The annual appearance of small snakes associated with the Virgin Mary attracted hundreds of tourists and worshippers on the island of Cephalonia recently.

Legend says that the phenomenon has occurred at least for 470 years, and is attributed to the intervention of the Virgin Mary when pirates tried to sack the Monastery of the Virgin's Dormition on the island. The nuns prayed to the Virgin and she sent snakes that surrounded the monastery and forced the pirates to leave, tradition says.

The snakes are under a meter long, have very smooth skin and their heads and tongues are marked with what looks like a miniature cross. They traditionally show up on Christ's Transfiguration (August 6) at the island's two Dormition churches, and they disappear right after the end of the liturgy on August 15, the Virgin’s Dormition and a major holiday in Greece.

Regional official Olga Anthi Kardakari, who observed the phenomenon for the first time, told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) that about ten small snakes showed up, which the local residents interpret as a blessing for the island.

The snakes are considered harmless and therapeutic, and many claim they have been healed by touching them. When they show up in the churches, they hang off the Virgin's icon, curl up at pews, and are also found lying on the church's main Bible.