Every August 15, Orthodox Christians from all over the world crawl to the church of Our Lady of Tinos in Greece. Yes, you read right: As soon as they disembark the boat at the port of the island of Tinos, many believers fall on their knees and begin the difficult journey to the church. Their aim is to touch the holy icon of Virgin Mary, which can be found inside and is believed to have healing powers.
The icon is believed to be the handiwork of Saint Luke. According to legend, its whereabouts had been unknown until the first day of the creation of the modern Greek state. That's when the Virgin Mary visited Saint Pelagia (just a simple nun at the time) and revealed where the icon had been buried. Our Lady of Tinos was consequently declared the patron saint of Greece and a nationwide fund collection was carried out for the building of a church to house it. The first pilgrimage took place in 1823 and since then it constitutes the biggest Greek Orthodox pilgrimage.
This year, I decided to visit Tinos and experience the pilgrimage myself. I'd heard descriptions of what went down on the island but had an inkling others exaggerated the events. I was wrong. As soon as I got off the boat, I was surrounded by old women staggering up the hill that leads to the Church on their knees.
Believers usually offer the Saint a promise, as well as valuables, in the hope that their prayers will be answered. Often you'll hear prayers for good health or miraculous recoveries, but some can be as prosaic as good exam results.
The pilgrimage has been criticized for being a source of big business for the island and the church's website does little to reject that notion: "Our Lady of Tinos operates as a public corporation, under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs… Yearly costs are reviewed and approved by the Greek Court while the budget and accounts are submitted for review and approval to the Ministries of Education and Finance."
Politicians frequently make the annual trip too and this year was no different. President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and the Minister of National Defence Panos Kamenos both made an appearance this year. But no, they did not crawl.