SHRINE: A place dedicated to a saint or deity; a memorial.
Greece is a bewitching and often bewildering mix of the ancient and the modern, and particularly so in the deep countryside, away from the urban sophistication. There are many springs here on the Pelion; the charming villages in this beautiful region originated in the age-old sites where water sprang from the ground, although some of these springs are dry now. The local people are usually quite well informed about the history of the area, and indeed, several of the families trace their roots back for many centuries.
What treasures of information are in their memories: family biographies, community traditions, local narratives, the historical record, tales of yesteryear. Greeks are well schooled in their history, and fiercely proud of their heritage. I’ve had the pleasure of many a fascinating conversation from which I’ve learned much, and so it is that I’ve heard about springs or caves with shrines dedicated in antiquity to gods or goddesses, but which are now updated, so to speak, to The Virgin Mary, to Christ, or to a particular saint. Thus you may see a little sign pointing to The Spring of Diana, and a few feet away, another sign indicating The Spring of the Blessed Mother. Take your pick. One thing is certain though – the spot was known and enshrined in pre-history, whatever its name or names since.
Shrines abound in Greece, and because they’re frequently found at the roadside, they’re often assumed by tourists to be memorials to a life or lives lost at that particular location. This may well be the tragic case, but many shrines are erected, in prominent places, to commemorate a life lost elsewhere, in circumstances other than a road accident. Shrines may be built in memory of persons beloved; in gratitude to God or saints for favours received and prayers answered; to acknowledge a miracle attributed to the entity so venerated; or simply even as a sign of respect to a divine being.
Many and varied are the shrines. They may be a simple stone, placed perhaps by a tree. They may be tiny, they may be enormous. They may be a basic metal box balancing precariously on rusting legs: these are old, quite often badly neglected for nobody remains to tend them. They may be large, beautifully constructed and maintained. They may even be grand enough to accommodate people: magnificently decorated chapels, open to those who wish to spend a moment in quiet thought or prayer.
All, no matter how humble and long forgotten, represent the hearts and minds of those who placed them there. They are, quite literally, historical markers.
They serve as a reminder to reflect.