May 13, 2010

The Miraculous Chapel of the Holy Ascension in Xanthi

When northern Greece was taken over by Murad II in 1430, a large Turkish population moved from Asia Minor to Western Thrace. The majority of these Turks professed Bektashism, which is an Islamic Sufi order, considered to be a distinct branch of Twelver Shi'a Islam. It was founded in the 13th century by the Islamic saint Hajji Bektash Wali. In the Balkans the Bektashi order had a considerable impact on the Islamization of many areas, primarily Albania, Greece and Bulgaria, as well as parts of Macedonia. By the 18th century Bektashism began to gain a considerable hold over the population of southern Albania and northern Greece. After the Fall of Constantinople in the 15th century, many Christians converted to Bektashism.

Unlike most Muslims who have Mosques, those who follow Bektashism had Tekke or Tekye (تكيه), a building designed specifically for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood (tariqa). One such Tekke was the Chapel of the Holy Ascension, otherwise known as Tekke of the Forty (KIRKLAR TEKESSI), which was built in the 15th century. This chapel is located in Margariti (Μαργαρίτι), a settlement in the Xanthi prefecture of Greece. The Bektashi celebrated the feast of this Tekke forty days after the feast of St. George, which normally falls after Pascha and whom Muslims also honor.

When the exchange of populations took place between Greece and Turkey in August 1924, the Bektashi population went back to Turkey and Pontian Greeks slowly began to settle in the area. As the Bektashi were leaving, they informed the new settlers of their Tekke which they considered a holy shrine and told them of their customs and of how they celebrated its feast forty days after Pascha, which for Christians was the feast of the Holy Ascension. They were also told of the miracles that took place there from some holy water that flowed there, which it is thought dates back to a time before the Tekke when it must have been a Christian shrine. The Tekke was renamed and now bears the inscription ΘΑΥΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΟΣ ΝΑΟΣ ΑΝΑΛΗΨΙΣ ΤΟΥ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ (Miraculous Temple of the Ascension of the Savior).

Today people travel to this holy shrine and numerous healings are reported through the holy water which springs froth from the site. Because it is difficult to walk to the chapel, services today for the feast of the Holy Ascension are held in a church that was built 300 meters away to accomadate the elderly.