Pilgrims gather at the Summit of the Mountain on Lomisoba

Lomisoba — Not what it says on the Internet

I’d heard mention of this Lomisoba event from a fellow photographer a year ago — he’d not really said much about it except that it was at the top of a mountain and that sheep were sacrificed. So when an anthopologist friend of mine suggested it was important to see this event I was curious what it would actually entail. Cursory searches on the internet revealed images of shocking barbarity — lots of blood, heads being tossed, burly men eyes maddened in a frenzy of murder. The write-ups seemed to be pretty partisan and universal in taking a position of cultural superiority, pouring scorn on the traditions and suggesting that in the Christian Orthodox country of Georgia the Church conveniently turns a blind eye to what is positioned as some kind of pagan blood-fest. There are a couple of versions of the legend surrounding Lomisoba — neither is particularly satisfactory so rather than go into that (you can find the legends by googling them, but I suggest you do so afterwards) I decided I’d give you a personal view of the day as I saw it in the form of a commented photo documentary. I should warn you that there are a few (but not many) photos that you may find shocking, not because of cruelty but because it’s rarely that you actually see real blood and of course the fact that in modern life the slaughter of animals is largely and conveniently hidden from view meaning that many of us don’t associate the meat with the animal too strongly. The most gory photos are processed in black and white so that they take on the form of a still life rather than an in-your-face shocker because I felt that I wished to have a neutral position as a photographer and storyteller — i.e. I’m not passing judgement; my aim is to give you an insight into the day.

The day started early as we left Tbilisi to drive approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes up the Georgian Military Highway towards the High Caucasus Mountains. Shortly before the serpentines to Gudauri we found a mass of cars parked both sides of the road. We parked the car and set off on the first leg of our climb — none of our group fully anticipated what was before us.

A police officer receiving traffic info — thousands of Pilgrims travel from all over Georgia to Lomisoba

At the start of June the days are hot and the sun unrelenting, whilst at the altitude of 1500masl it’s cooler than in the city it’s still pretty warm in the mountains. The ascent is very steep and in many places slippery and difficult — there is an interesting phenomenon that comes about as a result of the concentration, your mind clears and you start to think about things that you may have buried in your mind in the chaos of everyday life. The pilgrimage focuses you in on what’s inside. My experience was of feeling gratitude to my ex-wife for the things I had learned from her and perhaps not articulated fully — there is certainly an experience of reflection and understanding to be found in making such a physically challenging ascent which is abnormal to our daily experience.

The Plateau just below Gudauri
This lady in her 60s was making the Pilgrimage for the 3rd year in a row — she was remarkably fit
A pilgrim lights a candle at the halfway shrine
Candles and offerings for the Church are left in the shrine
St George is universally venerated
Many young people make the pilgrimage
Alpine flowers are abundent in the Caucasus in June
The Peaks range between 4500 and 5000 masl
Collecting flowers in the mountain stream makes the day cooler for the little ones
Some choose to carry their sheep to the Church to be blessed then carry it down the mountain — like this Soldier
Staying cool wth a parasol makes sense on a day like this
It’s quite normal for whole familiies to make the 3 hour hike up the mountain
Eventually after 2 hours you find yourself looking down on the Valley with the river Aragvi at it’s base and you’re at the same altitude as Gudauri Ski Resort
Finally after 3 hours you reach the summit
People of all ages come to offer prayers
There’s a huge crush to get inside the tiny church

This is the point at which I expect there to be some revulsion, but what’s necessary to state here is that wulist seeing this fresh blood may shock us the slaughter was silent and humane and the animal did not suffer — which is in fact different to Western Abbatoirs where animals suffer greatly, ok let’s keep going — this is pretty much the most bloody image you’ll see here.

The contrast of the beuty of nature and the intestines is great, yet none of this is wasted — the people leave these parts down the mountain for the Wolves
The festival takes place close to the de-facto border between occupied South Ossetia and Georgia, EUMM staff attend because the festival cannot go ahead without people from both sides of the mountain.
A pilgrim makes a traditional soup called Chakapuli which is sheep with herbs
As part of tradition the pilgrims are required to share their flesh, fruits, vegetable and wine with others
For many Lomisoba is seen as a day out with friends
Orthodox Christians carry Icons to the Church on the Pilgrimage to be blessed

As it’s time to go down the mountain the storm clouds gather — we are fortunate it doesn’t rain because the descent would be very slippery and dangerous.

Ian tries the local tradition of going barefoot
At the halfway point there is a burned out tree, it was struck by lightening, but still survives and is healthy.

This was Lomisoba 2017 — my aim has been to give you a full insight into what the experience is, what kind of people are making the pilgrimage and also to relativise the whole thing because I felt that it was misrepresented on the Internet. The only way to form a meaningful idea about it is to take part yourself — this is one of the few events of it’s kind left in the world and it’s central to the identity of the Georgian peoples. The atmosphere is calm during the whole event and you can often hear Polyphonic singing — which is also a central part of Georgian identity. Thanks to my excellent expedition team of Kasia, Ian and Miguel for joining me and being such good company.

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Adrian

Adrian

English. Lives in Tbilisi. Contributor to Renegade Inc. Loves channeling ideas and serving good coffee.