Those of you who have been following this site know that I’m a sucker for absurd, extreme stories. This one combines religious fanaticism, political power games, money, deceit, human idiocy, and all of those things that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is the true story of a modern “saint”, a woman who has been pulling all the right strings for the biggest part of her life, and debatable career. Prepare to lose some faith in humanity.
It was back in 1928, in a small village in the Peloponnese, when Athanasia was born. She was part of a large family, with far too many mouths to feed, and receiving a proper education, especially at this time, was out of the question. Athanasia followed the most appropriate life path for her and became a shepherd. The thing with shepherds, though, is that they have way too much free time on their hands, plus the lovely scenery to ponder and plot, and although Athanasia could barely read and write, she wasn’t stupid.
When she was 17, she came back to the village one day, claiming that she had seen Mary, the mother of God, in a vision. Apparently Mary liked hanging out in the fields of Peloponnese, because she kept on coming to meet Athanasia, and she soon started leaving marks of her presence in Athanasia’s chest. I don’t know why the mother of God would do such a thing, but I do know that Mary couldn’t spell properly.
While in the Middle Ages, Athanasia would have been either called a saint or a witch on the spot, the Greeks who had just survived the second World War and had entered a Civil War, seemed a bit more skeptical at first. See, everyone in the village knew that the family had this skin condition called “dermatographic urticaria” or else “skin writing”. It’s a condition where, when the skin is scratched, it creates a wheal that can remain visible for up to 30 minutes, but in some cases, it will stay for up to some days.
I don’t need to explain this further for you, right? Just in case, Athanasia would “write” on her skin, causing the “message” to be visible for as long as it was needed for people to believe it was divine; yes, a couple of minutes would do. When asked about Mary’s poor spelling, Athanasia famously replied that Mary “is an uneducated woman too”. Valid point!
So, although the villagers had a cautiously “meh” reaction to what was happening, the Archbishop of the area was totally convinced, and declared this a miracle. While her notoriety was growing and growing, and people from all over Greece would come pay their respects, Athanasia, who was a natural marketing talent, came up with a brilliant idea. One fine day, word was out that she had died. In the traditional fashion, her body was kept in an open casket in her home, where people would come to say their goodbyes. You won’t believe this, but with the grace of Mary, she rose from the casket, alive, just when they had a full house. Rumours that the writers of “Vikings” were inspired by this when writing that famous scene, have not been proven…
She also shared her experience of the after-world, where Mary took her to see how the communist partisans were punished for their atheist ways, and since Mary was clearly on the right wing, the church became even more favourable and supportive of her.
After that, everything went smoothly. Athanasia was considered a saint by many, and the offers started pouring in. People would simply give her their fortunes, and she would take them because Mary said it was OK. In the years that followed, she opened a retirement home, where those who had already given her all they had, could retire in peace. Said peace was attained by fortress-like barricades that wouldn’t allow people to see inside.
We have now reached the 80’s, when a group of journalists decided to film a documentary about her. Two important things came out of this. Firstly, Athanasia had an enormous fortune on her hands, mainly estates, estimated at a whooping 400 million drachmas. Secondly, the elderly residing at her retirement home, were being horribly abused, tortured, and even a suspicious death was reported. Athanasia seemed to be immune, or better, she had the money to pay her way out of numerous charges and trials. Many people pressed charges against her with no success whatsoever.
And what about now? There hasn’t been a report of her death, and the last we heard of her was in 2013. Amazingly, she still has followers, and that dreadful retirement home is still open. I guess it’s true that human stupidity is infinite. When she was last seen in 2013, she was bound in a wheelchair after having suffered many serious strokes. According to those who saw her, she’s no longer able to speak, but if she needs to communicate, she still has that Ace up her sleeve…