soft drinks. It was cooked over a wood fire in an area designated for the purpose in the church courtyard. Many inhabitants helped with the preparation and serving of the meal, as volunteers in honor of the saint. The meal began straight after morning mass in an area behind the church prepared with long tables and benches. When the meal was over the honor of preparing next year’s feast was handed over to another.
1940-1944: During the German Occupation Koufonissi was under Italian command. The Italians had commandeered all the food for the army, including what was needed for the feast, so the islanders could not continue their custom. After petitioning the Italian Command, the locals were allowed to procure the necessary provisions from the shepherds in the area on the saint’s day.
1973: the feast custom changed slightly.
It was decided that on the saint’s day those who wish to undertake the following year’s feast should declare it and then have a draw.
The winner is not allowed to participate in the following year’s draw, thus giving others a chance to win the honor.
During the draw they pick a second man in case the first is unable to fulfill his obligation.
The meal offered is now veal in tomato sauce, fried potatoes, meat soup, meatballs, cheese, salad, soft drinks, wine and beer. The preparation of the meat and soup takes place in the traditional wood fires, the rest in more modern ways.
1975: the locals agreed that the litany would proceed to Loutro, then left to the harbor to consecrate the fishing boats and on to the church in a complete circle.
The fishing boat captains waited in the boats at Loutro to hail the icon with flares and whistles and follow it to the harbor so that it would have a sea escort as well. In the harbor they would tie the boats in a long row to pass the blessing from one to the next.
On reaching the church door the icon is held aloft and the faithful pass under it to receive the saint’s blessing.
The custom continues to our day.
The old roof thatch over the cooking area is removed and replaced by one of reinforced concrete. The dining area is enlarged and a priest’s office for administrative purposes and restrooms are added.
1985: The inhabitants agree that the Good Friday procession and litany, which up till then went as far as one end of the village , should now follow the same route as St George’s procession, that is through the village to Loutro, left as far as the harbor and around the edge of the village and back to the church, where the same process as with the icon will be followed.
1997: The village teenagers in honor of the crucified Christ prepared and placed lighted torches along the route of the procession from the harbor to Ammos, the main village beach and formed groups that held other torches all along, creating a striking effect which continues to our day. In the same year the restoration of the church murals began and was completed the following year. The murals were created on canvas attached to,the wall to protect them from the damp.
A few years ago St George’s bones were brought to the Koufonissi church, sent by the archbishop of Tiverida Alexios. Since then on St George’s day the bones are placed on the Epitaph and decorated with flowers. After Mass there is a procession, only now the icon follows the bones.