Saint Jean le Russe : pèlerinage et territorialité

Seraïdari, Katerina
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RGH-La Revue de géographie historique
Constructed in a locality of Evia in 1951, the church of Saint John the Russian constitutes one of the most important pilgrimages of Greece. The article examines the religious, memorial and commercial parameters of this pilgrimage, as well as the dimension of territoriality and its deployment on three levels: a) the models of identification of the refugees who brought the relic of the saint from their native Cappadocia to Evia in 1924, after the population exchange between Greece and Turkey; b) the feeling of familiarity of Russian pilgrims who come massively to pray in front of the relic; and c) the logic of appropriation. Adopting a diachronic perspective, the article shows the fundamental role Russians have played in the establishment of the saint’s worship since 1881 – when the forearm of the saint’s relic was offered to Russian monks at the monastery of Panteleimon of Mount Athos. The Russian offerings of the nineteenth century, which are exposed in the museum next to the shrine, bring the proof of this continuity and inscribe current Russian visitors into a “lineage” of pilgrims. Through these marks of territoriality, the limits between familiarity and appropriation are redefined: although the saint was their compatriot, he has always decided to stay with those who were the first to recognize his sanctity (even before his death), that is the Orthodox of Prokopi. If the Russian offerings of the nineteenth century give temporal depth to the relationship between the saint and the Russian pilgrims, the dimension of territoriality that these objects evoke, takes another form in the case of the refugees’ descendants: for them, the Russian offerings are a source of pride (proving the international reputation of theirsaint) but also the legacy of their Cappadocian ancestors, the Karamanlides. This Orthodox population was speaking Ottoman Turkish, but wrote in Greek characters: as their current descendants stress, the Orthodox of Prokopi decided to lose the use of Greek language in order to be able to keep their Orthodox faith. Although this Turkish-speaking population constitutes a challenge to the Greek national rhetoric, the reference to the Russians manages to “des-Ottomanize” the Orthodox of Prokopi, since the regular contacts between the two groups started at the end of a period of military confrontations between the Russian and the Ottoman Empire (the Crimean War and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878). The Russian offerings of the nineteenth century, but also the “Russian corner” (decorated with frescos of Russian saints) that one’s can find next to the reliquary of the saint, show the capacity of this site of pilgrimage to evoke other spaces (like Cappadocia, Mount Athos or Russia) and to develop, in a variety of forms, the dimension of territoriality.
Seraïdari, Katerina. “Saint Jean le Russe : pèlerinage et territorialité.” La Revue de géographie historique, n.16 (May 2020)