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  • Cult of Saints and Sacred Landscapes in the Aegean
  • Katerina Seraïdari
Séverine Rey , Des saints nés des rêves. Fabrication de la sainteté et commemoration des néomartyrs à Lesvos (Grèce). Lausanne: Éditions Antipodes, Collection Regards anthropologiques. 2008. Pp. 360. Paperback €25.00.
Lucia Nixon , Making a Landscape Sacred: Outlying Churches and Icon Stands in Sphakia, Southwesten Crete. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 2006. Pp. 184, 16 color illustrations. Paperback $48.00.

I dedicate this essay to William A. Christian, Jr. who elaborated the useful term "local religion" and who demonstrated the interdependence between promoters and seers with great accuracy.

Séverine Rey's analysis is inspired by two different anthropological traditions-studies on religion by Anglo-Saxon anthropologists working in Greece (such as Charles Stewart on Naxos and Jill Dubisch on Tinos) as well as the work of French anthropologists interested in regimes of belief (such as Michel de Certeau, Élisabeth Claverie, Jean-Pierre Albert, and Albert Piette). The two anthropological traditions differ, however, in their approach to fieldwork. Charles Stewart begins his 1991 book as a classic single community study before moving beyond the local level to contrast local cosmology with official Orthodoxy. By contrast, the aforementioned French anthropologists are primarily interested in studying the cognitive process of belief-both in its personal and collective forms-as a constant oscillation between doubt and certainty. They apply their approach to a variety of places, ranging from Marian apparitions in Medjurgorje to those of San Damiano (see, for example, Élisabeth Claverie, 2003), from the suffering of pre-modern female saints (Jean-Pierre Albert, 1997) to present-day constructions of patriotic and religious models of martyrdom. All of these delocalized approaches have a shared European frame of Catholicism in common.

Rey applies this French approach (from the Catholic context) to a local Orthodox setting. In the first part of her monograph, she shows how belief in supernatural signs (like dreams in Lesbos which led to the discovery of the relics of unknown saints) was not a matter of irrational credulity, but rather the result of a long process of conviction framed by the initial incredulity of critical believers and non-believers. As Rey argues, those who initially doubted showed not only how to move from indecision to belief, but also guaranteed the possibility and the sincerity of this transition (p. 105). After the discovery, the bishop of Lesbos ordered that testimonies be collected and witnesses be cross-examined, showing that the proper role of Church officials is to be skeptical (p. 137). The investigation, therefore, placed the formal institution's stance in contrast to the villagers' enthusiasm, stressing the Church's call for restraint and the meticulous search for evidence (p. 160).

Specifically, the principal protagonists of the discovery were refugees who arrived on this Aegean island from the Turkish coast after the 1922 Asia Minor catastrophe. Having come with their own particular relationship to death and [End Page 426] the dead-as they had been unable to provide a proper burial for their own in Asia Minor-the 1959 discovery of the relics allowed them not only to mourn their own dead, but also to incorporate themselves into the local genealogy by the symbolic appropriation of the local soil and the consequent invention of local ancestors. Rey characterizes the refugees as the pivot of the fabrication of sanctity; according to their dreams, the relics corresponded to a group of Orthodox faithful massacred by the Turks during the Ottoman occupation of Lesbos in 1463. In this way the refugees identified a common enemy as well as a shared destiny between themselves, their newly-found cult objects, and their community of refuge.

Fotis Kontoglou, an influential promoter of the new cult (and, like the Bishop of Lesbos, originally from Ayvalik on the Turkish coast), stressed the refugees' transformation into chosen objects of divine grace when he described them as "companions of the suffering of the saints" (p. 184). Both Kontoglou and the Bishop dedicated their books (written in 1962 and 1968, respectively) to the victims of the Asia Minor massacres. More recently, the refugees' role was also addressed in a book by the Bishop of Goumenissa (1988), who emphasized divine rather...


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