In 1884, Theodore and Mabel Bent enjoyed the hospitality of Ios’ first family, the Lorenziades (sic) and wrote warmly of them and the hospitality they afforded him. In 1927, V.C. Scott O’Connor visited Ios and met with Stefanos Lorentziadis who told him ‘there are none of us now in the island’. I thought I’d do some research to discover what I could about this family, so prominent in 1884, with so many younger members, but one which seems to have disappeared within a period of just over 40 years.
My first stop was the cemetery, which is not always guaranteed to yield results in Greece. Generally, only the rich or influential can be found in permanent graves or on memorials in Greece, others are ‘laid to rest’ in graves for just a few years before being moved into an ossuary box and placed in the charnel house or, for the poor or forgotten, placed in communal ossuaries. The cemetery in Ios is part of the church on the road leading up to the windmills. It’s a well-kept cemetery, not large, laid out on terraces. Entering from the churchyard, my eyes were immediately drawn to a large marble tomb to my left on the upper terrace under the shade of a beautiful old tree. Carved into the stone on the side facing me were the words ‘ΟΙΚ. ΛΟΡΕΝΖΙΑΔΗ’ (Lorentziadis Family). I’d found the Lorentziadis family tomb. If at all, I’d expected to find an aged, possibly derelict, gravestone or tomb showing signs of neglect through lack of attention over the years. However, this was well-maintained, looked newly constructed and bore inscriptions with very recent dates. There were fresh flowers in white marble vases at each corner. This was no neglected tomb – clearly, the Lorentziadis family were still present in the island. On one of the old headstones placed near the main tomb I read the name, Michalis Lorentziadis, the demarch to whom Theodore Bent had handed a letter of introduction in 1884; he had died on May 30 1909. On the same stone was inscribed Maria Kortesi, the married name of Michalis’ sister, who’d died on 5th March 1909, just under 3 months before her brother. One final name on the same stone was Spyridon Lorentziadis, who I later found to be the brother of the three girls of the family who had cared for and so enchanted the Bents. The stone told of his tragic death as a soldier in the war who had died in Thessaloniki on 16th September 1918.
I was staying at the Avra Pension, in the port village of Yialos, run by one of the loveliest landladies I’ve encountered in the islands. ‘Katerina,’ I said, ‘do you know anybody called Lorentziadis?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ she replied, ‘they are a very well-known family in the island. The youngest runs the café by the harbour. They are a very nice family and I’m sure they would talk to you.’
The girls at the café directed me to the Lorentziadis house, one that I’d passed many times before on my previous visits to Ios, unaware of its link to the family which, even then, was central to my reason for visiting the island.
The house is large, and I knocked on a few wrong doors calling ‘Kalimera’ until, behind one, I could hear a man’s voice. Louis came to the door speaking on his mobile. Sitting on the veranda, I explained the reason behind my visit. Considering a strange Englishman had just knocked on his door and started talking about family members from 100 years before he’d been born, Louis reacted extremely calmly. ‘It’s probably better if you talk to my father about this, he knows more about the family history than I. I’ll call him, he’s in Athens.’ Louis related to his father, Spyros, what I’d previously told him and handed me the phone. Spyros’ English was impeccable and he was very keen to discuss further what information I had about this distant relative, Stefanos, whom he’d not known about. We talked about Theodore Bent, whose book he’d read. Then came the bombshell – ‘If you come to Athens, I will take you to see the dress that Ekaterina wore for the Bents that night back in 1884’. I immediately decided that the last few days of my trip would be in Athens, where I could meet with Spyros and see at first hand the same dress that Theodore and Mabel had first set eyes upon and had admired over 130 years before.
So, despite what Stefanos had said to VC about being the last in the island, the Lorentziadis family was alive and thriving in Ios. There were many questions which I hoped could be answered when I met up with Spyros in Athens. Armed with Spyros’ contact details, I said goodbye to his son Louis and walked back down to the port.
A few weeks later, I spent some days in Athens before my flight back to the UK. I emailed Spyros and we met up at the National Historical Museum where I was thrilled to see the dress worn by Ekaterina for the Bents. Over lunch, more of the extraordinary story of the Lorentziadis family emerged.
Echoing the same spirit of hospitality and filoxenia shown by his family to Theodore and Mabel, and to V. C. Scott O’Connor, Spyros absolutely refused to let me pay for lunch.