By Irina Ivanova
RUPITE, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Hushed voices start filling the air as people from all walks of life slowly gather on the sunlit lawn near the church in Rupite to remember Vanga -- the Bulgarian clairvoyant who helped thousands with advice during her lifetime.
Belief in fortune tellers and mysticism is widespread across Bulgaria and other Balkan countries and some 200 people gathered this week for the 100th anniversary of the birth of the internationally renowned seer whose real name was Vangelia Gushterova.
Supporters had little time for the age-old debate between Orthodox Christian authorities and psychics over supernatural powers, saying Vanga only wanted to help people and had real powers to see the future.
"She would tell you all you wanted to know," said Maria Licheva, 76, from the nearby town of Petrich. "That's why there were so many people (over the years)."
Blind from childhood, Granny Vanga, as she became known, was credited with predicting events such as the collapse of communism, the September 11 attacks and the sinking of Russia's Kursk submarine.
Her fame spread far beyond the Balkans and local people say former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi were among numerous politicians who came to Rupite to consult with her.
Tucked away near the Greek border in what was once a volcano crater, Rupite -- where Vanga met streams of visitors from all over the world -- has become a monastery-like complex since her death 15 years ago.
It, along with Vanga's house in Petrich which is now a museum, are the region's major tourist spots.
SAINT OR SINNER?
Vanga was also said to have helped many ordinary people who had to wait for weeks to see her. She rarely refused to accept somebody and often scolded those who tried to jump the queue.
She sometimes sensed there were people with more serious conditions waiting for her and summoned them earlier to her house, usually telling the ill which doctors to see or childless women where to go for treatment.
Although many revere Vanga as a saint and she was a devoted Christian, earlier this year the Bulgarian Orthodox Church referred to Vanga and spiritual leader Petar Danov as 'pseudo-icons' in a message on its official website.
"She wasn't a saint but she helped people," said Boyana Kostadinova, 75, who lives opposite Vanga's house.
"That's all that matters."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)