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August 29, 2011

The Feast of the Beheading of St. John in Giona, Crete

Every year on August 29th thousands of faithful from all over Crete gather to celebrate the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner around a small chapel dedicated to this feast in Giona in the region of Rodopou Kissamos of Hania.

The feast begins the evening before, on August 28th, and goes on throughout the night and well into the next day. It is a tradition which actually goes back to pre-Christian times, when a Temple to Artemis stood here, but was later replaced with this shrine to St. John in Byzantine times. Over time this has become one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in all Crete.

In the olden days before there were roads, pilgrims would come by foot or with their animals, and today many people still come here by foot from Rodopou.

One of the unique characteristics of this shrine during this feast is the baptism of many children, roughly between 80-100 of them. Because the chapel is small, a baptismal font was established in the courtyard of the church to accommodate all these baptisms. It takes about 6-12 priests to baptize the children, usually in groups of 6 or 12.

An all-night vigil takes place for the feast, and the Divine Liturgy usually occurs around 2:00AM. Following the services there is also a traditional feast with Cretan music. Visitors can enjoy the traditional dishes in the outdoor taverns.

On August 29th the football club of Rodopou closes the two-day celebration with the organization of a fair in the village square. The good wine, plenty of dishes and Cretan Music from well-known artists call every visitor to enjoy themselves until the early morning hours.