February 14th is the globally-celebrated day of Saint Valentine, internationally known as the day of lovers. Millions of stores around the world are lavishly decorated in red and vast quantities of roses, chocolates and stuffed animals are sold and consumed, often at high prices.
However, few people know that the Greek island of Crete has its own saint associated with love, Saint Yakinthos, also known as St. Hyacinth, the patron saint of pure and noble sentiments, as well as creation and inspiration.
The commemoration of his life, however, unlike that of St. Valentine, who was also a martyr, has nothing to do with romantic love, or “eros.” His memory concerns his total love for Christ, as evidenced by this young man’s sacrifice of his life for his beliefs.
Saint Yakinthos of Anogeia’s feast day is celebrated every year on July 3rd, in the mountainous region of Anogeia in Rethemno. The “Yakintheia,” as the martyr’s feast is called, celebrated every summer, is the core of a series of cultural events which last for three days and have grown in popularity both inside and outside the country.
Local songwriter Loudovikas ton Anogion, one of the coordinators of the annual festival, has said poignantly that “Agios Yakinthos is not the saint of love but the saint of remembered and hoped-for emotion.”
As part of Cretan tradition, people visit the temple of Saint Yakinthos, a small, round church made of stone which is located on Mount Psiloreitis, at a height of 1,200 meters (3,937 feet).
The people of Anogeia had this new church built in 1998 to honor their beloved martyr. Constructed in the “mitato” style, it is a simple structure which resembles a typical shepherd’s hut.
According to the Orthodox Church, Saint Yakinthos, who was born in the year 98, was a high-ranking courtier to Emperor Traianos (Trajan), who had asked him to renounce his faith in Christ.
Yakinthos, who flatly refused to do so, was then thrown into a prison located 12 kilometers (7 miles) south of Anogeia in Crete. He was fed food which had been steeped in blood from animals that had been sacrificed to idols.
The saint, who thereafter refused to eat for forty days, subsequently starved to death at 20 years of age, becoming a martyr for Christ.
The guards then found Yakinthos in his cell surrounded by angels who were holding candles. Emperor Traianos, enraged, then ordered the martyr’s remains to be thrown to the wild animals, but his body remained untouched as the angels continued to guard it.