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Georgia's Baby Pilgrimage

Every Thursday after Orthodox Easter, childless couples travel to the Samegrelian village of Tsachkuru in western Georgia to participate in an annual pilgrimage to the local Church of the Archangel. Local legend holds that if a couple comes three years in a row to engage in the ritual -- which involves bringing a toy cradle to be blessed by the local priest -- they will be rewarded with a child. Giorgi Gogua of RFE/RL's Georgian Service visited Tsachkuru on April 16 to capture images from the event.

The annual fertility pilgrimage is called "Tsachkhuru," after the village where it takes place.
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The annual fertility pilgrimage is called "Tsachkhuru," after the village where it takes place.

Dozens of couples travel to Samegrelo's Martvili district from all over Georgia to participate in Tsachkhuru. Locals gather as well, with many stopping to visit the graves of their loved ones.
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Dozens of couples travel to Samegrelo's Martvili district from all over Georgia to participate in Tsachkhuru. Locals gather as well, with many stopping to visit the graves of their loved ones.

The pilgrimage involves a steep 3-kilometer hike to the site of the Church of the Archangel. While some people choose to navigate the bumpy path in SUVs, most people make the strenuous hike on foot, with some even choosing to go barefoot. Here, a participant stops for a rest. 
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The pilgrimage involves a steep 3-kilometer hike to the site of the Church of the Archangel. While some people choose to navigate the bumpy path in SUVs, most people make the strenuous hike on foot, with some even choosing to go barefoot. Here, a participant stops for a rest. 

Ritual holds that childless couples must come to the church carrying a toy cradle with a doll, each of which receives an individual blessing from the local priest. 
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Ritual holds that childless couples must come to the church carrying a toy cradle with a doll, each of which receives an individual blessing from the local priest. 

As people reach the top of the hill, they add their cradle to a haphazard pile in the church courtyard.
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As people reach the top of the hill, they add their cradle to a haphazard pile in the church courtyard.

Before the priest's blessing, participants light candles and circle the church three times -- another part of the ritual.
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Before the priest's blessing, participants light candles and circle the church three times -- another part of the ritual.

The Church of the Archangel is considered so auspicious that lonely Georgians seeking spouses will often make the Tsachkuru pilgrimage as well. Some try to boost their odds by bringing sheep or other animals to sacrifice.
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The Church of the Archangel is considered so auspicious that lonely Georgians seeking spouses will often make the Tsachkuru pilgrimage as well. Some try to boost their odds by bringing sheep or other animals to sacrifice.

Often entire families accompany childless couples on their pilgrimage. The local population don't remember when the tradition started, but most are convinced of its powers.
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Often entire families accompany childless couples on their pilgrimage. The local population don't remember when the tradition started, but most are convinced of its powers.

According to legend, the site of the Archangel church was home to a pre-Christianity pagan temple to the gods of fertility, and has reputedly been a pilgrimage destination for centuries.
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According to legend, the site of the Archangel church was home to a pre-Christianity pagan temple to the gods of fertility, and has reputedly been a pilgrimage destination for centuries.

The pilgrimage ritual evolved with the advent of Christianity to include the offering of toy cradles.
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The pilgrimage ritual evolved with the advent of Christianity to include the offering of toy cradles.

According to tradition, the cradles are redistributed among the visitors after they receive the priest's blessing.
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According to tradition, the cradles are redistributed among the visitors after they receive the priest's blessing.

Some cradles are kept in circulation for years, with special status attached to those once used by couples who went on to have children. Participants sometimes jostle for position in an effort to grab a "lucky" cradle or even multiple cradles.
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Some cradles are kept in circulation for years, with special status attached to those once used by couples who went on to have children. Participants sometimes jostle for position in an effort to grab a "lucky" cradle or even multiple cradles.

Many small children attend the ritual with the hopes that they, too, will end the day with a new cradle and doll.
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Many small children attend the ritual with the hopes that they, too, will end the day with a new cradle and doll.

The size of Georgian families has shrunk in recent years, with most urban families having two or fewer children. But in rural districts like Martvili, families are larger, and the inability to have children is considered a great misfortune. 
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The size of Georgian families has shrunk in recent years, with most urban families having two or fewer children. But in rural districts like Martvili, families are larger, and the inability to have children is considered a great misfortune. 

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