In a handful of sleepy farming villages in northern Greece, the fire-walking ritual is an annual celebration of a thirteenth-century miracle, when locals rescued icons from a burning church – without being burned themselves. By nightfall, the towering bonfire in the main square has dwindled to glowing embers. Every light is put out and all eyes are on the white-hot coals – and the cluster of people about to make the barefoot dash across them. Fire-walkers limber up for the main event with rhythmic dancing, which escalates into frenzied writhing as they channel the spirit of St Constantine, believed to shield them from harm. Clutching icons for further protection, the fire-walkers step out onto the coals, stomping on the smouldering embers with gusto, as though kicking up autumn leaves. An inspection of feet after the rite reveals miraculously unmarked soles, a sign of St Constantine’s divine protection – and an excuse for a slap-up feast.

Fire-walking festivals take place towards the end of May in the villages of Langadas, Ayia Eleni, Meliki and Ayios Petros in northern Greece.