religious icons
Prousa, Smyrna
‘Our family was not religious [...]. Our relationship [with the icons] was purely sentimental and we viewed them more as works of art’.
Gogo Rakopoulou

The icons of the Rakopoulou family

Gogo Rakopoulou, a third-generation Asia Minor refugee, grew up with her parents and her grandmother, Grandma Katina Angelaki, an exuberant woman who was unusually active and sociable for her time. As a child, Gogo never noticed the icons hanging on the walls of her home. They were always there, a constant presence, and displaying icons in the home was a common practice: Agios Nikolaos looking respectful, a resplendent Agios Fanourios, Mother of God wearing a crown, Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. Elsewhere in the house, there was a large conch painted with figures of saints.

On her father’s side, Gogo Rakopoulou hails from Prousa (Bursa). On her mother’s side, her ancestors were originally from Smyrna. Their original surname is not known, since they adopted the surname ‘Tsichlakis’ upon their arrival in Chania. These four icons travelled with them and, after the family had settled in Greece, they adorned their homes and, later, their descendants’ homes.

These icons were not used by their owners for religious worship. ‘Our family was not religious, my parents were communists. Our relationship with them was purely sentimental and we viewed them more as works of art. Therefore, the icons were there because my father thought they should be there, and each of us could decide for ourselves what to do with them and how much to care about them’. The generation eventually came that took them off the walls and put them away for safekeeping.

When years later the icons were dug out of the cupboards, their owners found themselves more interested in them, in observing them and learning more about them. Gogo Rakopoulou describes how ‘when we had to take them back out, we fixed them, cleaned them, and I turned them around. On the back of the icons there was writing, there was information. From what I gather, one of the icons was the family diary, but I have never met nor heard of the people mentioned on it apart from my mother. I don’t know them, we were not close and I have never been introduced to these people in person as relatives. […] Obviously, these notes were made by my grandmother who was a refugee born in Alexandria, Egypt. Her family left Asia Minor after the first persecutions, in 1914.  Some left [Asia Minor], passed through Crete, and then went on to Egypt. Grandma left as a baby in her mother’s womb’.

On the back of the Virgin Mary icon, there are the dates of birth of all members of the Tsichlakis family from 1908 to 1939. The last note is the birth date of Gogo’s mother, Katina’s daughter: ‘2/Nov/1934/day: Friday/time: 9 in the morning’.

Image source: Facebook page / Αδελφότητα Μικρασιατών Ν. Χανίων “Ο Άγιος Πολύκαρπος” – Μουσείο