Henry Fanshawe Tozer.

Researches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) online

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chimneys, many of which, like the house-fronts them-
selves, are painted with bright colours ; behind these
appear the domes of the church ; while at the back of all
a massive tower, which was probably used as a watch-

Chap. IV. Tver on.


tower in more troublous times/ forms a conspicuous
object. Close to a dry river-bed, which lies behind the
monastery, is a poor-house, where distressed seculars are
provided for ; and on the heights above is a skete for
lepers, who, as well as madmen, are sent to the Holy
Mountain to be taken care of It is no slight praise to
the monks that they provide a refuge for these outcasts
of society. Again, on the hills to the north, is a skete
for Georgians, to which nation also lO of the 200 inmates
of the monastery belong. The cemetery may generally
be distinguished by a group of cypresses ; but there are
no tombstones, as the bones are removed a certain time
after interment, and laid in a common heap.

Entering the monastery by the gateway, we pass
through a dark and winding passage, intended apparently
to baffle a besieging force, and find ourselves in the great
court, in the centre of which, detached from the other
buildings, stands the principal church. What first attracts
our attention on looking round is the extreme irregularity
of everything. In one place you see a wooden cloister,
in another an outhouse ; here a chapel appears, there a
vine-covered trellis peeps out, and the mixed brick and
stone work of the more regular buildings contributes to
increase the variety. Not the least conspicuous objects
are two magnificent cypresses with velvet foliage, which
rise near the east end of the church. It is this pic-
turesqueness which constitutes the charm of domestic
buildings of the Byzantine style, to which all these mo-
nasteries belong ; for they cannot aspire to beauty, and

' Abp. Georgirenes (' Description of the present state of Samos, Patmos,
Kicaria, and Mount Atlios') says, in A.D. 1678, speaking of the monastery
of Lavra (p. 88), " They have a strong magazine, and a sentinel perpetually
standing to give notice of any Corsair;" and of St. Gregory's (p. 95), that
it is "near the sea, and much infested with pirates, for want of fortifications
and men to defend it, having but sixty monks."

78 Mount Athos. Chap. IV.

the few which are built regularly are far from pleasing.
As wood is so much used as a material for building,
many parts of these structures must be of a compara-
tively late date ; but still they represent to us very fairly
the original edifices, in consequence of the conservative
and traditionary spirit of the Greek Church, which
appears nowhere so strikingly as on Athos ; in accord-
ance with which every part, when it falls into decay, is
repaired so as to correspond in style, even if it is not
exactly similar, to the original design.

Let us now visit what in all the monasteries is the
most important building, the central church, entering at
the west end, and observing as we pass the subjects of
the frescoes, which are disposed in regular order along the
walls.^ We first find ourselves in the proaulion, or porch,
a corridor supported on the outside by light pillars,
running the whole width of the building : in this part are
represented scenes from the Apocalypse, especially the
punishment of the wicked ; and in one place there are
pictures of the CEcumenical Councils, that of Nice being
particularly striking. In this Athanasius is represented
as a young man stooping down to write the Creed, while
Arius is in the act of disputing between his two great ad-
versaries, Spiridion and Nicholas, and on the right of this
group is a band of Arians, dressed as philosophers, some
of whom are coming into the council chamber to recant
their errors, whilst the rest are being driven into a prison
by a man armed with a club. Passing onwards from the
Proaulion, we enter the narthex, or antechapel, which
contains representations of various forms of martyrdom :
on either side of the central door, which leads into the

' For the plan of a Byzantine church, though differing sUghtly from that
which is here described, the reader is referred to the ground-plan of the
church in the monastery of St. Demetrius, on Mount Ossa, in vol. ii.

Chap. IV. TJie Central CJitirch. y<^

second narthex, are figures of SS. Peter and Paul. These
narthexes, which are divided by walls from one another
and from the body of the church, seem originally to have
been intended for catechumens and penitents, and must
have been introduced into the monastic churches more
for the sake of maintaining the usual type, than with a
view to actual use : as it is, they are employed for the
celebration of the more ordinary services, and when
the body of the church is too small for the number of
worshippers, they serve to provide additional room. In
the second narthex are frescoes of saints and hermits^
who look down in grim solemnity from the walls : the
hermits especially are most striking objects, being almost
human skeletons, and stark naked, except for their long
grey beards, which reach to the ground. From this we
pass into the main body of the church, which is in the
form of a Greek cross, with a central cupola supported
on four pillars, which symbolize the Four Evangelists.
At the east end and in the transepts are semi-cupolas,
but the whole of the sanctuary is concealed by the Icono-
stase, a wooden screen reaching nearly to the roof, and
most elaborately carved and gilt, in which are set pic-
tures of our Lord and saints. The position of two of
the frescoes in this part is invariably the same in all the
monasteries : in the cupola is a colossal figure of the Sa-
viour, and over the western door of entrance a represen-
tation of the Repose {koliitjctl^) of the Virgin. Other
parts of the walls are covered with Scripture subjects,
and generally in one of the transepts is a group of young
warrior saints, among whom St. George is always con-
spicuous. From the drum of the cupola hangs an elegant
brass coronal, and from this are suspended silver lamps,
small Byzantine pictures, and ostrich eggs, which are said
to symbolize faith, according to a strange but beautiful

So Mount A thos. Chap. IV.

fable, that the ostrich hatches its eggs by gazing stead-
fastly at them : within this coronal again is a large chan-
delier. The floor is ornamented in parts with opusAIexan-
drinnin, a kind of inlaid w^ork in white marble, porphyry,
and ve7'd antique ; and here and there are placed lecterns,
elaborately decorated with mother-of-pearl and tortoise-
shell. The stalls are ranged all round the sides, and are
provided with misereres, which, however, are seldom used,
as the monks generally stand during the whole service.

At first sight the general appearance of the building
seems rather marred by the multiplicity of details
crowded into so small a space ; but, when the eye is
once accustomed to this, the effect is magnificent, from
the brilliancy of the ornaments and the harmonious
though sober colours of the frescoes. In the Byzantine
pictures, as well as the frescoes, which one sees on A thos,
the drawing and perspective are generally bad, and
when the description of strong passion or violent action
is attempted, they are often indescribably grotesque ;
and we look in vain for the delicacy and spirituality of
Fra Angelico ; but the more passive feelings, such as
humility, resignation, and devotion, are often admirably
expressed, with a grace and sweetness which are rarely
found in the specimens by which Byzantine art is repre-
sented in Western Europe.^ There was, however, one
artist of real power, some of whose frescoes still re-
main in the peninsula, called Panselenus, a name but
little known away from Athos. He lived in the nth or
I2th century, and is called by M. Didron "the Raphael,
or rather the Giotto, of the Byzantine school." His
most famous works are in the church at Caryes, and

* M. Didron says ('Manuel d'Iconographie Chretienne,' p. xlv.), "La
beaute des anciens ouvrages de cette ecole est incontestable." He attri-
butes the oldest of the frescoes to the ninth century.

Chap. IV. Byzantine Pictures. 8 1

consist of single figures and groups of saints, the drapery
and arrangement of which are excellent, and the faces
full of originality and power. There are also frescoes
attributed to him in the monasteries of Pantocratoros
and Lavra, and though we are naturally suspicious of the
indiscriminate use of a distinguished name, yet these are
so superior to the ordinary pictures, as to make it
probable that they are by his hand.

Returning to the external porch of the church, we see
two Sonantra, or instruments for calling the brethren to
prayers. One of these is a long flat board, narrow in the
centre, so that it may be grasped by one hand, while
it is struck with a wooden mallet by the other. The
second is of iron, resembling a piece of the tire of a
wheel, which is struck with a hammer. The monotonous
sound of these instruments may often be heard in the
dead of night, summoning the caloyers to the midnight
service. Outside the west end of the church is an
elegant cupola supported on pillars, inside which is a
stone basin, where the holy water is blessed which is
used in the ceremonies of the Epiphany and in other rites
of the Greek church. Opposite this is the Refectory
(rpuTre^a), a building in the form of a Latin cross, along
the walls of which, inside, are ranged small stone tables,
one of which at the further end is placed so as to form a
high table. At the angle, where one of the transepts
joins the nave, is a pulpit, attached to the wall, from
which the homily is read during meals. Most of the
refectories are decorated with frescoes of saints along the
side walls, and a representation of the Last Supper over
the high table ; but here the structure is of a recent date,
and consequently plain, as the monks have not yet been
able to afibrd the decorations. Over the entrance of the
refectory is a bell tower, in the lower story of which


Mount Afkos. Chap. IV.

a new library has been constructed ; to this some of the
books were being removed from the old library, a con-
fined room over the church porch. The contents of
these libraries consist mainly of Greek ecclesiastical
writings, together with a fair number of classical authors
and mathematical works. I noticed also a good many
books published at Venice at the beginning of this cen-
tury. In this library there is a curious Greek translation
of Goldsmith's history of Greece, which was "well
spoken of" by the monks. The best account of the
libraries generally will be found in Dr. Hunt's notice in
Walpole's 'Turkey;' of the MSS. a full description is
given in Mr. Curzon's ' Monasteries of the Levant' I
shall therefore only occasionally refer to some of the
most remarkable. Many of these are fine works of art ;
but the effects of damp and neglect are sadly visible.
It is possible that unknown literary treasures may still
be concealed in these libraries ; but they have been so
carefully examined by savants from Russia and else-
where, that it is hardly likely. It is, ' however, the
opinion of competent authorities, that the contents of
the liturgical and musical manuscripts are of great value
for those subjects, and that the publication of the
charters and numerous other documents would throw
a vast amount of light on Byzantine history.*

Among the other buildings which are most worthy of
notice are the kitchen, a curious square building, in the
centre of which is the hearth, and a long chimney running up
through the roof; the underground cellars, which contain
some huge tuns ; and the numerous chapels and oratories,
which are found in all parts of the building. There are

* See Gass's essay, ' De CJaustris in Monte Atho sitis Commentatio
Historica,' pp. 60, 61,

'Chap, IV. Miraaihus Picture. 83

as many as twenty-two of these,^ and one, which is built
near the gateway, contains a miraculous picture of the
Virgin, the story of which is worth relating, as a specimen
of the numerous legends which abound on Athos, and
are believed and told by the monks with the simplest
faith. It "was cast into the sea near Nicjea, but was
carried safely to the Holy Mountain. When it had been
brought to the monastery, and the monks were deliberating
where they should place it, it knocked several times on a
spot close to the gate, to signify that her chapel should
be erected there ; and from this circumstance she is
called the Portaitissa, or Portress. In one part there
is a scar, where an unbeliever stuck his lance into it ;
blood issued immediately ; and the malefactor was con-
verted and died a saint : he is represented in a fresco in
the narthex of the chapel, where he is called " The Bar-
barian Saint." The face of the picture, like most of the
sacred paintings of the Greek Church, is in the hardest style ;
but it is surrounded by embossed work, or sheathing, of
gold, which is covered with the most magnificent jewels.
A copy of it was taken to Russia in the 17th century,
by order of the Patriarch Nicon, and is still to be seen
at Moscow.^

Having thus taken a survey of the buildings of the
monastery, let us enquire, what is the employment of
the pale, grave men, with long beards and flowing hair,
dressed in dark blue serge gowns, and high caps, who
move about its court and its corridors. But first, perhaps
it may be well for us to notice some of the points in

* It is said that there are in all 935 churches, chapels, and oratories, on
the Holy Mountain.

' See Stanley's ' Eastern Church,' p. 424. The legend, with some
variations from the account given me by the monks, is related at length in
the ' Trav'els of Macarius,' ii. p. 172.

G 2

84 Mount Athos. Chap. IV.

which the life of the monks of Athos differs from our
ordinary ideas of monastic life.

In the first place, then, only a small proportion of
these monks are clergv, and the clerical office is in no
way connected with the monastic profession. Even in
the large establishments, such as Vatopedi and Iveron, it
is not usual to find more than ten or twelve of the com-
munity in Holy Orders ; and at Philotheu, the smallest
of the monasteries, there were but three priests, just
enough to carry on the services. Still less are they
teachers or viissionaries, except in one instance, the Bul-
garian monastery of Chilandari, where, of late years, a
system has been established of sending a number of
ordained monks into Bulgaria on a sort of home mission,
to assist the parish priests in extensive districts. This
"Apostolic " system, as they call it, is said to have worked
well, but it is wholly an excrescence from the monastic
life of Athos. Again, they are not students, or learned
men, though from the way in which the books have been
used and marked in the libraries, there is evidence that
there were such among them in former times ; and they
have traditions of a period, shortly before the taking of
Constantinople, when teachers went out from this place,
as a centre, to the whole of the Eastern church. Now,
however, the libraries are rarely opened, and the monks
do not pretend to make study a part of their occupation.
Yet they profess a desire for learning, and we perceived
many signs of a move in that direction, especially in the
wealthier convents. The existence of the school at
Caryes is in itself a proof of this : the books, too, which
they possess are beginning to be more cared for than for-
merly, and here and there catalogues have been made : one
or two of the monasteries also have lately sent some
of their younger members to the University of Athens

Chap. IV. Eastern Monastic Life. • 85

to study at the expense of the society, in order that they
in turn may become teachers to the rising generation.
A few of the monks we found to be acquainted with the
ancient Greek authors ; and one or two would have
passed an excellent examination in the details of Greek
history. One remarkably intelligent young fellow, who
had left his convent on a former occasion, against the
will of the Hegumen, in order to get instruction at
Athens, amused us by remarking, " I don't get on par-
ticularly well with Hellenic (ancient Greek) ; Xenophon
and some other authors I can read easily enough, but
I find the speeches in Thucydides so very hard ! " We
consoled him by telling him that he was not singular
in his difficulties. Modern languages are almost entirely
unknown ; only a few could sjoeak a little French or
Italian ; and theology, to which at least one would
expect that some time would be devoted, is hardly in
a better condition. In fact, the great proportion of the
caloyers are of the class of peasants and artizans, and
are wholly uneducated and ignorant.

Still the ludicrous inexperience of ordinary things,
which has been attributed to them, certainly does not
exist now. There may be monks Avho have never seen a
woman, or who believe that Western Europe is governed
by an Emperor of the Franks, or that England is situated
in London ; but anyhow the generality must not be
estimated from them, any more than from the more
intelligent men whom I have mentioned above. There
is hardly one monastery in which they do not from time
to time see some newspaper, either the 'Byzantis' of
Constantinople, or one of the Athens journals ; and a
good many had seen, and some even took in, the Greek
newspaper published in London, the ' Bretannikos Aster,'
which was in hi":h favour on account of its illustrations

S6 Mount Aihos. Chap. IV-

Accordingly, one of the commonest questions to be
asked us was, whether the Queen had recovered her
health ; and they were quite ready to talk on such
subjects as Victor Emmanuel and the state of Italy, the
war in America, and the Atlantic Telegraph, the Levia-
than, as they called the ' Great Eastern,' the Suez Canal,
and similar topics of the day. All these things, no
doubt, were regarded from a very distant point of view :
indeed, it is the effect of a secluded spot, like the Holy
Mountain, where the routine of life is so unexciting, and
the pulse seems to beat faintly, to make even a stranger
look upon the events of the world around " as through a

But if the monks of Athos are neither clergy, nor
missionaries, nor students, yet they realize the primitive
idea of monasticism in a way in which it is not realized
elsewhere. When Antony and his followers withdrew
to the deserts of Egypt, their object was not the pursuit
of learning, or the benefit of their fellow-men, but retire-
ment from a dangerous and distracting world, and
leisure for devotion and religious exercises. This idea
of monastic life is still maintained in the Eastern Church ;
and accordingly, as in those early times there was no
distinction of Monastic Orders, so here one rule alone is
followed, that established by St. Basil. Six or seven
hours of every day, and more on Sundays, are occupied
by the Church services ; and on some of the greater
festivals the almost incredible time of from sixteen to
twenty hours is spent in church.'^ Their life is one of the
sternest bodily mortification. In the Coenobite convents

7 For an account of the services and other details connected with the
monasteries, the reader is referred to an elaborate and impartial article
in the 'Christian Remembrancer' for April, 1851, to which I am much

Chap. IV. Occupations of the Monks. Zy

they never touch meat, and rarely in the Idiorrhythmic.
Nearly half the days in the year are fast days, and on
these they take only one meal, which is generally com-
posed of bread, vegetables, and water : and during the
first three days of Lent those whose constitutions can
stand it, eat nothing. In addition to this they never get
an unbroken night's rest, as the first service commences
between i and 2 A.M. The remainder of their time
which is not occupied in public prayer is spent by the
Superiors in the management of the affairs of their
society, and by the lower monks in various menial occu-
pations which are required of them. There is, however,
a class intermediate between these two, whose time
cannot be so easily accounted for. In the Idiorrhythmic
convents any person who pays on entrance a sum equal
to about 45/. of our money, becomes permanently free
from any obligation to work in the monastery. Those who
are on this footing must have a considerable amount of
spare time, and, as far as we could discover, but scanty
means of employing it. In some of the Coenobite monas-
teries the brethren work in the fields ; but even in these
it is only for a few hours in the day ; and in general this
kind of labour, and other outdoor employments, such as
fishing, are left to the Seculars.

As the system of life which has just been described
is not such as to prove attractive to ordinary men, it will
naturally be asked, what are the inducements and
motives which lead men to come to Athos, and from
what classes the monks are chiefly drawn, being, as they
have been called, gens cctcrna, in qnd nemo nascitnr.
I have already stated that most of the inferior monks
belong to the class of peasants and artisans : a large
number of these come to this place early in life, between
the ages of 15 and 25 years, being naturally quiet men,

Mount Athos. Chap. IV.

and disposed for a religious life {6pi]aKeLa). Of those
who come at a more advanced age, some have led
irregular lives and desire to repent of their sins ; some
have been monks at other convents, such as those of
Jerusalem and Mount Sinai ; while others have been
engaged in trade, and similar employments. Among
those to whom we talked on the subject were a grocer
from Corfu, a tailor from Constantinople, a merchant
from Syra, a sailor from Cephalonia, and a leech-
gatherer from Larissa in Thessaly, who had been em-
ployed there by a man who rented the monopoly of
leeches from the Government. Very few, even of the
superiors, are above the class of tradesmen or merchants.
But when we came to enquire, further, what constituted
the attractiveness of the monastic life, we constantly
received the same reply — tranquillity {rjavx^ia), rest of
body and soul, which was valued by some as freeing
them from temptation and giving them time for devotion,
by others as securing them comparative ease ; by the
greater number probably from a mixture of these two feel-
ings. But to the Christian subjects of the Porte the first
attraction is the security which they enjoy here, and
freedom from the ill-treatment and exactions to which
they are exposed elsewhere. No one could travel
through the parts of Macedonia and Albania, which we
visited later in the summer, and hear, as we heard,
both from the natives themselves and from less pre-
judiced sources, of the utter insecurity of life and
property among the rayaJis, and their sad persecution
by their Turkish oppressors — murders, violence, rob-
beries, and extortion, being quite ordinary occurrences —
without often saying to himself " Who would not gladly
be a monk on Athos, rather than suffer these miseries .-' "
The monks of Athos are not the only persons in the

Chap. IV. Love of Tranquillity. 89

present day for whom the " tranquillity " of which we
have just spoken has had powerful attractions. Fall-
merayer, the German historian and man of letters, who
is best known for his thankless attempt to prove that the
modern Greeks have no Hellenic blood in their veins,
confesses that, during his visit to this spot, he was sorely
tempted to yield himself up to it. He thus describes
his own feelings and those of the caloyers. " ' Forsake
the world and join us,' said the monks ; ' with us you
will find your happiness. Do but look at the Retreat
there with its fair walls, at the hermitage on the moun-
tain, how the westering sun flashes on its window-panes !
How charmingly the chapel peeps out from the bright
green of the leafy chestnut forest, in the midst of vine-
branches, laurel hedges, valerian, and myrtle ! How the
water bubbles forth, bright as silver, from beneath the
stones, how it murmurs amid the oleander bushes !
Here you will find soft breezes, and the greatest of all
blessings — freedom and inward peace. For he alone is
free, who has overcome the world, and has his abode in
the laboratory of all virtues {ipjacrTqpiov iraaoov apercov)
on Mount Athos.' It was spoken in perfect sincerity ;
the pious fathers knew their man ; they recognized in
him the melancholy, the longings, the appreciation of
solitude they knew so well, and the magic influence that

Online LibraryHenry Fanshawe TozerResearches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 31)