Turkey is a secular Islamic country. But the Christian feast day of St. George is observed by thousands of Turkish women in a way that is completely unexpected.
Starting in the early morning on April 23, St. George’s Day, the dock area of the Kabatas section of Istanbul is packed for the 6:50 am ferry running to the island of Büyükada, lying about 30 kilometers from Istanbul. The island is home to the 12th century Greek monastery of St. George, which sits perched hundreds of meters above sea level on top of one of the islands hills.
No one can provide a clear explanation of how the tradition began. What is known is that thousands now make the pilgrimage every year to offer up prayers for health and material success.
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Jonathan Lewis is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.