Finding the Lorentziadis family

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.

Searching for Stefanos’ house in Ios

Approaching Chora, on his return from visiting Homer’s tomb in the North East of the island, VC passed by the home of an elderly man who was sitting on his doorstep.

On my return in the cool of the evening from Homeros, and as I neared the town of Ios, I saw an elderly man seated alone upon the doorstep of his house, with something about him that was almost English — or at least not Greek. He looked a little wistfully upon the world, regarding the passers-by, and this led me to stop my mule and wish him the time of day. He rose at once to his feet, and I observed that he was lame. On learning my nationality his face lit up, and he urged me to enter his house

The man turned out to be Stefanos Lorenziades, the younger brother of the three sisters who’d looked after and entertained Theodore Bent over 40 years before. From Theodore’s and VC’s accounts, and from my research in Ios, we have been able build an outline history of the Lorentziadis family from that time to the present day.

VC describes in some detail Stefanos’ house and garden and gives us a clue to its location.

Stefano’s garden lay upon the slope of a narrow ravine; a jet of water trickled through it into a reservoir under a vine, thence creating freshness and verdure wherever it went from terrace to terrace, till it reached the bottom of his ravine. Upon the far side rose the Acropolis of Ios, the remains of its Hellenic walls and its mediaeval tower; and these as we sat on his terrace glowed rose in the twilight through the solemn frieze of his darkening cypresses.

In studying a contour map, I identified a location which would fit VC’s description i.e. facing the Chora on the opposite side of a ravine. It was on the centuries-old monopáti (track) leading from Chora past the site of ancient Skarkos. This seemed the most likely track that VC would have followed back from his journey in the North of the island.

Shortly after leaving Chora, the track descends and immediately to the left is the likely ravine with green vegetation at its base indicating the path of a seasonal water course. Standing immediately above the low point of the ravine, the ravine side rose to my left up to the walls of the town. To the right, on the opposing ravine side, was a house with its garden laid out in well-maintained terraces planted with lemon, orange and olive trees.

The ravine with Chora on the left and the house on the right
The ravine
The house and terraces
The house and terraces
The front of the house with the stone seat
The front of the house with the stone seat

This was looking good. I continued on until I reached the front of the house. Like many in Greece, it’s difficult to put an age on them, but, as I got to the front door, the stone ledge to the right of the door just had to be of another period in time. Could this have been where Stefanos was sitting as VC passed? I was beginning to feel that I’d found it!

The tomb at the end of terrace
The tomb at the end of terrace

Wandering on, peering over the wall, everything looked as VC described: the terraces, the ravine, the Chora opposite. Then, at the very end of one of the terraces, I saw another piece of the jigsaw so eloquently described by VC – a white tomb, surmounted by a cross, protected within a black wrought iron fence.

The tomb at the end of the terraces
The tomb at the end of the orange groves

Through the dim orange groves there gleamed the white marble of his brother’s tomb.

“Were it not for that,” he said sadly, “I would give up this place. I have no friends in los.”

Stefanos told VC that the garden had been left to him after his brother had died. VC may have just assumed the tomb contained the remains of Spyridon, however, the graveyard in Chora contains a headstone which also bears Spryidon’s name and tells that he’d been killed in Thessaloniki in the war, possibly on the Macedonian Front, tragically just weeks before the end of the war. If Spyridon’s remains were in the churchyard, it begs the question – “Whose is the tomb in the garden?”. Could it have been his wife? It’s unusual in Greece, as in many countries, for tombs to be placed outside of consecrated church land or cemeteries. Surely this must be the tomb described by VC! There just couldn’t possibly be more than one in the surrounding area.

I could view the tomb only from the track and, try as I may, there was no easy access to this garden so that I could get a close look at the inscription. I stopped a couple of passers-by – “did they know the inhabitant of the tomb?” – no luck there.

Hearing the sound of a mother and her children coming from a house on the opposite side of the track, I approached and knocked on the wooden door. A second knock brought a woman and a young boy to the door. “I am from England” I said in Greek. “Do you know whose tomb is in the garden here?” “I don’t understand” she replied. I thought the young boy might be learning English at school – but, alas, no!

From the bottom of the ravine with the house on the left and Chora on the right
From the bottom of the ravine with the house on the left and Chora on the right

At the bottom of his ravine a spring of clear water is enclosed in a stone monument with Turkish emblems inscribed upon it, and to this the women of Ios come to replenish their jars.

I continued toward Skarkos. From the map, it seemed that I could follow a track to a road that passed by the ravine further down where I hoped to find the ‘Turkish’ fountain that would provide yet more conclusive proof that I’d found Stefano’s house.

Unfortunately, no sign of it, however, from VC’s description, it sounds to be further up the ravine in the dense undergrowth. “Not a job for today” I thought.

I was unable to find any other likely-looking location for Stefanos’ house and will continue to research further to finally ascertain whether this house is the one.

The GPS location of the house is 36.72483, 25.28509.