August 14, 2011

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X-Files: The miracle of the holy snakes at Panagia Fidoussa on Cephalonia

August 15, or Dekapentavgoustos, commemorates the Dormition (in some traditions the Ascension or Assumption) of the Virgin. For Greeks, the Panagia is the mother of all men, a source of protection and comfort. To mainlanders, she is mother earth and to islanders she is Mother Sea. To this day, she is revered and invoked, and asked to perform miracles from the most mundane to the most awesome. Every city, town, village and hamlet around the country has a church or chapel dedicated to the Panagia and in most she is given a last name indicating either the miracles she is expected to perform or the graces she is endowed with: Panagia the Healer, the Merciful, the Graceful, the Sweet-Talking, the Saviour of Souls, the Mistress of the Angels, the Philanthropist, etc..

On the island of Cephalonia we have the Panagia Lagouvarda or Panagia Fidoussa. This church is found at Markopoulo village. Every year at the beginning of August little mysterious snakes appear and crawl around on Virgin Mary’s icon until August 15. These snakes have a characteristic cross on their heads and are thought to be harmless and very sacred. In fact their appearance is thought to be a good omen for the upcoming year whereas their absence a sign of bad lack. Today the X-Files opens the case of the mysterious snakes that appear at the Panagia Fidoussa that has baffled scientists and sceptics, but that also draws thousands of pilgrims here each year who flock to this island in the Ionian to witness this phenomenon.

As mentioned, believers say they are a good omen. For instance, they did not appear in the years 1940 and 1953 and terrible things occurred on the island. In 1940 it was occupied by the Germans and in 1953 a disastrous earthquake hots the island and nearly destroyed everything. The myth about these snakes is attached to the year the monastery was attacked by pirates in 1705. The nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary for protection and were subsequently transformed into the snakes to avoid being taken as prisoners.

The snakes have a small cross on their head and their tongues are also in the shape of a cross. They are known to belong to the Telescopus fallax species, also known as the European Cat Snake, and they appear in and around the courtyard of the church, on the walls and on the bell tower. The snakes show no fear while the services are held and are harmless during the festivities. As soon as the Liturgy concludes on the 15th of August, they become hostile and aggressive and disappear back into the wilderness of the area. The snakes cannot be found until the following year.

The inhabitants of the villages consider them to be holy, collecting them and setting them on the silver icon of the Virgin of the Snakes (Panagia Fidoussa). It has been documented by the locals that during World War II and the year of the island's destructive 1953 earthquake in August, the snakes failed to appear. The locals now use this as a sign that if the snakes do not show just before the 15th of August that something bad is imminent.

Another miracle that has baffled scientists and that occurs on the same island is the miracle of the blossoming lilies. In May of each year, women of the island pick lilies and place them on an icon of the Virgin Mary. Any botanist would have to say that once a flower is cut and its stem is completely dry can't bud again, but these flowers do. On August 15 the lilies are fully blossomed again and they don't begin the blossoming on the previous days, but only reach full bloom on the 15th.

On this day one can see on the icon a fully flowered lily with its stem completely dry! Exactly on the August 15 the flowers are in full blossom after having being cut for three or so months, this again happens year after year.

These unsolved mysteries have totally baffled scientists. A dog who is the most trainable of all animals can't be trained to go to the same place at a specific time of the year, year after year right? Especially when such a lengthy interval period of a year is involved. How then snakes that are completely untrainable do this?  Clearly it's divine power who leads them.
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