THE LINE OF MIRACLE or CONTAGION? Sfânta Parascheva as a Contested Pilgrimage amid Covid-19 Pandemic, 2020
10 February 2021, 11.00 – 13.00
Mustafa Yakup DIKTAŞ, PhD, Pontica Magna Fellow
Post-doctoral Researcher, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Examining the largest pilgrimage in contemporary Romania, this article expands our knowledge of Christian pilgrimage in post-communist Eastern Europe. Ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in 2020, produces thick description and analysis of the pilgrimage to Sfânta (Saint) Parascheva, Romania’s most important female saint in the Orthodox tradition, held annually in the country’s second city, Iaşi. In Romania, Orthodox Church has experienced a major revival since the fall of Communism. In the late 2010s, pilgrimages such as that of Sfânta Parascheva were attracting huge numbers of visitors. Through observation, participation and interviews, along with archival work and photography, the article develops an understanding of the pilgrimage on the basis of interpretative frames including imagined community, narrative, performance and ritual. The unexpected Covid-19 outbreak of 2020 produced a major shift in the pilgrimage. The article is therefore twofold. Firstly, it captures both the character of the event in the years prior to 2020, examining practices such as queuing, consuming special foods, preparing and displaying the relics, venerating them and. making offerings. Secondly, the article shows how Covid-19 public health regulations imposed on the pilgrims were exploited by far-Right groups which, through public protest, sought to win mind-space and political legitimacy. While the basic, well-regulated elements of the pilgrimage remained the same, these unexpected social actors introduced a new chaotic intensity with their contradictory narratives of protest. At Sfânta Parascheva in 2020, religious, nationalist and secular standpoints could be observed, turning the pilgrimage into a polysemic site of competing discourses.
Key words: pilgrimage, Saint Parascheva, Covid-19, Iaşi, Romania