Monday, November 11, 2013

A Myrtle Tree in Crete

On the second day of the "Goddess Pilgrimage in Crete" ( we stopped at the Paliani Convent. The complex is built around an ancient myrtle tree, thought to be at least 1,000 years old.

My back had gone out the day before so I was using a cane. One of the nuns, seeing me hobble along, called out and, through gestures, offered the loan of an aluminum walker. I declined with a smile and wave and made my way to the courtyard where the ancient tree stands, partly encircled by a stone bench.

There's a great story about this tree. When the convent was founded circa 600 CE, the founders hung an icon of the Madonna and child in the tree while the chapel was being built. When the chapel was complete, they brought the icon in . . . and the next day found it back in the tree. This happened again and again until finally they gave up and left the icon in the tree. And the tree grew around it.

Today that tree is venerated as the Holy Myrtle, dwelling place of Panagia Mirtidotissa (Virgin Mary of Myrtle). For uncounted decades, people have hung symbols of their prayers from its branches.

Our group sat on the bench and each of us selected two pieces of ribbon. Then after a reading and songs, we each tied one piece of the ribbon on the tree, saying a prayer aloud. The other, we tied on a twig that we found in the area. As each woman tied her ribbon on the branches, we sang our wish that she, and all manner of things, would be well.

After our ceremony, many of us walked to the cell of the same nun who had offered me the walker. She sold little icons and black elastic bracelets adorned with colored beads. I selected one bracelet with a bead the same color as my prayer ribbon and wore it for a month before it began to wear out and I rested it on my home altar. The twig with its ribbon now rests downstairs next to an image of a Neolithic snake goddess (whose story I will tell another day).

Each memento rekindles the gentle awe that permeated the convent . . . and me.

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