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New Europe

Day Eleven: Hvar to Medugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Michael Palin - New EuropeWe pass pillboxes by the railway and further on the minaret of the first mosque I've seen since we set out.

At a border crossing which would not have been here in Yugoslavian days the flag of Croatia with its red chequerboard shield flies alongside Bosnia & Herzegovina's diagonal of stars on a blue and yellow background.

The town that all signs point to is the old Ottoman stronghold of Mostar. The second name on the signs is Medugorje, a village which has become a boom town since six local teenagers had repeated visions of the Virgin Mary. This is to be our stopping place for the night.

Next to our guest house, in the long main street, is an establishment called 'Pilgrimage Specialists' which overflows with candles, crucifixes, rosaries, Virgin Mary baseball hats and mobile phone straps bearing her likeness. Others sell religious art works, like 3D pictures on which the face of Christ changes into the face of the Virgin as you pass by. There are bottles of holy water piled high and statuettes with sparkling lights and lots of walking sticks (whose significance will only become clear later) and establishments called 'Kathy's Irish Kitchen' and 'Paddy Travel'. The main street leads to the twin-towered, cream-painted facade of St James Church, around which are gardens and a fountain and terraces full of people. On this balmy evening they sit or stand, many in groups, quite a lot in wheelchairs. Some are talking quietly, others, hands clasped together, are kneeling in prayer. Others are limping painfully towards the church for mass.

There is such an overwhelming feeling of devotion that writing in my notebook makes me feel like some sort of spy, observing humanity when they are here to observe God.

But I needn't have worried. They're all preoccupied. So rapt that no-one gives me a second glance.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Eleven: Hvar to Medugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Sućuraj
  • Book page no: 29

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