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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/396

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

arrant sheep-stealers and cattle-lifters. Strangers met with no hospitality. On the contrary, it was the custom to exact a payment from them for passage, and the custom still survives in petty demands made for halting in a remote village. The Suanetians may fairly be described as reverted pagans. Some Christian rites—fasting in Lent, and the use of the sign of the cross—they have doubtless preserved. But these survivals seem to me no more to entitle them to the name of Christians than our own midsummer-night fires constitute us sun-worshipers. The country is covered with small churches and chapels, dating probably from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, built, unlike the houses and towers, of regularly squared blocks of limestone; the apse is sometimes ornamented externally with carving or an arcade of columns in low relief. The bells, as in Corsica, are suspended from a wooden frame outside the church. The altar-screens are arranged as in Greek churches. Long before Suanetia had obtained home-rule, it had advanced to church disestablishment. The priests disappeared, and their place was taken by a hereditary caste of local elders, who superintended the village feasts and sacrifices. The ecclesiastical property was secularized; a village vestry assumed its control, and kept the key of the church, which, no longer reserved for pious uses, served principally as a treasure house. Inside, in heavy chests, were stored the sacred books and images—some of them beautiful works of art—Persian silks, strange three-sided pieces of wood, carved with old Georgian inscriptions, flint-headed spears and arrows, and dozens of horns of the Caucasian tur. These things are still kept locked up, and it is almost impossible for any stranger to see them. The priests having been disposed of, services and sacraments naturally went too. Marriage consisted in sewing together the garments of the bride and bridegroom; baptism was travestied; the ancient funeral ceremonies were revived or continued. Many graves surround the churches, but others are found under particular trees. It is obvious that tree-worship survives in Suanetia. In the center of many hamlets there is a venerable tree or trunk—walnut, birch, or cherry—under which stand two or three rude chairs. Doubtless these are old places of assembly. The people are said (on the authority of a Mingrelian priest) to venerate the heavenly bodies. The Suanetians who carried our goods over the chain, appeared to pray to and praise the sun directly. They do no work on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, thus partially making up for their shortcomings by keeping the Sabbaths of three religions.

The Suanetians had home-rule and church disestablishment and disendowment. They had solved another pressing problem: they had, without emigration, overcome the natural tendency of