It’s tacky and touristy, and you might feel cynical at first, but it could very well be that there is something special at Medjugorje .
The main street of the town is overrun with stalls selling religious goods – there’s the expected roasaries, medals, crucifixes, braclets, keychains, prayer cards, etc. But stranger fare too, like lighters and USB sticks with the Holy Mother’s face emblazoned across the front.
The St. James Church looks quite unremarkable from the outside, and is equally unimpressive from the inside. I’m not trying to be overly critical, but it’s hard to be in awe of St. James (or any church, for that matter) after seeing the ancient and grand cathedrals of Rome and greater Italy.
The St. James Church doesn’t always feel so welcoming either- arriving late for mass one morning, I was barred from entry into the church along with others, as a watchguard of sorts slid a wooden baracade between the handles of the church doors to keep out as late-arrivers. A wooden barricade, really? What is this, medival Europe with whispers of a serf rebellion around town?
With mass going on, it seemed like a smart enough tactic to keep things quiet and orderly, as pilgrims continued to teem in and out of the church entryway. Yet going to church and being treated like an ill-behaved farm animal wasn’t exactly spiritually uplifting.
Medjugorje: Hiking Up Apparition Hill
The trek to Appariton Hill from the church was as long as the hike up the mountain itself. I walked a fair way through vine vinyards and fields, with a strong sun beaming down, until I reached the beginning of the hike up the hill. The climb looks more treacherous than it is in reality. The hill is composed entirely of jagged rocks, large and small, chutting from the earth like breaking waves.
What I enjoyed most about Aparition Hill were the stones. Most of the stones were fairly large, the size of a backpack more or less. They had soft holes and rounded chunks removed from them, giving them a soft, organic feeing. The orange dust that covered them was often worn off completely by the trecking of travelers feet, shinning just as the bronze statues and plaques glistened gold where pilgrims had kissed and touched the form of Jesus.
The stone surface had been worn down to a shiny white, so smooth that it was almost slippery beneath bare feet. The polished white rocks reminded me of bones, and I soon felt as if I was climbing up the skulls of great beasts and extinct dinosaurs.
Climbing turns out to be perfect for praying – it’s easy to drift into a semi-concious state, as your eyes and half of your brain churn themselves constantly looking for the next perfect spot to step, while the other part of your mind chants the methodical words of prayer. A word for each footstep, the sides of the brain working together as a team.
I visited the cross where Mary appeared to the children of Medjugorje, as well as the white Mary statue whose significance escapes me. But I think my most memorable part of the hike was when I climbed past the main trail, where apparently less people journey. Here the bronze stations of the cross still glistened from loving touches, but less so.
Where the main rocky trail ended, I discovered a smaller trail that went up to another field of rocks. Here, people had placed small monuments for love ones that had left Earth. Piles of stones with pictures and flowers wedged between. One mound of stones held up a cross that had a pair of spectacles wrapped around it. Some makeshift monuments had familiar crucifixes, others simply had two sticks forming a crude cross. It was impossible to tell how many there were or how far they continued into the rocky surroundings, twisting shrubbery, and dry wind.
I felt intrucive in this place, like I had stumbled upon something intimate. I bent down to pick up some of the thumbnail portrats wedged beneath the plaque. A few had dates of life and death on the back, while others were blank.
I liked to see their faces and wonder who they were and reflect on how loved they must have been by someone, who had climbed up here to put their picture in this special place. To reconcile my intrusion, I tried to leave the pictures more secure than I had found them – a tiny stone ontop one, another wedged slightly deeper between two rocks.
The trek back to my loding was far less enjoyable – determined to walk, I wandered for hours, going in circles and repeating paths, before I found a familiar street. Even then, throat dry and stomach growling, I had to backtrack again to find an ATM machine (considering that no one accepts credit cards, there were surpringly few ATMS. I only saw one in my hours of walking around town).
I had a nice quiet lunch and a much needed beer before getting hit on by an old man. What is with old men? Why do they think young girls might be interested in them? Are they just going all in on a bad poker hand in hopes that no one has better than a pair of 3s? I mean it’s one thing if you sail up to a dock and hit on me from your yacht, but otherwise…
I retured to my guest house, after being given some coffee and a slice of cake by one of my kind hosts, and tried to reflect on my day.
Medjugorje: A Spiritual Synopsis
It’s hard to say whether I experienced anything spiritually moving while hiking Apariton Hill in Medjugorje. I would say probably not- I think most of my spiritual sensation was connected to my awe of the landscape. That’s not meant to detract from anyone else’s experience at Medjugorje. I’ve visited many holy sites and haven’t felt moved beyond what you would expect at a pilgrimmage site, but I don’t doubt others have very different experiences.
We all hope for the unexpected, for a glimpise of the supernatural. Did a part of me hope I’d see the appariton of Mary? Yes, the same why I might enter a haunted house and hope to see a ghost, or visit Roswell, New Mexico and hope to see a UFO. I’m not saying I don’t believe people have seen apparitions – this world is a strange place, and we usually only see the shadows of its spiritual side.
In my life I’ve never had any supernatural experiences. Well, there was that time I was in a forest and was convinced I was hearing a women screaming as an escaped insaine psycopath blugoned her to death, but it turned out to just be a fisher cat.
I’m overdue for a cool supernatural life-changing experience. I’m a bit dissapointed to visit yet another holy site with nothing to show for it. OK, and to be completley honest, I’m also a bit relieved. After all, that stuff is scary!
This is really well written, Meg. Your description of the landscape is especially lucid.
How did this holy site compare to Fatima? I haven’t visited as many of these places as you, but I usually find them a bit tacky and touristy. To be honest, I even had a little bit of that sensation in the Vatican (only in some of the streets surrounding St. Peter’s square, not actually within the basilica, etc.) I think though, these smaller sites can feel more touristy because they are so isolated and it’s such a contrast with the landscape. Just something I was thinking about when I was reading your post 🙂