The fascinating custom of Fanouropita
One of the most beautiful things I love in Greece is that certain foods are closely connected to special celebrations and moments in people’s lives. Or I could say this the other way around – each important event has its own unique taste within the cultural traditions. That’s why life can be so tasty and full of expectations on the Greek islands, especially Rhodes.
Everything has its own time and value if you follow the rhythm of these traditions. In Greek culture, you can never separate food, community gatherings and religious customs from each other. They go hand in hand, and one of the best examples is the story of Fanouropita – the aromatic sweet cake of Saint Fanourios. And probably this is the most special one of all, straight from the island of Rhodes.
As with most of the traditional sweets of Greece, Fanouropita itself is closely related to a specific celebration (and saint) within the Greek Orthodox religion. But Fanouropita is a real Rhodian treat with a unique custom behind it. You don’t just make Fanouropita. You always do it for a specific reason as an offering to Saint Fanourios – whose worship originated from Rhodes Island and spread to other parts of Greece.
Let us look at the etymology first: ’fanerono’ (φανερώνω) in Greek means ’I reveal’. And Fanourios is the saint in Orthodox Greece who reveals things. According to religious belief, you can call upon him and ask his guidance whenever you lose something important, or need an answer or a solution for a problem, or whenever you need good luck in a specific situation.
Let’s suppose that you’ve lost your car keys and you can’t find them anywhere in heaven and earth. What do you do now? You keep calm and bake a Fanouropita following the guidelines:
- Use 7 or 9 ingredients (not less, not more).
The recipe, therefore, is not strictly defined but contains only lenten ingredients (besides olive oil): sugar, water, flour, baking powder. On Rhodes Island, the Fanouropita can also include raisins, walnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon and cloves to ensure the divine taste. Mix the ingredients (sprinkle with sesame on top), and then put the pastry into the oven for an hour (~180 Celsius)
- During the whole baking process, think about your lost car keys; otherwise, the magic will not work.
- When the cake is ready, offer it to at least seven households/families. You can eat the cake yourself only after that. But you have to eat the whole cake, no remaining pieces and crumbs!
- Now, wait for Saint Fanourios to reveal the exact place of your car keys.
The religious Rhodians happen to bake the Fanouropita not only as an invocation but also after any lucky event, as a gesture of gratitude towards Saint Fanourios. This is a so-called votive gift (or offering) which was common also in the Ancient Greek religion related to different gods and goddesses. The Colossus of Rhodes (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) was also a votive gift to the solar deity, Helios, who helped the Rhodians to defend their polis against the attack of the Macedonian King, Demetrius Poliorcetes.
Both the act of invocation (prayer) and gratitude can express and retain a deep humbleness in an individual towards non-human forces, whatever we call them. But nevertheless, it can also remain no more than superstition – perhaps it is the intimate matter of each individual.
The celebration of Saint Fanourios
Probably the most breathtaking church on Rhodes dedicated to Saint Fanourios is the byzantine chapel within the walls of the Medieval Town of Rhodes and dates back to the 13th century. Only by observing it from the outside one could never imagine the amazing interior of this half-underground chapel with its old colourful frescoes. It is located in Agios Fanourios street within the Old Town. It is best accessed from the Gate of Saint John (Kokkini Porta) or from Saint Athanasios Gate.
SAVE THE DATE!
The Orthodox Greek religion celebrates Saint Fanourios annually on the 27th of August and it is one of the most interesting religious celebrations in the Old Town of Rhodes. On this day you will find lots of locals participating in the liturgy. They bring their own homemade fanouropitas, and share it with each other after the church service in the lovely garden accompanied with coffee – of course. This is a truly unique event once a year only in that specific church in the Medieval Town.
Maybe, dear Reader, you can start to realize that visiting and understanding Rhodes has many aspects: traditional local tastes embedded in unique celebrations and customs, visiting Medieval churches within the UNESCO site, ancient remains, and understanding the shaping (natural and cultural) forces of the character of a Greek island.
We would love to hear about your favourite custom or superstition…please share your story or leave a comment below…
Fanouropita was only a tiny slice of the big cake of Rhodes. To begin your own discovery, book your accommodation in Rhodes with us HERE!
Read more from Mariann by visiting her website Ilios Art
Written by Mariann Lipcsei / February 2022 / Copyright © / Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any photo, or written content of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.