Sunday, December 4, 2016

St. Barbara, Patron of the City of Drama, and the Custom of the Boats


Every year on December 4th, the feast day of Saint Barbara, who is the patron of Drama and the protector of artillery, a religious and cultural event is performed in the city of Drama. In the small chapel of the district named after her, next to the lake where at the bottom are still preserved ruins from her first church, thousands flock to venerate her icon.

According to tradition, when in 1830 Drama was conquered by the Turks, the Chapel of Saint Barbara was demolished in order for a mosque to be built in its place. But the plans of the conquerors changed on the feast of Saint Barbara.

The area became flooded with water, so the mosque was never built. Since then Saint Barbara became the patron saint of Drama, and directly across the lake, with the foundations of the old church in its bowels, a new church was built dedicated to the Saint who prevented the mosque from being built.


Today, on the eve of the feast, December 3rd, hundreds of children leave their illuminated boats on the calm waters of the lake, just in front of the church, which offers a unique sight at dusk. They are called "boats of wishes" or "boats of prayers."

There are two versions of the origins of this custom. According to the first, on the eve of the feast, after the procession, the people would send a lit candle on a wooden plank to the sunken church. The second version says that St. Barbara is the patron saint of girls to guard them from gossip, therefore on December 3rd single girls would go to the eastern wall of the lake, and they would light candles and place them on wooden planks as an offering to the sunken church to protect them from gossip.


The course of the wooden plank on the water showed whether or not their prayers or wishes would become realized. If the candle was extinguished it was considered a failure, but hope remained, for the girls would go back to the lake in the morning and wash with the water that Saint Barbara had sanctified the previous day. The girls would even make a competition of this, as to who would arrive first in the morning to wash in the lake. While it was still dark out, girls could be seen running silently to the lake on a cold December morning to arrive there first in order to anoint themselves in the waters of the warm lake, and they would send each other well wishes.

It should be noted that the Turkish inhabitants of Drama also revered St. Barbara and participated in the procession, offering tributes to her icon and lighting candles before it. Many Turkish girls also would run to the lake at dawn to be washed and sanctified.


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