Miracles & Co.
Dotted by deep lakes and dense forests, Karelia is Finland most southern area and this situation has been the cause for frequent border litigations throughout history, first with the Tsarist empire and then with the Soviet Union. Karelia not only hides the enigma of being the birthplace of the Kalevala, the extrordinary epic story of the hero Wainamoinen, but it is also a land of superstitions and legends, as well as ancient pagan cults that the Orthodox Church had no difficulty in integrating. This religious presence is witnessed by solitary and peaceful monasteries, some of them abandoned and close to ruin since first the Bolshevik raids and then the Stalinist invasion. Such is the case of Valhamönde, a monastery that was built according to tradition by two missionaries of Greek origin, monk Sergius and his young proselyte Herman, at the dawn of the second millennium. In fact, documentary evidence was only preserved from the seventeenth century on, and even much later when the Karelian diocese was established in Vyborg, a lot of valuable information was lost when revolutionaries set fire to the diocesan archive. Shortly after the independence of Finland in 1917, Valhamönde achieved canonical autonomy but it is ascribed to the invocation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Antioch. From then on the evolution is vague; the community of monks gradually decreases and the monastery seems to isolate itself from the rest of the world. The enormous difficulties of access contribute to this isolation. Dense fog and the intricate maze of Lake Saimaa 13,710 islands, added to flawed charts, have protected Valhamönde from external curiosity. In addition the monks emphasized the tangled nature of their hiding place by constructing artificial islands and opening narrow channels, in an obvious effort to link their headquarters to the esoteric meaning of the labyrinth (they probably might have taken the near Götland maze as a model). So, apart and discreet, Valhamönde only deserved press attention when a former member of the monastic community, Munkki Nikolaus, revealed the true nature of their activities: that secret spiritual centre actually camouflages a school that teaches how to perform miracles. As it seems monks of all religions and members of the craziest sects attend to Valhamönde with the candid purpose of learning how to master the supernatural. Naturally this is a shameless fraud, with muddy interests that go beyond the purely economic ones, characteristic of all fraud, to infiltrate the religious and political dominance networks, and in that sense it is not unreasonable to link Valhamönde with secret organizations and intelligence services. Experienced in this kind of fiction, this time I've wanted to use strict journalist investigation and documentary photography resources, to face this flagrant case of imposture. In order to accomplish this report, I pretended to be an apprentice priest, able to pay the substantial tuition and follow courses at Valhamönde along with the other novices, which would allow me to practice the cycle of earth, water, air and fire miracles, while I collected photographs and other evidence that might expose such an incredible invention. It is the sole purpose of these images.
Joan Fontcuberta was born in 1955, Barcelona Spain. He has developed a plural activity in the world of photography as a creator, teacher, critic, curator and historian. He is a visiting Professor at universities in Spain, France, Great Britain and the United States, and a regular collaborator of specialized publications. In 2013 he was awarded the Hasselblad Prize.
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