The Romanian Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Ilie on July 20, a miracle worker and one of the most important prophets in the Old Testament.
Similar to most of the religious celebrations in Romania, the day of Saint Ilie has also been surrounded by many traditions and superstitions.
According to the Romanian tradition, Saint Ilie is the guardian of crops. It is said that he brings rain during a drought period, and also causes thunder, lightning, and even hail.
A popular belief says that when it rains with thunders and other spectacular meteorological phenomenons on Saint Ilie’s day, this means that the saint is crossing the skies with his chariot of fire, hitting the devils with his whip, to protect the living.
According to a local tradition, on the eve of Saint Ilie, the girls were going on hemp fields at night and roll through the culture naked. Then, they were going back home. If that night they were dreaming of green hemp, this was seen as a sign that they would marry young and beautiful men. However, if they were dreaming of dry hemp, this meant that they were going to marry old men.
Another custom was to pick medicinal herbs on the morning of Saint Ilie’s day, especially basil, and put them to dry in the attic, under the roofs or in the pantry. Later the same they, those who believed in the powers of the dried medicinal herbs were using them for spells.
On this day, women were also taking basil to the church, where the priests were blessing the plant. Then, they were returning home and burn the basil. They were using the ash for therapeutic purposes, such as to cure mouth sores.
It is on Saint Ilie that Romanian peasants are supposed to take the first apple and grape crops, and when beekeepers harvest honey for the first time during the year. This day marks the middle of the summer for shepherds, who would come down from the sheep yards to villages for the first time during the year.
Some say that if thunderstorms appear on this day, the apples and hazelnuts will be wormy. Moreover, if it rains today, the rain will not stop for 20 days.
In some regions, Saint Ilie is considered an angry saint who would punish those who work on July 20. A legend says that this is the reason why God never told Ilie when his day of celebration is, to keep people safe from his fury.
This is also the period when an old traditional event takes place in Alba county, on Gaina mountain, a tradition going back two centuries ago. It is called “The Maiden Fair on the Gaina Mountain” (in Romanian Targul de Fete de pe Muntele Gaina), which resides in a traditional matchmaking for young maiden looking for husbands. Read more about this event here.
Around 130,000 Romanians named Ilie, Iliuta, Eliade or Ilinca celebrate their name day on July 20.
Irina Marica, firstname.lastname@example.org
(photo source: Crestinortodox.ro)