Zante’s Patron Saint is St. Dionysios. Due to this, the largest Church in the city of Zakynthos is the one dedicated to Him, greeting everyone who travels to this Ionian Island via boat. This Church building was constructed in 1948 and was able to withstand the big earthquake of 1953, which destroyed most of the buildings in the city. In the interior of the Church one can find fabulous work of iconography. However, the most significant attraction is the relics of Saint Dionysios, which the faithful venerate piously.
Saint Dionysios was born in Zante in the year 1547 AD, when the island was under Venetian rule. His parents were Mokios and Paulina, aristocrats from the Sigouros family. Due to his status, he was able to receive good education and a Christian upbringing. Traditions states that St Dionysios was baptised by St Gerasimos, during the period when the latter was living in Zante. During his teen years, Dionysios unfortunately loses his parents. During this sad period, the Saint gives all his inheritance to his brother Konstantinos and his sister Sigoura and he decided to become a monk at the Monastery of Strofades, a small island south of Zakynthos. There he received his new name, Daniel. During his time at the monastery he dedicated his time in praying and his study of Scripture. Soon he became abbot of his monastery.
In 1577, St. Dionysios decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. His first stop was Athens, where he wished to receive the blessing of Bishop Nikagoras. The latter was so impressed with the character and the education of St Dionysios, he persuaded him to become Bishop of Egina (a small island near Athens). Abbot Daniel became Bishop Dionysios of Egina. He stayed on the island of Egina until 1579.
Upon his return to Zante, he withdrew to the monastery of Panagia Anafonitria, in the north part of the island, where he became abbot of the monastery. Many faithful would visit him in order to confess to him and ask for his advice. A significant event in his life was when he forgave his brother’s murderer and he helped him leave Zante safely, showing the true virtue of forgiveness.
The story is an interesting one. The two families Sigourou and Mondinou formed two rival factions, which hated each other. Clashes between the two families were a constant phenomenon. In one of these clashes, the Saint’s brother, Konstantinos, was murdered. But, in trying to escape, the killer (whose name we do not know) sought refuge in the Saint’s monastery, without knowing his relation to the victim. When the killer arrived at the monastery, St Dionysios asked why he is asking shelter within the monastery. He replied, claiming that the Sigourou family was looking for him; however, he later explained that he had killed Konstantinos Sigouros. Nevertheless, Dionysios, despite his sadness, he hid the murderer and helped him escape. Due to this action, he inevitably prevented any more murders and clashes between the two families, allowing for the murderer to repent. St Dionysios, therefore, became a bright example of forgiveness, by applying the true Christian love to his fellow man. This story, however, is based on the oral tradition of the island of Zakynthos. No official documents have been found regarding the murder. Nevertheless, it is said that the murderer later returned to Zante, and hearing that Konstantino’s brother helped him escape, he was so moved that he became a monk himself, repenting for the rest of his life for the wrong doing he did.
St. Dionysios died on the 17th December 1622, at the age of 75. According to his wishes, he was buried in the monastery in Strofades, where he first became a monk. Three years after his death, his body was excavated. The people then saw that his body remained intact, and hence, this was the first step in his proclamation as a Saint of the Church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate proclaimed Dionysios as a Saint of the Orthodox Church in 1703. However, the people of Zante honoured him as a Saint far earlier than that.
Today, the people of Zakynthos celebrate the memory of St. Dionysios twice a year. On the 24th August they celebrate the move of the relics of St. Dionysios from Strofades to Zakynthos (1717). On the 17th December they honour his death. Each festivity is celebrated for three days, showing the significance of this Saint for the island of Zante.