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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Easter rocket war hits Greek isle
Fireworks streak across the sky by church on island of Chios
Residents admit it is not the most safety conscious of ceremonies
Every Easter Sunday on the small Greek island of Chios a fireworks war breaks out between two rival parishes.

In a bizarre but long-cherished local tradition, two Orthodox churches in the town of Vrodandos fire rockets at each other's churches - while services are held.

The objective is to hit the other church's bell, but many rockets go astray, causing locals to rush frantically for cover.

And some say they are sick of having to repair their damaged homes.

Dangerous work

So-called "gangs" from the two rival parishes - Saint Mark and Panagia Erithiani - spend months preparing more than 25,000 rockets, Reuters news agency reported.

We live as hostages to this tradition... we have to be on standby in case a fire breaks out, because if you are not careful you can even lose your house
Chios local
About 150 people are involved in their production, using bronze tools to prevent sparks igniting the volatile gunpowder mixture.

"A good rocket has to fly fast, go far and stay lit until the end," explains rocket maker Vassilis Barkoulis.

"You have to be careful in the details and process of its construction for a rocket to be good. If you do that carefully, you can have yourself a good rocket."

The work is carried out in derelict buildings with the doors left open - should an extremely speedy exit be required following an explosion.

There is also the danger the police may pay an unwelcome visit - technically making the rockets is illegal, although police largely turn a blind eye to the proceedings.

Mysterious origins

Several days before the event, residents carefully board up both churches' windows and doors and wrap wire sheeting around the buildings to protect worshippers.

Locals light dozens of rockets to fire at rival church
Use of the rockets dates back to the 19th Century
On Easter Sunday evening, as mass is said in both churches, the rival parish "gangs" set to work, lighting fireworks and aiming them haphazardly at each other's church bells.

Amid the melee, priests in both churches attempt to continue with mass, although the deafening sounds of fireworks and cheers as the rockets hit their targets often drown out the proceedings entirely.

Locals are not sure of the tradition's origins, although it is possibly linked to stories of the island's sailors, who used to battle pirates with cannons installed on their ships and began a custom of firing them at Easter.

In the late 19th Century, when Ottoman occupiers confiscated the cannons over fears they would be used in an uprising, locals resorted to firing rockets instead.

Residents also admit it is not the most safety conscious of ceremonies, with several fires in recent years sparked by rockets and even a few deaths.

"We live as hostages to this tradition," one local lamented.

"We can't breathe when it takes place, we have to be on standby in case a fire breaks out, because if you are not careful you can even lose your house."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"This year over 25,000 rockets were fired"



SEE ALSO:
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11 Apr 04  |  In Pictures
Passion tops US Easter box office
12 Apr 04  |  Entertainment


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