Roadside Shrines

While driving in the Peloponnese we regularly skidded to a halt and backed up. Often we stopped in a curve, only partially pulled in off the road. Or we parked further up the road and got out to walk back fifty or a hundred metres. The cause of all this was the roadside shrines that decorate the roads of the Peloponnese.

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Some are tiny, no higher than a foot, while others are taller than ourselves.

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Some are of metal, others of concrete, brick or stone. We have seen them for sale in garden centres, where there is a range to suit every budget and taste, although some definitely appear homemade.

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Some are very simple affairs, and others highly ornamental. Some are in a state of disrepair, others freshly painted and decorated with flowers. Sometimes there are two in the same spot, a simple old one and a more elaborate new one, upgraded as the family’s fortunes improved.

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Beyond the small glass doors there is an icon of a saint (or several), with a candle or an oil lamp, as well as extra oil, matches, wicks and maybe some personal touches like flowers, or photographs. Often the oil lamps or candles are lit, meaning someone tended the shrine recently.

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While a few shrines are positioned to indicate the presence of nearby churches or monasteries, sadly many are built in remembrance of traffic accident victims, a real hazard of the mountainous roads in the Peloponnese. (For the Greeks, they work better than road signs to promote caution on these dangerous roads, but for us tourists, pulling in haphazardly to visit them, i suspect the reverse is true…) Happily though, many of the shrines are erected to celebrate a near miss on the roads, an escape from a close call, and by survivors of potentially fatal accidents.

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There is typically one every few kilometres, and all are charming and worthy of a closer look. Stopping to admire and photograph them, we often noticed some wild flowers, or a beautiful olive grove, and lingered to enjoy the peaceful Greek countryside, and appreciate life in the company of these monuments to lives lost, and spared.

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