Virgin Mary's snakes

Every year, a few days before the Assumption of Mary, the snakes get out nearby the church of Mary of the snakes. Crowds of believers come by to see the snakes and even touch them so that they get blessed by them.
Photography / Text: Michael Pappas

I arrived to the island of Kefalonia for the first time to visit the church of Holy Mary of snakes

The boat took approximately one hour to cross from the port of Kylini. I decided use my car on this trip as the island is pretty big with long distances between the port and the event plus you get the benefit of free sleeping.

The church celebrates on 14th of August at night and the morning of the 15th, but it's open for the public several days before. It's located in a central area and people arrive frequently to light a candle or see the snakes.

When I arrived the church was almost empty. Only 2 ladies from Russia were waiting for the priest to bring the snakes from the cages they keep them so they can touch them. The snakes slither on their heads and around their neck and the women feel no fear.

I decided to find a place to spend the night, so I drove to a close by village where I are ate some food and parked the car by the sea to rest. It was a really peaceful night.

Next day I started early. I visited the church and I saw crowds of people arriving. Buses where coming and going all day long. Everybody wanted to see the miraculous snakes. They touch them, set them on their kids heads and arms, lift them in the air and take photos holding them.

The priest brings one of them and places it on my hands. This year I was told that only 3 small snakes and large one appeared. Every year the believers wait impatiently to do find out how many snakes, if any, will appear.

The Evening Mass started but it was less interesting as the snakes are not brought out, instead they are caged next to the Icon during the whole Mass.

On the next day, August 15, I woke up and there was fog stuck on the sea. Just outside the village, on the way to the church, I found a spring to wash myself. The Morning Mass has started in the church and a large crowd of people has arrived. The snakes were still caged so it was again less interesting compared to the first few days. 

In the evening of the same day, a litany took place where the snakes were taken to the spot they were found in the first place and let loose. 

I have been told about all the snakes that showed up that they had a small cross on their heads. To be honest I didn't manage to see if that was indeed true.

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Virgin Mary's snakes

Epar.Od. Argostoliou - Porou Markopoulo
Kefalonia, Ionian Islands, Greece