Welcome to Aglona
The pilgrimage commensed more than 300 years ago when a group of wandering Dominican monks discovered a healing source hidden among a thicket of spruce trees (‘Aglona’ means ‘spruce tree’ in an old dialect). Although the sulphur fount lost its apparent power a century later, the water from the source is still regarded as a product of divine internvention and used in rituals.
Today's basilica is a tween-towered whitewashed cathedral standing in a vast grass courtyard, created for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1993 to bestow the title of ‘Basilica Minoris’ (Small Basilica) upon the holy grounds. One of the basilica’s 10 altars guards a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, said to have saved Aglona from the plague in 1708. Mass is held at 7am and 7pm on weekdays, and at 10am, noon and 7pm on Sundays. Rosary is held at noon on weekdays and at 9.30am on Sundays.
Around 10km south of Aglona lurks Čertoks ezers or Devil's Lake. The Russian word for devil is indeed in the name. For centuries, locals have passed down the tale of a malicious demon that lives at the bottom of the oddly tranquil lagoon. Compasses and sensory equipment never seem to work when activated within the lake’s vicinity, which has led scientists to speculate that a magnetic meteor sits below the crystalline surface. To reach Devil’s Lake, take Rte P62 towards Krāslava; the turn-off to the lake is not marked (to avoid a deluge of tourists), so you will have to get directions from the friendly staff at the Aglona Tourist Office. To check email, head to the town’s library, which has free internet access and wi-fi.