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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is the Eyr drye. And Men seye in theise Contrees that
Philosophres som tyme wenten upon theise Hilles, and
helden to here Nose a Spounge moysted with Watre, for
to have Eyr ; for the Eyr above was so drye. And
aboven, in the Dust and in the Powder of tho Hilles, thei
wroot Lettres and Figures with hire Fingres : and at the
zeres ende thei comen azen, and founden the same
Lettres and Figures, the whiche thei hadde writen the
zeer before, withouten ony defaute. And therfore it
semethe wel, that theise Hilles passen the Clowdes and
joynen to the pure Eyr." ^^ Another tradition is said to
have related that it was on this mountain that Satan
placed our Lord at the Temptation ; and here, in 1821,
just before the Greek Revolution, a cross of light was

^* There seems to have been an altar to Zeus here, as on many "high
places" in Greece. See 'Pomp. Mela.', ii. 2.

'* The story dates from classical times. Sec Pliny, iv. 12.
*s Maundeville's 'Travels,' p. 20.

Chap. IV. Ascent of the Peak. ^' 103

seen by the monks, with the words " in this conquer." ^^
At present, however, there is no trace remaining of these

The summit of the mountain rises to so sharp a point,
that it only just leaves room for a small chapel, dedi-
cated to the Transfiguration, on the north side of which
the crags descend in tremendous precipices, while to the
south is a narrow platform of rock, a few feet wide, from
which again the cliffs fall rapidly away. As we ap-
proached from the east, we first heard the sound of
chanting from within the chapel, and when we came
round to the platform in front, a scene appeared which
I shall never forget. Distinctly seen in the moonlight
were the weird, ghostly figures of the monks, closely
wrapped in their gowns, with long dark beards and
unshorn locks, some sitting close to the window of the
little chapel, where service was going on, some lying
about in groups, like the figures of the three Apostles in
Raphael's picture of the Transfiguration ; and on going
about to different points we could see them lying relieved
against the white rocks, or dimly seen in the dark
shadows, — themselves "a shadowy band." There were
about sixty of them, besides a number of Russian
pilgrims. We were not less an object of wonder to them
than they were to us ; they even forgot the usual saluta-
tions. " Where do you come from ? " {arrro irov elaOe) was
all that they could say. We told them we were English-
men, and that we came from the Lavra ; on learning
which they brought us to the wood fire they had lighted,
and made some coffee for us. In connection with the
fire, the classical reader will remember that this peak was
one of the stations of the fire-beacons, which carried Aga-

*'' Sir G. F. Bowen's 'Mount Athos, Thessaly, and Albania,' p. 52.

104 Mojmt AtJios. Chap. IV.

memnon's telegram to Clytemnestra. At intervals, as
we sat there, the priest came out, arrayed in gorgeous
vestments, and swung the incense about us ; until at last,
as the vigil service lasted the whole night, I betook
myself to a small cornice in the rock, where I slept,
wrapt in my plaid, for a couple of hours ; after which
I lay awake, gazing up into the bright heaven, and
feeling the strange sensation of being elevated on such a
rocky pinnacle, with nothing but sea and sky around.
One could almost realise the feelings of Simeon Stylites.

At dawn the service ceased, and the monks kissed one
another, and were sprinkled with holy water. When the
sun rose, the shadow of the peak was projected over sea
and land to the west in a distinctly marked pyramid ;
but daylight added little to the view, as the greater part
of the peninsulas of Athos and Sithonia had been visible
during the night, and the distance was hazy. Eight of
the monasteries, however, could be distinguished, and
the expanse of sea was an extraordinary sight. On a
clear day both Ida and Olympus may be seen. Half an
hour after sunrise the Eucharistic service — the Liturgy,
as it is called — commenced ; and at its conclusion a
bunch of grapes was brought in and blessed, this being
the first day on which they are allowed to be eaten.
They then descended the mountain by the zigzag path
in companies, singing psalms ; and after breakfasting on
the grass by the chapel of the Virgin, we dispersed
to our several destinations.

There is an interest attaching to this festival, indepen-
dent of its strangeness, from its carrying us back to a
theological discussion of the 14th century, which was the
ne plus ultra of controversial folly. In the only passage
in Gibbon's history in which the monks of Athos are

Chap. IV. Festival of the Transfigjiratioii. 105

mentioned/^ the historian points one of his bitterest
sneers by a reference to the dispute as to the divine
light of Mount Tabor, which was the doctrine of the
Hesychasts, who maintained that after long abstinence
and contemplation they could see in the middle of their
belly, which was the seat of the soul, the light which
appeared to the disciples at the transfiguration of Christ,
and that this light was part of the essence of God him-
self, and therefore immortal and eternal. This view,
which Gibbon describes as the product of an empty
stomach and an empty brain, vv'as combated by a Cala-
brian monk called Barlaam, and thereupon a fierce dis-
cussion arose, which ended in the discomfiture and
condemnation of the sceptic, and the establishment of
the doctrine of the uncreated light of Tabor. I en-
deavoured to discover if any traces of this controversy
were still remaining, but I could find none. No monk
now expected to see this light in ecstatic moments ; the
name of Barlaam was almost unknown, and the contro-
versy forgotten : and though they still maintained that
the light of the Transfiguration was an uncreated light,
they did not anathematize those who held the contrary.
Indeed, not only on this, but on most points connected
with religion, I was forcibly struck by their breadth of
view, which made itself seen in the midst of much forma-
lism and superstition, and by their tolerance of others'
opinions, and charitable feelings towards other Christian

Owing to the exposed position and southern aspect of
this peak, the flowers were almost all past at this season

^* Smith's 'Gibbon,' vii. 404. Compare Mosheim, ii. 660.
19 On this, as a characteristic of Eastern Christendom, see Stanley's
'Eastern Church,' p. 57.

io6 Mount Athos. Chap, IV.

of the year, notwithstanding its great elevation. At the
time of my former visit, however, which happened early
in June, 1853, I found a considerable number, and it may
be worth while to mention some of those which occur in
the upper parts. Above the region of trees were Viola
tricolor, Saxifraga media, Saxifraga aizoon, Vcsicaria
titriculata; and in 1861 I found Saxifraga porophylla 2in6.
Ccntaitrea aiirea. Within the region of trees were first
AspJioddus luteits and Epipactis grandiflora \ and some-
what lower down Mclittis, melissopliylluin, Epipactis nibray
and Atropa belladonna.

( I07 )


jNIOUNT ATHOS icontiimcd).

Descent to the Skete of St. Anne— St. Paul's — A Monastic meal — St.
Dionysius — St. Gregory's — Simopetra — Russians and Greeks —
Xeropotamu — Ancient diamonds — Xenophu— Docheiareiu— A Hermit
— Constamonitu — Monastic group — Zographu — Chilandari — The
Monks' views of other Churches.

We now descended on the side of the mountain opposite
to the Lavra, and entered on the first of a succession of
dreadful roads, which run along the precipices of the
south-west part of the peninsula, the like of which I have
never seen in any country. These are sometimes cut or
worn in the rocks, which overlook the sea at a height
of several hundred feet ; and sometimes, as in this first
part of the descent, are formed of a series of steps, to
which the sagacious mules of the mountain are ac-
customed, but which would be almost impassable to any
other beasts of burden. These pathways are said to
have been made by a former bishop, who resided on
Athos, and is looked back to as a great benefactor ; they
are of the same kind as those commonly found in the
mountainous parts of Turkey, the stone steps being
intended to support the ground, and prevent the soil
from falling away; indeed, in the winter, when the
torrents come down from the heights, if it were not for
these, the means of communication would be entirely
destroyed ; but in summer, from the hardness of the
limestone of which they are composed, they become as
slippery as glass, and greatly increase the difficulty of

loS Mount Aihos. Chap. V.

travelling. At the bottom of the first long descent,
following a narrow cornice in the rock, we reached the
skete of St. Anne, which stands in a most precipitous
position, and still at a great elevation above the sea ;
near its site is said to have been the place called
Nymphaeum in classical times ; and if Virgil's description
of such a spot —

"In front, retiring from the wave,~
Opes on the view a rock-hung cave,
A home that nymphs might call their own,
Fresh springs, and seats of living stone " — •

may guide us in our search for it, it would seem to corre-
spond very charmingly. The dwellings of the monks
are grouped round a central church, and niched pic-
turesquely in the terraced cliffs. Amongst its 120
members it numbers many of the best artificers on Athos,
including painters, calligraphers (who, however, are
merely copiers of liturgies and other manuscripts), and
singers (-v/raXrat), who go about to different monasteries
for the great festivals. But the particular branch of the
fine arts, of w^hich this is the principal home, and for
which the monks of Athos have been celebrated from
time immemorial, is wood carving. This is employed
both for the decoration of the churches, and for the
manufacture of crosses and other mementos, which are
bought by pilgrims, and are frequently of extreme
delicacy and almost Chinese minuteness. A colony of
carvers has existed at this skete for many centuries.
They are mentioned by Archbishop Georgirenes in the
17th century, and had probably been there long before
his time. The most famous, however, of all the artificers
of the present day is a monk of the neighbouring

Chap. V. Monastery of St. Paul. 109

monastery of St. Paul, called Cosmas, who, when we saw
him, was engaged on a very large and elaborate piece of
work, which he was intending to send to the Great Exhi-
bition of 1863.

We reached St. Paul's early in the afternoon. It
stands on one side of a wide and deep gully, which runs
down to the sea from the base of the great peak, and is
inhabited mainly by Greeks from the Ionian islands
{kTCTavi^dioi), who consequently at that time were British
subjects. They entertained us in first-rate style, and
two fowls (cocks, of course), which were reserved for
distinguished visitors, were slaughtered in our honour ;
but we could not avoid the uncomfortable feeling- that
we were treated rather as the patrons of " rayahs ; " and
it seemed to be an object with them to get us to say a
word for them to the Consul at Salonica about a farm on
the peninsula of Sithonia, concerning which they had a
dispute with the monastery of St. Dionysius. Litigation
is now, as it always has been, the bane of these societies.
Another point in their life, which I may notice here, is
the wonderfully intimate knowledge the monks have of
what is going on in other monasteries. They seem to
visit one another very little, though, when they do so,
they are received in a very friendly and fraternal manner ;
but, notwithstanding this, if any hegumen left his
monastery, or any other trivial occurrence happened in
any other society, they appeared at once to get wind of
it. There must be a vast amount of gossip on Athos.

As this was a festival day we had an opportunity of
being present at a monastic meal. There is generally a
little difficulty in persuading the monks to admit you to
their public meals, as they consider it a greater honour
that you should be entertained alone, or with some of the

no Mount Athos. Chap. V.

dignitaries, and thus they are able to set before you some-
what better fare than is allowed at the common table. On
this occasion we asked permission, as a special favour, and
no objection was made. When dinner was ready, one of
the superiors, in the absence of the hegumen, came to
escort us to the refectory, — a room having the propor-
tions of a college hall, but with a flat roof, and entered
by a doorway in the middle of one side, opposite to
which there runs off a semicircular alcove. Two rows of
pillars run down the hall, thus dividing it into a nave
and aisles : the nave was left open, while the aisles were
occupied by oblong tables, placed across between the
wall and the pillars, each accommodating eight persons.
At the upper end of the nave was the high table, a
semicircular marble slab, at which we were seated with
three of the principal monks : the rest of the dark-robed
company sat at the other tables, and at the bottom of
the hall were some Russian pilgrims, who had come for
the festival. Besides a piece of bread and a tankard of
light red wine, two small dishes of fish and a pear were
set before each of us. During dinner one of the monks
read a homily on the Transfiguration from a lectern
placed near our table : there was a pulpit attached to the
wall near the centre of the building, intended for this
purpose, but it did not seem to be used. Talking, of
course, was interdicted. At the conclusion of the meal
the reader prostrated himself before the Superior, and
received from him a piece of bread, in token that he was
allowed to have his dinner : after this all rose, and turned
to the East, while the Superior said grace, and then we
filed out of the hall. As we passed through the door-
way, the two cooks and the reader prostrated themselves
on the steps, and remained in that position until all the

Chap. V. A Monastic Meal.


brethren had gone by, to signify that they asked pardon
for any shortcomings in the entertainment.

The saint from whom this monastery takes its name is
not the Apostle of the Gentiles, but a monk Avho was its
founder in the fourteenth century. Among the relics is
kept an iron cross, which he used to wear suspended from
his neck. There is also a large silver cross, set with
jewels, which I have not seen mentioned elsewhere ; it
stands about 3 feet high, and has exquisite miniature
pictures in enamel inlaid in it, the heads of the saints
being encircled with tiny pearls. It is a superb work of
art, and is said by the monks to have been the gift of the
Emperor Constantine Romanus, though what emperor
they meant I cannot tell. The principal church is of
recent erection, and differs from the usual type in having
no wall of separation between the body of the church and
the narthex. The division is made by a curtain instead,
the effect of which is not very good ; the use of it, how-
ever, is ancient, for similar ones are represented in the
mosaics of S. Apollinare di dentro at Ravenna. Another
consequence of this arrangement is that other pillars are
introduced besides the four that support the central
cupola. This assimilates the building more to the Avestern
type, but it greatly destroys the unity and proportion, in
which the impressiveness of a Byzantine interior consists.
, The precipices which intervene between this monastery
and that of St. Dionysius are so tremendous, and the
paths so bad, that the monks do not like their mules to
go that way. Accordingly we were provided with a boat
and two naval caloyers (vavriKol KoXoyepoc), M'ho rowed
us round, and landed us under the latter convent, which
stands on a steep rock that projects over the sea from
the mountain-side. Owing to its position, it is much

112 Mount Athos. Chap. V,

confined for room, and only contains sixty monks, though
it holds a high rank among the other convents. The
buildings, though closely packed together, are among the
handsomest on Athos, especially the church, the refec-
tory, and a' corridor with pillars in front of that struc-
ture, all of which are covered with frescoes and gilding.
A young monk, who had been a pupil of an older
member of the same society, was restoring some of these
paintings. The illuminated MSS. also, and the relics
which are kept in the church, are singularly fine. The
casket in which one of these, the arm of St. Nephon, is
kept, is one of the most curious remains of ancient art.
It is thus very accurately described by Mr. Curzon : —
" This shrine was the gift of Neagulus, Waywode or Hos-
podar of Wallachia. It is about 2 feet long and 2 feet
high, and is in the shape of a Byzantine church ; the
material is silver gilt, but the admirable and singular
style of the workmanship gives it a value far surpassing
its intrinsic worth. The roof is covered with five domes
of gold ; on each side it has sixteen recesses, in which
are portraits of the saints in niello, and at each end there
are eight others. All the windows are enriched in open-
work tracery, of a strange sort of Gothic pattern, unlike
anything in Europe. It is altogether a wonderful and
precious monument of ancient art, the production of an
almost unknown country, rich, quaint, and original in its
design and execution, and is indeed one of the most
curious objects on Mount Athos.' " Several other works
of art, which Mr. Curzon describes, are now no longer
shown, and some of them the monks refuse to acknow-
ledge that they possess, saying that they have been car-
ried off by the Turks, or making some other excuse : but

' 'Monasteries of the Levant,' p. 382.

Chap. V. St. Dionysms\ 113

on both occasions that I have visited this convent I have
found its inmates singularly suspicious, and unwilling to
show their treasures. The library, in which the MSS. are
kept, is over the church porch : while we were there I
had a long conversation on theological subjects with the
librarian, who was the best-informed person we had met
with on Athos, while other pale fathers sat round, stern
and grim, looking like the impersonifications of contro-
versial theology. We talked of the light of Tabor, the
differences of the Greek and Anglican churches, and
many other points ; and I found him quite up to the
subjects under discussion, and quick in his way of putting
his arguments. Amongst other things, he asked why our
priests shaved, not suspecting how soon the Anglican
clergy might be converted to the practice of the Ortho-
dox. This, however, he allowed to be an unimportant
point, though such has not always been the case, as is
shown by the remark of Sir John Maundeville : — " Also
thei saye that wee synne dedly in schavynge our

Returning to our boat, we coasted along to St. Gre-
gory's, a monastery of 100 monks, mostly from free Greece,
which lies under the rocks close to the sea. It is the
poorest of all, and as it has been rebuilt within the last
hundred years there is nothing to see. So, after a long
talk with the hegumen, an earnest and intelligent man,
who had been a merchant in his early life, and afterwards
was a monk at St. Paul's, we re-embarked and rowed in
the direction of Simopetra, or the rock of Simon, the
anchorite, the most remarkable in its situation of all
the monasteries, which is conspicuous from a long dis-
tance off on this side of the mountain. We landed at a

* Maundeville's 'Travels,' p. 24.

114 Mount AtJios. Chap. V..

tiny port, provided with a pier and landing-place, above
which the monastery towers, perched on a rock, at a
height of 800 feet. Shortly after our arrival a monk
appeared, and finding that we wanted our saddle-bags
carried up, took out a large speaking-trumpet and
shouted through it to the monastery in Greek, " two
mules " (Suo fivXdpta). He was answered from above,
and not long after, as we sauntered up the zigzag path,
we met the animals on their way down. Just below the
monastery the ground is carefully made into terraces,
where vegetables are grown, while vines and gourds trail
over the high supporting walls. From these rises the
perpendicular rock on which the building stands, isolated
on all sides from the surrounding ground, except at the
back, where it is joined to the cliffs by an aqueduct with
two rows of arches. The upper part of its high walls is
lined with wooden balconies and corridors, which are
supported on projecting brackets, and rise, tier above
tier, to the roof, with the most picturesque irregularity.
Inside, the buildings are most curiously packed away.
In the lower part are the storehouses, between the side
walls and the upper part of the rock which crops out in
the interior court ; the court itself is so narrow that the
whole building has been roofed over, the light penetrating
by side windows and a variety of openings and crevices.
In consequence of this the church is not isolated, as in
most of the monasteries, but closely surrounded by the
other buildings, and its walls are pierced with numerous
windows for a Byzantine edifice, in order to admit more
light into the interior. The view from it is magnificent,,
comprising a wide expanse of sea, with the opposite
coast of Sithonia, and towards the south the steep cliffs of
the peninsula and the peak of Athos. It was a superb
sight at nightfall to see the vaporous clouds gather like a

Chap. V. Simopetra. 115

glory on the summit, and creep down or circulate round
it, while the moon rose and poured her golden light over
the whole scene.

Amongst the inmates of this convent there was an old
Russian monk, who was evidently the butt of the others.
Poor old fellow ! five-and-twenty years he had been in
the monastery, and yet he could hardly speak a word of
Greek. "Two, three words I know," he said; "wine,
bread — no more." His principal companion was a clever
tom-cat, which he had trained to turn most wonderful
somersaults, and which Avas brought out into the court of
the monastery to perform before us. " Ah ! " exclaimed a
sharp-witted young Zantiote, who was standing by, with
a look of compassion, "the Russians are thick-skulled" (ot
'Pcocro-ot elvai xovhpoKecpaXoi). Besides this Zantiote there
was another very clever young monk — the same, whom
I have mentioned as finding difficulties in Thucydides,
who for inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge was a
thorough Greek, and a striking contrast to the Russian.
He knew all about the Greek authors and their dialects,
and his acquaintance with ancient Greek history was as
minute as if he had just been preparing it for an examina-
tion. Again, he was perfectly familiar with modern
European geography, and understood the position of
second-rate towns, such as Strasburg and Buda. He
asked numerous questions about the " English Episcopal
Protestant {Sca/jLaprvpov/JievT]) Church," and Avhen he dis-
covered my companion was in the militia he asked
for information about the English army, the different
branches of the service, the sub-divisions of the regi-
ments, the officers, and a variety of other points. Seeing
that he had an evident taste for secular subjects, I was
curious to discover whether a grain of scepticism had
entered his mind with regard to the system of beliefs by

I 2

ii6 Mount Athos. Chap. V.

which he was surrounded, and accordingly I put one or
two leading questions to test this ; but nothing of the
kind was traceable. He spoke of the miraculous legends
with the same simple faith as the others, and on any
point of doctrine referred at once to the Councils as
being of unquestionable authority.

The next morning a three hours' ride over the moun-
tains, in the midst of scattered shrubs, with views of the
sea far below, brought us to the monastery of Xero-
potamu, or " The Torrent," which is so called from the
ravine and river-bed which lies directly beneath it. The
Superior, by whom we were entertained during the few
hours we spent there, had been a grocer at Corfu, and
though he talked of the delights of tranquillity, yet the
fidgetty restlessness of his manner suggested the idea
that he would have been much happier behind the
counter. In his company we visited the church, which is
truly magnificent, perhaps the finest on Athos, and con-
tains two very remarkable relics. One of these is a frag-
ment of the true cross, and consists of one long piece of
dark wood, and two cross pieces, one above the other,
the upper one, which is the shorter of the two, being
intended for the superscription. Though not exactly a

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 9 of 31)