Nestinar ritual is popular on the territory lying between Tsarevo
(Bulgaria) and Lulebourgas-Viza-Saray (European Turkey). The villages
there can be grouped according to the official language as it follows:
A Map of Strandzha
Greek villages - Kosti, Brodilovo, Agio Stefana, Kalandzha, Axidzhim,
Agio Yani, Trouliya, Urgas;
· Bulgarian villages - Urgari (today Bulgari), Marzevo, Derekyoi,
Varvara, Rezovo (interior of Strandzha Mountain), Blatsa, Madzhoura,
Pirgoplou, Urumbeglou, Yatros, Peneka, Chenger;
· Mixed population village - Bounarhisar ;
Rezovo is one of the villages whose residents used to gather at
the holy cave of St. Marina, located on the territory of the village
of Slivarovo. Traditionally the cave is called "monastery".
The place was visited by both Greek and Bulgarian who came from
the villages of Kosti, Gramatikovo, Slivarovo, Ahtopol, Rezovo,
Bulgari, Tsiknihor, Madzhoura, Sinemorets, Brodilovo, Kondolovo,
Kamila, Blatsa, Karatsinovo, Stefanovo, Korfu-Koliba, Agio Stefanos,
Kurkoliba, Malko Tarnovo and from all parts of the so-called Hassekiya.
territory of nestinar ritualism cannot be easily delineated in the
different villages, bearing in mind that all accounts (with some
exceptions) were given after 1878. The fact that in the 1820s, during
and after the Crimean War (1833-1856) and before the Bulgarian Liberation,
big groups from Eastern Thrace and the interior of Strandzha migrated
to Russia, Bessarabiya, Vlahiya, and the peripheral area of the
Bulgarian lands, should not be ignored. The nestinars, who settled
in the 1920s and 1930s in some villages where the ritual was familiar,
came from the interior of Strandzha Mountain.
The Greek nestinars/anastenars (in Modern Greek) who migrated to
the northern parts of Greece settled in compact groups in the villages
Eleni, Langada, Mavrolevki
and Limnohori. All the places mentioned are in the regions of Drama
and Thessaloniki; and the ritual, secretly performed for a long
time, was finally unveiled, though with some innovations. The nestinars'
descendants, who for various reasons, live in other areas of Greece
or abroad, always come back to the "thiasus" in their
villages for the "panagyr" (the major holiday) held on
St.St.Constantine and Helena's Day. Many of them also return for
the ritual on St. Athanasius' Day in winter.
The Greek nestinars still call the region of interior Strandzha
"Motherland". When given the opportunity, they come back
to dance in their ancestors' lands, and see their "brothers"
(the Bulgarian nestinars). Though they still remember the names
of the villages from which their predecessors emigrated, now they
cherish the idea of a common birthplace - the "Big Ayasma";
also known as "Vlahovo", "Odarchetata", "Pripor"
or "Tripori". The ritual was popular in all the villages
in the region regardless of their origin connection with the legendary
settlement. On the Sunday preceding St. St. Constantine and Helena's
day their inhabitants used to go to the "panagyr" held
at the "Big Ayasma"(an "ayasma" = a holy spring).
In 1931 they ceased performing dances on embers there. Instead they
used the place for consecration ceremonies, drank holy water, brought
offerings - bulls, sheep, rams. The lads and the young men participated
in wrestling competitions. Then all of them would eat and drink
together. In the afternoon they would go back to the village led
by the nestinar procession. Each of the villages had its holy spring
with a plank bed ("odarche") near it, and an appointed
place for the common holiday dinner.
The legendary village is still the center of nestinar ritualism
and an energy source for their overall view of life. Considered
a major ritual and religious center, " The Big Ayasma"
(Vlahovo) is inevitably present in the legends of the nestinar villages
and is always called "homeland". It is considered to be
the place where St.Constantine and St.Helena were found dead, where
God chose his vicar on Earth, and where the deer came to clean the
holy spring with its antlers, and after that to be offered. The
first bull offering was performed there as well. "The Big Ayasma"(Vlahovo)
has always been treated as the most sacred place in the region.
The Bulgarian and Greek believe that there used to be an ancient
settlement from which they started migrating. It should be emphasized
that in the legend the worshippers were not divided ethnically into
Greek and Bulgarian; on the contrary, because of their common place
of origin, they were brothers. Their icons were also "brothers",
because as the legend says, they were made of the wood of a same
tree and drawn in a same place; three for the villagers of Bulgari,
and three for the villagers of Kosti.
All who came into contact with the generations born before 1878
claimed that the nestinar villages were bilingual; i.e. the two
languages spoken were Bulgarian and an archaic Greek dialect, incomprehensible
to the Greek from the seaside towns. In the records it is also stated
that nestinars' spouses were always from villages where the fire
ritualism was familiar.