When you have been to Greece, you have probably seen them. The small dollhouse-like churches along the roads in Greece. Often they come with a magnificent view of sea-side cliffs or rough untouched landscapes. You might think they mark a holy place, so beautiful it became divine. However, their true purpose is slightly more bitter than you expect.
Kandylakia in Greek means little candles. They are small, intricately designed models of Greek Orthodox churches, traditionally made from metal, wood, or wax. Most of the kandylakia are highly detailed, with intricate carvings, and painted icons. Others even have tiny bells that ring when the miniature doors open.
The history of the kandylakia
The tradition of making kandylakia dates back to the Byzantine era. Then, portable religious icons were used for private worship. Over time, these icons evolved into miniature churches, crafted by skilled artisans and used as offerings or gifts. Kandylakia are considered a symbol of faith and devotion in the Greek Orthodox tradition. They are often used to commemorate special occasions, such as weddings or baptisms, and are believed to bring blessings and protection to the household where they are displayed.
The meaning of the small church along the road
The miniature churches, or kandylakia, can be found along the roads all over Greece. From busy Athens to the uninhabited parts of the country and from dirt roads to highways. But why do they appear?
Like I said before, the kandylakia often appear on the parts of the road with a magnificent view. But this breathtaking view often comes with a dangerous road that actually took someone’s breath. Most of the small churches along the roads in Greece are placed by the family members of someone who died in a traffic accident. The small church provides a place to remember the victim, light a candle, and pray.
Luckily not all churches mark an accident with a horrible outcome. The kandylakia are also placed by the survivors of accidents to honor the god who protected them. The final reason for a small roadside church is to mark that there is a church or monastery close by.
Their non-Orthodox meaning
The year-old tradition of the Greek kandylakia along the roads now has a meaning that has nothing to do with the Orthodox faith. The pattern of small churches marks a map for everyone who drives in Greece. When there is a kandylaki on your way, be careful! Slow down, focus on the road, and be safe!
Traffic accidents in Greece
Over 80% of Greece is mountainous, and although this makes for beautiful scenery, the mountains also create dangerous roads. Over time and with the help of the European Union, many roads in Greece have been updated to increase safety. Nevertheless, big parts of the country are still wild and hard to navigate. The result is that the number of car accidents is still high for a country in the European Union. When you visit Greece, be careful and drive safely.
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