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

. (page 8 of 31)
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 8 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wild woods and the fresh scenes of nature exercise on
world-weary souls. I was to set up my abode in the
neighbourhood of their holy society, not as a monk (for
that a special vocation was required), but as an inde-
pendent associate ; and was to pass my time, free from
all constraint, like a temporary participator in earthly
joys, in prayer, in recollectedness of spirit, in devotional
reading, in cultivating my garden, and in wandering
alone, or with others, through the woodland thickets, but

QO Mount AtJios. Chap. IV.

evermore in peace, until the thread of hfe should have
run out, and the dawning light of the brighter world
appear. ****** It was, I confess, a seductive
proposal." ^

He then proceeds to describe the jar of party conflicts,
the confusion of thought, the weary search after know-
ledge, and all the other disadvantages which accompany
the progressive movement of western civilization, and
from which he might have for ever freed himself by
embracing this proposal.^ Many others, when placed in
the same circumstances, have felt like him. Many an
Englishman, when, after being long engaged in the
turmoil of business or political life, he has visited such a
place of retirement as the Grande Chartreuse, will have
understood the longing for the permanent enjoyment
of the life of tranquillity. We cannot wonder, therefore,
if beneath the sky of Greece, and in the midst of so
many favouring circumstances, it proves highly attractive
to the Oriental temperament. This state of mind has
naturally given birth at various times to different forms
of mysticism, the most remarkable phase of which is
found in the tenets of those who from this cause received

* 'Fragmenta aus dem Orient,' ii. p. i.

^ Fallmeiayer soon changed his mind when he got back to Salonica.
His recantation occurs someway further on in his work, but it is amusing to
put the two passages side by side: — "Thirty days' penitential living on the
Holy Mountain had forcibly reduced my spirits to a low pitch, and lent an
impulse to the longing to enter once more within the sphere of European
life. If the moral law could only be satisfied at such a price, I honestly
confess that, little as I care for elaborate enjoyments, I should still occupy a
very low position in the scale of righteousness." And again: — "The
eagerness with which, immediately after my journey to Athos, I devoured
the political contents of the Augsburg, Paris, Malta, and Smyrna news-
papers, penised the scientific reviews, and foraged in the select library of our
hospitable consul, clearly showed how empty and unenjoyable life would be
without the range of European ideas." — pp. 147-150.

Chap. W. Mysticism. 91

the name of Hesychasts {7](Tvya\lpvTe<i) or Ouietists. Of
these persons, and their dogma concerning the light of
Tabor, we shall have to speak further on. Whether
religious contemplation forms any part of the life of the
monks of the present day, it is very difficult to discover.
Amongst those of the lower grades, of course, we should
not expect to find it ; the sum of their religious views is
that heaven is to be won by mortification of the flesh
and constant attendance on the Church services. But in
the ranks of the more educated monks there is reason to
believe that some devote themselves to it, and it is
affirmed that the images which fill their minds are
mainly drawn from the book of Revelation, and that in
some circles traces of the spirit of mediaeval mysticism
may still be discovered.^"

Continuing our journey from Iveron the next day, we
rode for some distance along the coast, and then struck
up the side of the mountain, through groves of ilex,
arbutus, and catalpa, to Philotheu, which lies in a retired
but pretty situation, rather more than a mile from the
sea. It is the smallest monastery, containing only twenty-
five monks, and very simple-minded they seemed. They
spoke with pleasure of the smallness of their society, as a
source of quiet, but in winter, they said, the cold was very
great, owing to their elevated position, the snow often
lying on the ground for several days together. When I
asked whether they did not in consequence feel the severe
fasting very much, they replied that this was the case, so
that it even injured their health ; in some ancient histories
{TToXata avyypd/MfiaTa) they had read that the Egyptian
monks used sometimes to eat hardly anything for weeks
together, and they wished they could imitate them ; but

'° See Gass's ' Commentatio Historica,' p. 53.

92 Moimt AtJios, Chap. IV.

there the dimate was warm, and on Athos it was impos-
sible to do so. They referred with some bitterness to
the comparatively easy lives led by the monks in the
larger convents. The church here has the unusual feature
of a tower with a sloping roof, rising from the middle of
the proaulion. They possess a curious cross, ornamented
with ancient pearls, diamonds and emeralds.

From this place we descended to the path we had left,
and after proceeding some way further along the lower
slopes, once more climbed the mountain side to Cara-
calla, which occupies one of the finest positions on Athos,
at the head of a gorge, Vv'ith cultivated land, vineyards,
and hazel groves about it, a wide expanse of sea below,
and banks of woodland above, over which the great peak
was visible. This place v/as the scene of Mr. Curzon's
amusing story of the Abbot and the nuts, and we were
forcibly reminded of it, for it was the nutting season, and
all hands were busily engaged in gathering and storing
them ; the floor of one passage, which led to the guest
chamber, Avas covered with them several inches deep.^^
The hegumen, however, on this occasion was an agree-
able and sensible man, and talked more refined Greek
than most of the monks ; he had been a monk at Jeru-
salem, and had resided on Athos ten years. At dinner
we were presented with the round Eucharistic cakes (irpoa-
(f)opd) which are used in the Greek Church, stamped in
the centre with the words "Jesus Christ conquers" ('It/ctoO?
Xpt(Tro<; vLKo). When the monk who waited on us saw
that we hesitated to eat them, not knowing whether they

" In default of a better explanation of the strange name of this monas-
tery I would suggest that, like Caiyes, it is derived from these nuts.
Kapvai KaXai (the 'fine hazels') might, without much difficulty, be cor-
rupted into Caracalla. The received stoiy is that the convent was founded
by one Antoniu^, the son of a Roman prince named Caracalla,

Chap. IV. Caracalla. 93

were intended for a common meal, he said, " Don't be
afraid, — it's not sinful." We found that they are set before
strangers because they are made of finer flour than what
is commonly used in the monasteries. Our saltcellar and
tumblers were curious specimens of old glass, and my
tumbler in particular was engraved with most unmonastic
Cupids. They may not improbably have come from

The road from Caracalla to the Lavra lies through the
scenery which I have already described as the most
beautiful in the peninsula. Its bowery glades were all
the more delightful after the intense heat of the midday
sun, which caused us to linger at the former monastery.
As we also stopped to bathe about sunset, on a beach
composed of pebbles of white marble, it was moonlight
when we reached our destination, and the gates were
closed ; after knocking for a long time, and answering
numerous questions which were put to us from within, to
guard against the intrusion of objectionable visitors, we
were at length admitted. The name Lavra, or Laura,
signifies a street of cells, the early form of a monastery,
and was given to this place as being the monastery paj'
excellence, for it was once the largest on Athos, though it
has somewhat declined of late years. It is situated at
the south-east angle of the peninsula, and overlooks the
sea at a height of some hundred feet, having a port
below, guarded by a small fortress. It is the nearest
point to the Island of Lemnos, which forms a conspicuous
object, though at supper-time we discovered that the
distance must be considerable, for the eggs of the monas-
tery are brought from farms which they possess there
(hens, as I have said, not being allowed on the Holy
Mountain), and those which were set before us had taken
so long on the passage that we were obliged to dismiss


Mount A thos. Chap. IV.

them through the window, as soon as the monk who
waited on us had left the room. During the night
the neighbouring hill-sides frequently resounded with
loud shouts and discharges of fire-arms, intended to
drive away the numerous jackals {r^aKaXta) which prey
upon the vineyards.

We received great attention and kindness from the
superiors of this society, but they seemed to care less
about improvements or the introduction of learning than
most that we had seen. One of them, called Melchize-
deck, a man of vast proportions, and overflowing with
fun and humour, was a well-known character on the Holy
Mountain. " Have you seen that great, stout man, Mel-
chizedeck of the Lavra.?" was a question more than once
put to us in other monasteries. The stories that were
abroad in Salonica relative to some extremely rough-
handed proceedings of his, certainly did not go to show
that he was possessed of either a meek or a spiritual
temperament, but whether or no the contrast which his
burly frame and worldly ways presented to the ordinary
monastic type had made an impression on his brethren,
he certainly assumed something of the aspect of a hero
in their eyes. The date of the foundation of the Lavra
goes back to about the year 963, when a man of noble
birth in Trebizond, Avho had been educated at Constan-
tinople, and had subsequently devoted himself with great
zeal to the monastic life, came to Athos, and set to work
to establish it. He took the name of Athanasius, and
though there is evidence of another regular monastery
having existed on the Holy Mountain before this time,
he found the monks and ascetics so scattered about
throughout the peninsula, and in such a state of poverty,
that he may virtually be regarded as the originator of
the present conventual system. His great supporter in

Chap. IV. TJie Lavra. 95

this work was the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, to whom
he had made a prediction that he would repulse the
Saracens ; and when that came to pass, the grateful com-
mander (it was before he came to the throne) sent a
large sum of money from the spoils of his victory towards
the erection of the new monastery. The principal church
is probably coeval with its foundation, for it shows signs
of great antiquity. The cupola, which is unusually large,
is decorated at the top with a figure of Christ in mosaic ;
and in the eastern apse, behind the altar, is the bishop's
seat in stone, flanked with stone benches for the pres-
byters, according to the arrangement which is found in a
few very early churches in the west, such as San Cle-
mente at Rome, and Torcello at Venice. We were also
shown a very old mosaic, finely executed, representing
St. John the Evangelist, contained in a frame of delicate
filigree work in gold or silver gilt, in which are set mi-
niatures of the founder of the monastery.

Some of the relics preserved in this monastery are
magnificent works of art, and were it not for fear of
wearying the reader I would willingly describe both these
and many others which are found elsewhere. As it is, I
shall mention only a few of them here and there, referring
those who are interested in the subject to Mr. Curzon's
book for more detailed information. But as an account
of the mountain would be incomplete without some
general remarks on this point, I will here add a few words
about them. They are mainly composed of heads, limbs,
and bones of saints, partially cased in silver, and pieces
of the true cross, which are frequently surrounded by
filigree and flower work in metal, of great antiquity and
the most exquisite workmanship. The caskets in which
these are kept are often superb specimens of the gold-
smith's art, and ornamented with diamonds, extremely

96 Mount AtJios. Chap. IV.

rare from their antiquity, and pearls, rubies, and emeralds,
of immense size, and for the most part uncut. As works
of art, however, they are not appreciated by the monks,
who value the relics themselves, and not their decora-
tions. They are always kept behind the Iconostase, near
the Holy Table, and are brought out and arranged on a
kind of desk when they are to be shown to pilgrims and
visitors. It was curious to observe the various degrees of
respect with which they were treated in different monas-
teries. Generally the candles were lighted in their
honour, and the priest who handled them put on his
stole {e.TTiTpax'P^i'Ov) ; but in some places the caloyers
treated them with the utmost veneration, keeping silence
in their presence, and kissing them fervently ; in others
they treated the exhibition more as a matter of course,
and here and there they knew very little about them.
Actual carelessness or . irreverence we never saw ; the
nearest approach to it was on the present occasion, at
the Lavra, when Melchizedech, as we were looking at
them, observed aside to our dragoman, "When I am
dead, and they preserve my relics, it will cost the
monastery 2, precious lot to case my head with silver ! "

Early the next morning we sallied forth to visit a
Retreat {KaOtcrixa), which lies on the hill-side a few hun-
dred yards above the monastery. The life in these
Retreats, and in the sketes, which are composed of asso-
ciations of them, differs from that in the convents, in
respect of the amount of manual labour which is per-
formed in the former. In these reside most of the arti-
sans, by whom the shops at Caryes, and through them the
monasteries, are provided with clothing and other neces-
sary articles. In consequence of their laborious occupa-
tions, their inmates are considered to live a very severe life,
and I was certainly far more favourably impressed with

Chap. IV, Retreat of " The Forerunner.'" 97

these societies than with the convents. The one towards
which our steps were now directed is dedicated to " The
Forerunner " (6 ci'yio^ 7rp6Spo/j.o<;), as St. John the Baptist
is called. The building itself has nothing to distinguish
it from an ordinary cottage, except that in one part the
apse and dome of a small chapel peep out ; on different
sides of it rise superb cypresses, while the sloping hill-
side below is covered with well-tended vineyards, which
are cultivated by the monks themselves, and afford a
proof of their careful husbandry. It was tenanted by
four monks, one of whom was a priest, in consequence of
which they were able to have all the services in their own
chapel. Where this is not the case, the lay monks per-
form the ordinary services for themselves, and go for the
Eucharistic service to some neighbouring monastery.
They shewed us their cells, which were clean and well
kept, and the workshop, where they make stockings and
monks' caps, by which they get their livelihood. Very
simple, gentle men they were, and appeared perfectly
contented. They were surprised, but much pleased by
our visit, and pressed us to partake of the same kind of
refreshments as were brought to us on our arrival at a
convent, but which we had not expected here. They
were especially proud of their /t£^/it water, the spring at
the back of the retreat having been given to their prede-
cessors by St. Athanasius, the founder of the Lavra.
One old caloyer had come from " the city," /. e., Constan-
tinople,'^ at fifteen years of age, and had remained fifty

** The constant use of the term yj ttJAij for Constantinople throughout
the ^gean, just as, in England, London is called "town," confirms the
derivation of Stamboul from els ttiv ttoXiv. There is, however, something
to be said for the derivation from Constantinopolis, the first syllable having
been lost (as in Salonica, from Thessalonica), and the rest compressed, as
is constantly the case with names of places. Staiitinopl would easily pass
into Stamboul.


98 Mount Athos. Chap. IV.

years on Athos, without once leaving it. They had a
balcony, commanding a bird's-eye view of the monastery,
together with its little harbour and tower below, and the
wide blue sea beyond, with the islands of Lemnos, Imbros,
and Samothrace. The monks delight in their views,
though they rarely speak of them, and never criticise
them : a fact which is worthy of the consideration of
those who think that the ancient Greeks had no appre-
ciation of natural scenery, because it is so little noticed
in their writings. There was something very primitive
and very prepossessing in the life of these men. If any
one would see how near a resemblance to the life of
the fourth century may be found in the nineteenth, I
would ask him to compare this slight sketch with the
elaborate and beautiful description of the Laura of Scetis,
in Upper Egypt, in the first chapter of Mr. Kingsley's
' Hypatia.'

Returning to the monastery, I stopped at a kiosk, or
summer-house, outside the gateway, to talk to two monks
and a secular, whom I found seated there. After the
usual questions about the health of the Queen, the con-
versation turned on the Suez canal, which was in every-
body's mouth at that time. Lord Palmerston's unreason-
able opposition to this scheme appeared for the moment
to have seriously damaged the prestige of England in
the East, for the idea was just one of those which capti-
vate the Oriental imagination, and it seemed an act of
selfishness on the part of England to obstruct it. Con-
sequently M. de Lesseps was everywhere a hero. This
subject naturally led to the canal of Xerxes, of the his-
tory of which the secular was aware. He had also re-
marked, what I myself observed on a former occasion, — •
though, as far as I know, it has not been noticed in any
book of travels, — that a similar, though narrower and

Chap. IV. A Conversation on Canals. 99

shallower, dike has been cut through the Isthmus of Pal-
lene, the westernmost of the three peninsulas of Chalci-
dice. It runs across from sea to sea, and is now filled
with sand, and two dry lagoons have been formed at its
western end ; on account of its narrowness, it never could
have been passable except for boats and small vessels.
Its length is about half a mile, and it was probably the
work of the Venetians at the time when they occupied
Salonica, as a wall of Venetian construction runs along
the slopes on the southern side of it, near the site of the
ancient Cassandra or Potidaea.

One principal object which we had in view in visiting
Athos at this time was to be present at the festival of the
Transfiguration, which is celebrated on the summit of
the peak, on the 6th of August (old style). Any monk
from any of the monasteries is welcome to attend it,
though it is quite a voluntary matter ; and we found that
they regarded the mountain expedition not by any means
as a member of the Alpine Club would have regarded it,
but in the light of a pilgrimage. We had arranged our
plans so as to arrive at the Lavra, which is the nearest
monastery, two days before : the monks, however, we
found, had already started to make their preparations.
Accordingly, on the afternoon of the day after our arrival,
that is, on the eve of the festival, we rode along the paths
which skirt the sea-face of the great peak at some height
above the sea, until we reached the Retreat of St. Deme-
trius, one of the few buildings which stand at the southern
end of the peninsula, where the ground descends with
great steepness to the sea. It contained 12 monks, en-
gaged in different occupations, but working for a common
stock. Going into one of the rooms, I found a painter
sitting by a window, which opened out on a lovely gorge
running down to the sea, and engaged in painting on a

H 2

100 Mount Athos. Chap. IV,

thick block of wood a picture in exactly the same style
as those from which the early Italian artists copied. He
was a small, emaciated, delicate-looking man, with a pen-
sive countenance, and quite realised my idea of a me-
diseval artist. He wore the Great Habit {fie^/a a-^ii/xa), a
kind of breastplate or stomacher of a woollen material,
worked with a cross and other devices, which is the sign
of the highest grade of monastic austerity. I afterwards
discovered that he was a free Greek from Vostitza, on the
Corinthian Gulf He was so intent on his work that at
first he hardly noticed me ; and I watched him for some
time, as he worked on without a copy, and yet too
rapidly and mechanically to allow me to suppose that he
was painting from imagination. However, when I asked
him some questions, and he saw that I was interested in
his art, he put down his brush, and showed me the secret
of his inspiration — the ' Guide to Painting ' of Dionysius of
Agrapha, which has been translated into French by M.
Didron, under the title of ' Manuel d'Iconographie Chre-
tienne,' from a MS. which he obtained from Athos. This
remarkable book, compiled at an unknown, but very
early period, by a man who professed himself a diligent
student of the works of Panselenus, contains the expla-
nation of the singular uniformity of design in the paint-
ings, both ancient and modern, of the Greek Church, as
it is composed of rules, very often of a minute descrip-
tion, for the treatment of all kinds of sacred subjects,
specifying the position and attitudes of the figures, the
expression of the faces, and the backgrounds and accom-
paniments. The art of painting has existed uninter-
ruptedly on Athos, and it has possessed, and still pos-
sesses, so many artists, that we may say with M. Didron,
" c'est veritablement I'ltalie de I'eglise orientale." Sir
Thomas Wyse tells us, in his ' Excursion in the Pelopon-

Chap. IV. " A Sporting Monk. loi

nese,' " that he found one of the churches in Laconia, at
the time of his visit, being decorated by a painter from
the Holy Mountain.

Having left our baggage-mule at the retreat, we
ascended from thence through forests of beech and fir, by
an extremely steep mule-track, commanding views of
indescribable beauty, until about sunset we arrived at a
Chapel of the Virgin, situated in the midst of grassy
slopes on a rocky projection of the mountain, just where
the trees begin to cease. From this point the two other
peninsulas, w^iich form the trident of Chalcidice, were
visible, and to the south the line of small islands which
run off from the north of Euboea : far below us a steamer
was making its way like a fly on the water. A few
monks were here, preparing, in an immense stewpan, the
viands for the next day, — a suspicious-looking mess of fish
and vegetables, of which they gave us a dish for supper.
After this repast we commenced the ascent on foot, ac-
companied by two monks, one of whom was a sportsman
and carried his gun, a curious contrast to his monastic
dress, and talked with evident satisfaction of the price
which wild boars fetched, when killed and exported.
Before long the other monk and our dragoman fell into
the rear ; but our sporting friend was in training, and we
soon found ourselves rapidly mounting by a rough zig-
zag path, and scaling the white marble summits, which
looked almost like snow-peaks in the light of the bril-
liant moon. After about an hour of this work, when we
had almost reached the top, we sat down to wait for our
companions, to listen to the tinkling bells of the mules in
the distance, and to watch the moonbeams streaming on
the water thousands of feet below us. Our sportsman
whiled away the time by relating to us some of the
" Vol i. p. 83.

I02 Mount Athos. Chap. IV.

legends of the mountain ; how, before the birth of Christ,
a heathen image had existed on the summit ;" and how St.
Athanasius, the founder of the Lavra, had destroyed it ;
and how, when he was building his monastery, the Devil,
according to that legend so common throughout Chris-
tendom, had thrown down the stones by night which he
had put together by day. As a great mountain has the
power of attracting legends, let me add a few of those
which at different times have gathered round this peak.
Listen to Sir John Maundeville's account in the fourteenth
century. "And there is another Hille, that is clept
Athos, that is so highe, that the Schadewe of hym
rechethe to Lampne^^ (Lemnos), that is an He; and it
is yG Myle betwene. And aboven at the cop of the
Hille, is the Eir so cleer, that Men may fynde no Wynd
there. And therefore may no Best lyve there ; and so

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 8 of 31)