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Thursday, April 2, 1998 Published at 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK

World: Europe

Miracles in troubled Georgia
image: [ In troubled times spiritual healing is much in demand ]
In troubled times spiritual healing is much in demand

As religious faith becomes stronger than ever before in Georgia, many inhabitants of the capital Tbilisi claim to have been witnessing miracles. Robert Parsons reports:

It could be a sign of the times that when life is hard people search for spiritual signs to give them hope.

But many people in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, truly believe that they've recently been witnessing miracles.

At the city's blue cathedral thousands of people have been queing up to see what they say is an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

[ image: Many claim to have seen the Virgin's face on the spire]
Many claim to have seen the Virgin's face on the spire
Now you see her, now you don't.

Thousands said they did, on the spire of Tbilisi's ancient blue monastery.

The Virgin Mary's unexpected appearance had pilgrims and sightseers flocking from all over Georgia.

The Virgin first made her appearance at Christmas. A sign, the Georgians are saying, that God has bestowed his blessing on their troubled land.

Others claimed they'd spotted her ethereal features inside, gazing on them while they prayed.

Religious faith has always been strong in this ancient Christain land, but rarely more so than now. Thousands are finding solace in the spiritual.

Father Zacchariah says that it was a revelation that bought him to the priesthood.

"I used to be a nuclear physicist, I never even thought of becoming a priest. Then about ten years ago an angel came down and told me to go to the Church. Thank God I'm wearing this cross today"

These are hard times in Georgia, there's uncertainty about the future and it's easy to despair. No wonder then that so many are looking for miracles to ease the pain. It's a topsy turvey world where people are prepared to believe in almost anything.

[ image: Tatia displays the scar like marks on her stomach]
Tatia displays the scar like marks on her stomach
Take Tatia, or take Tatia's tummy. When the squiggly signs first appeared around her navel her parents suspected they were dealing with something not of this world.

When Tatia's younger cousin spotted that some of them took the form of a cross they decided Tatia had been singled out.

Tatia herself is a bit bored by all the fuss, she is used to seeing the signs change every day. But now she's in demand as a faith healer, a useful side earner at a time when life is hard.

A local inventor has another explanation, he says its all down to biorhythms and has his own patented machine to prove it. He says Tatia's signs are a physio-phycological phenomenon.

Others might say they're more a sign of the times. A desire by people to find extrasensory meaning in a world turned upside down by events outside their control.

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