Bishop of Samos & Ikaria 1666 – 1671
Joseph Georgirenes was consecrated as Archbishop in October 1666 and
served about 5 years as Archbishop of Samos and Ikaria, leaving, to live on
Patmos, when after the subjugation of Crete in 1669 the Turks became more
populous and therefore more abusive to the Greeks. He was originally from
Milos but little is known about his early life other than he served 6 years as a
young boy on Mount Athos. He seems to have stayed on Patmos about 2 years
and appears to have then gone to Italy where it is known that he tried to
reconcile the Rome with the Orthodox Church.
Samos and Ikaria had originally come under the jurisdiction of Rhodes but had
broken away to be directly under the Patriarch of Constantinople and
Archbishop Georgirenes was the 7th Archbishop to serve.
As Archbishop after he was appointed by the Patriarch in Constantinople and
received his patent from the Grand Signor he would have presented his
credentials to the Turkish Authority of the region i.e. The Cadee.
He would then summon the head of the island “The Proesti” and all the priests
and have his appointment entered into the public records. They would then
accompany the new Archbishop to the main church of the region where he
would be enthroned on the Archbishop’s throne in the church and everyone
comes to pay their respects and kiss his hand.
His income would be from a set collection from all the churches in his region
and also from baptisms, weddings and funerals for which he would receive a
According to the book “ Voyage into the Levant” ,written by Joseph de Pitton
and printed in 1718, it would seem that Georgirenes probably had an income of
roughly 2000 crowns per annum while he served as Archbishop of Samos and
Ikaria. In addition he would have a further income from blessing the waters
in May and be entitled to all the milk and cheese produced that day and
receives 2 beasts from every herd.
Of his time as Archbishop we know only what he himself writes in his book in
1677. The book in fact covers the state of the Isles of Samos, Patmos and
Ikaria and the Holy Mount, Mount Athos. It tells us very little about the
There is far more documentation of his time in Great Britain where he seems
to have gone to get another book published “Anthologion”, this book however
never did appear in Print. It must be said that at the time he was in England
the atmosphere regarding religion was alive with intrigue Charles II was on
the throne and there with the understanding that he would not re-introduce
Catholism back into England. His brother James was a staunch Roman Catholic
and in fact Georgirenes dedicates his book to him.
By 1676 we see him in Paris where he links up again with Antonine Gallard, who
he had met in Patmos when Gallard was serving as French Ambassador and
Collector. It was Gallard who persuaded Georgirenes to write down his
impressions and knowledge of the islands of the NE Aegean where he had
served as Archbishop. Gallard also translated the book into French. It was
through Gallard that Georgirenes met Rev. Thomas Smith fellow of Magdalen
and Oxford and a student of the Greek Church.
According to an article in the London Gazette at the time Georgirenes was in
London it would seem he was not a very commanding person and it is also
stated that he spoke no English:
An indifferent tall man, and slender, with long black hair, having a
wart on the left side of his nose just against his eye, a Cut under his
eye, and Black Whiskers and very little beard.
It would seem though that he had an ability to make friends and influence
He seems to have bestowed on, the then King of France, Louis XIV 13th
century gospel manuscripts that he had taken from Patmos. These can be
found in the Bibliotheque National with inscriptions that state that they
were given by Joseph Georgirenes to King Louis XIV in 1675. It is presumed
that he received some favours for these gifts but what those favours actually
were in unknown.
Whilst in London Joseph Georgirenes was involved in two projects, to
build the first Greek Orthodox Church in London and to set up a college
in Oxford for Greeks.
BUILDING OF THE FIRST GREEK OTHODOX CHURCH IN LONDON:
In 1674 three Greeks living in London had pressed the Privy Council for
the right to build a Greek Orthodox Church. They were Daniell
Bulgaris( a priest), Louis Obinaty and Demetry of Contantinople.
Permission was granted on the 8th Jan 1675. By 1676 when Joseph
Georgirenes arrived the project had yet been started. Georgirenes
added his weight to the project and approached Bishop Compton whose
support he attained together with his fellow bishops and other donors.
There was already a patent issued by the king for the Greeks to exercise
their religion freely which among other things stated that some of the
Greeks were serving on His Majesties ships and on Merchant ships. It
seems to have been understood that these Greeks would be naturalised
and indeed Bugaris was in 1675.
Georgirenes, using this, approached Dr Nicholas Barbone, MP for Sussex
who was a developer in Soho. Barbone pledged a site in Soho and
offered to pay for the foundations. By March 1677, the King, noting that
Georgirenes had managed to collect funds to start the building actually
There was however by August a delay in that the Bishop of London
offered an alternative site in Soho to the one that Barbone had offered
and was instrumental in arranging the property deal needed to acquire it.
It would seem though that the alternative site at Hog Lane was leasehold
and Georgirenes did not understand the full implications and therefore
this decision turned out to be ill fated. Building started in 1677 but the
site was owned by a Mr Frith who also undertook the brickworks. By the
end of the year Frith was being sued by others for using bad bricks.
The building of the church was dependant on Subscriptions and so
progress was slow.
It would seem that when Joseph Georgirenes went to England he was
accompanied by a Lawrence Georgirini (also from Milos and probably a
relation). Lawrence had acquired a skill in pickling Mackerel and
requested a patent in order to ply his trade offering the proceeds for
the maintenance of the church. He was granted a 14year patent as the
government was interest in the trade and also as a means of vicutalling of
the armed forces.
By October 1678 the church was sufficiently ready but Georgirenes then
got caught up in light from the “Popish Plot”. The Popish Plot was a
fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that gripped England in
anti Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681.[ Oates alleged that there
existed an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II,
accusations that led to the execution of at least 15 men and precipitated
the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually Oates' intricate web of accusations
fell apart, leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.
He was also involved in a court case against his servant Dominico Gratiano
who he claimed had absconded with funds for the church. It came to
trial in Bristol but failed due, Georgirenes claims, his ignorance of the
English language and the law. Gratiano then made counter claims linking
Georgirenes to the Popish Plot and claiming that Georgirenes had boasted
that he would be celebrating Mass in Bristol Cathedral, that the Duke of
York would soon be King and that he, Georgirenes would soon have a
Bishopric. Nothing came of this accusation but there were also other
problems that arose.
By 1681 it was decided that the site and the church would be sold, this
could have been due to the fact that it was some distance from where
the Greek community had settled in London. It was at this stage that
the full implications, of the lease for the site, were uncovered and it
proved difficult to recoup their costs. There ensued an exchange with
the Parish of St. Martin’s in the Field. The Parish offered only £200
for the building and on the refusal of this offer the Parish proceeded
and took possession of the building under the terms of the lease. In
1682 Georgirenes published his own account but nothing more was heard
of him or his fellow Greeks in Soho. The building was eventually taken
over by French Huguenots and actually survived till 1934.
An inscribed plaque was on the original church and taken down and is now
to be seen on St.Sophia’s Cathedral in Bayswater. The Greeks use to
worship at the Russian Orthodox Chapel in London up to the 1820’s when
due to the change in Greece a number of wealthy Greeks moved to
London and a new Church was finally built in 1850.
SCHEME TO EDUCATE GREEKS IN THE UK IN THE 1600’s:
It was Joseph Georgirenes who first suggested the possibility that
Greeks come to the UK for the sole purpose of studying. In 1677 he
visited Oxford to raise money for the building of the Greek Orthodox
Church in Soho and Anthony Wood (an Antiquary, employed by Oxford
University) had the feeling that Georgirenes might also be there in
connection with a scheme for creating a Greek College at Oxford in
particular at Gloucester Hall. There had been some talk of converting
the Hall for the education of 20-30 Greek students.
In 1682, Georgirenes did in fact write to William Sancroft, Archbishop
of Canterbury, requesting that, at any one time, 12 Greek student be
allowed to be instructed in the Doctrine of the Church of England with
a view for them to return to Greece to preach. He does not specifically
request Oxford in the 1682 letter but it is however unusual for a Greek
Orthodox ex-Archbishop to suggest that Greeks study the Doctrines of
the Church of England. Georgirenes asked Sancroft to impart this
request to The King as well as to the Bishop of London, Henry Compton.
Though quite high up people seem to have been involved in this idea
nothing ever came of it till at least 10 years later.
Benjamin Woodroofe took over as principal of Gloucester Hall in 1692
and the scheme was implemented with a proposal for 20 youths, aged
between 14 between 20, be brought from Constantinople and Antioch.
The students were to get free passage from The Levant Company.
It was in fact 1699 before the first students arrived with the exception
of one solitary student, Dionysius the Greek, mentioned in 1693.
Thus the idea first put forward by Georgirenes did in fact come to be
even though nearly 20 years later.
There is no record of when Joseph Georgirenes left England, if indeed he
ever did. For the time he was there he always let people believe that he
was an Archbishop even though by the time he arrived there he was in
fact an ordinary priest or monk. He was, however, a resourceful person
as he managed to infiltrate the highest ranks of society, both royal and
academic and all this without being able to speak English on his arrival.
Maybe those presents to King Louis XIV of France actually did pave his
way into English Aristocracy.