"Iconostasi": a Greek Tradition of Honoring the Street Fatalities


In pagan beliefs, November is the month of death. The seasons move slowly to winter where natural decay happens, and then reborn in Spring. Following this tradition, we decided to highlight a story that Lomographer @lofnikolas told us. Many times while traveling abroad, we notice sights and signs of devotion along the streets. Here is the fascinating story behind the portable icon stand, the iconostasis.

Courtesy of lofnikolas

An Omen to the Drivers

In Greece, there are iconostases on the side of the roads or shrines, made by relatives of people who had car accidents (or by themselves, if they survived). These iconostases are independent, small constructions either built with metal or cement, and usually contain an icon, an image of a saint, a small battery light or a candle flame, and a photograph of the deceased. The purpose of this construction is to either remember the victims of car accidents or as a 'thank you' if they survived.

There are some images intertwined with Greece. Images of things that due to the frequency we see on the street, we look at them without second thoughts. One of them, which we look at but without truly 'seeing', is the iconostasis on the side of the road. These constructions are made by the local ironworks. Everyone has their own style and their own elements. For example, those placed in the neighboring prefecture have a dome and a bell tower, while in southern Greece they are built of stone and painted with lime, in central Greece they are made of marble and have grandeur. But they all have the same need to communicate with the traveler and the deceased, as if the latter wants to ask you to take care of your life. It does not matter if the road is in the capital, in a big city, or a small village; if you're on a highway, the iconostasis is everywhere. They exist where the road is, where the accident happened (for example, if the iconostasis is on the right, it means it's a dangerous turn to the left).

Courtesy of lofnikolas

Life on Earth and Mortal Things

Some Iconostasi, are offerings made by the lucky survivors. They express their gratitude to the gods, unfortunately, most of the time this does not happen and the altars are placed by the families in mourning. We can find iconostasis that are in optimal condition: fresh flowers, and some of the favorite items of the deceased; such as dolls, scarves, and large photos. Some try to communicate with their dead spouse, friend, brother, and child. Sometimes, when you open the door, you find oil and matches, waiting for the hand of the passer-by who will want to light the candle in memory.

The old iconostasis was handmade and had amazing details, like true masterpieces of art. The new ones, however, are all the same, concrete with a rough, cold finishing. There is no ceremony of any kind when they are placed on the spot and no permission from the state is needed. Even the state apparatus respects it, perhaps because it is insufficient to correct the road. The recurrence of the elements inside, an image of the Virgin Mary, a lamp and an image of the deceased, is a recognizable message to the passenger that can open the door and light the flame and clean a little or leave a flower.

Courtesy of lofnikolas

My inspiration was based on my daily itinerary for my work. It is a distance of about 25 km away and at this length I have measured 15 iconostasis. I wanted to know more about them so when I traveled where I saw such a construction, I stopped to photograph it. The photographic attraction of them is that they have a story to tell. I try to record the different characteristics they have, the materials from which they are made and the place where they were placed on the road.

The process of taking the photos started two years ago and is still going on, I take photos when I travel to Greece and then I meet different characteristics so I had to take them. There was no specific time of day for shooting in certain lighting conditions just where I would meet them I had to photograph them otherwise I am on the road and the kilometers count, time is running out.

You can find lofnikolas on his LomoHome page.

written by eparrino on 2021-11-28 #culture


  1. lofnikolas
    lofnikolas ·

    Thank you so much!

  2. leisuresuit
    leisuresuit ·

    Great article!

  3. fisheyemary
    fisheyemary ·

    well done Nick!!

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