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From The New Review. MONASTERIES OF THE LEVANT
MORE than half a century ago my relative and namesake, Robert Curzon, afterwards Lord Zouche, made those adventurous travels in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean which he afterwards de scribed in his delightful book, called the Monasteries of the Levant a work which enjoys the distinction, so rare amid writings of the kind, not merely of surviving, but of remaining an authority upon its subject, over fifty years after it was written. As a boy I used to think that there must be something very grim and sombre in the contents of a volume with such a title. Austere monks and faded manuscripts passed in gloomy procession before my dismayed imagination. Nor was the impression alleviated by my childish recollection of the author, who in later life sometimes stayed at my home, and whom I still recall as an old gentleman in a long-tailed coat, habitually perched at the top of a ladder in a dim and dusty library. From this, as I then thought, unaccountable taste, I inferred that the book must be even more appalling than I had pictured it; and it was not till later days, when people began to ask me if I was a son or relative of the man who had written a fascinating work about monas teries, that, rather as a duty than a pleasure, I first opened its pages. But then how great was my surprise! In place of the dull monks and duller manuscripts, found a wealth of incident sufficient to satisfy the gluttonous appetite of a schoolboy; information which might instruct the student; and a sense of humor, keen yet never abandoned.
Accident placed it in my power not long ago to visit the Holy Mountain, and to compare my own experience with what Robert Curzon saw fifty years before. The place itself is so romantic, and even in these pitiless days of steam and rail, so comparatively remote; and the advance of time, which for hundreds of years left almost unscathed the archaic communities that inhabit it, is already beginning to inflict such sad and irreparable wounds upon their external features, that I may,
perhaps, be permitted to add my humble contribution to their share in the literature of travel, even though such excellent accounts of their more modern aspect exist as those of Tozer, Riley, and Bent.
It was after threading the poetic Vale of Tempe, that "long divine Peneian pass,' along the banks of the coffee-colored Peneus, and below the sister heights of Olympus and Ossa and Pelion, that we embarked on board our vessel and started for our destination. Pallene, the nearest of the three prongs which project tridentwise from Chalcidice into the sea, lay right opposite, the low land in the middle of the peninsula giving its loftier extremity the appearance of an island. Over this gap, quiveringly outlined against the sky, stood up the tremendous pyramid of Athos, symmetrical and solemn. As we steamed further out to sea, the true relative proportions of the mountain trinity that we had left behind became revealed. Far away to the south the white spire of Mount Delphi in Euboea glimmered like a shrouded ghost against the horizon. Passing the wooded but uninteresting hills of southernmost Pallene, we put into the tiny harbor of Koupho, snugly concealed in the coast line of the second prong, Sithonia, and early the next morning cast anchor in the little roadstead of Daphne, on the western side of Athos, whose great peak, craggy and twin-pointed, like the teeth of a saw, soared into the sky, while all its lower quarters, from the shoulders downwards, were wrapped in a mantle of the most sumptuous green.
Though I had both read and knew something of Mount Athos, I yet never recollect a case in which I have found the discrepancy between imagination and reality more startling. I had pictured to myself a lofty and more or less precipitous cone, rising in abrupt isolation from the sea, with the monastic retreats perched like wild birds' nests here and there upon its flanks, but all clustered within the circumference of the single peak. Instead, I found a long and narrow and hilly promontory, projecting for forty miles into the sea, covered with the most exquisite sylvan verdure from end to end and interspersed throughout this distance and on both faces
a quite unaccountable eagerness in taking down the names of the yacht, its captain, ourselves, our starting point and destination, and any details that the most persistent cross-examination could elicit.
Of the twenty monasteries the traveller, who has not, at least, a fortnight at his disposal, cannot expect to visit more than a certain proportion, although, as the majority of them are situated within easy access of the sea, the possession of a yacht causes a great saving of time in moving from one to the other.
From the landing-place in the little bay of Daphne we climbed up the hill by a kind of paved causeway to the monastery of Xeros Potamos, so called from a dry torrent-bed furrowing a picturesque gully to the right. This was the monastery where my relative had fixed his headquar
with lovely valleys and enchanting glens, where, at points of vantage, on rocks or on the seashore, had been planted the monastic buildings. These, moreover, so far from presenting an appearance of ascetic humility, or remoteness, or straitened circumstance, resembled rather great baronial castles, with battlemented walls and towers, covering wide spaces of ground, and suggesting less the peaceful though sterile routine of conventual existence than the armed splendor of feudal chivalry. The smaller of these monasteries, crowning the summits of wave-washed crags, would recall the fortress of some turbulent baron of the Middle Ages, successfully defying the power of emperor or of pope. The larger resembled walled towns, or the fortified palace of some great prince, whose hundreds of retainers might be quartered in the courts and quad-ters in 1834, and whence he had conducted rangles below the royal keep. At the seaward extremity of the long and lovely ridge thus beautified by nature and adorned by man, rises, to more than three times its height, viz., to six thousand three hundred and fifty feet, the peak of Athos proper, so familiar an object from pictures, so dread a scare to the ancient mariner, who scented peril and death in its cruel crags and stormy gales. Not more than four or five of the monasteries are built upon the peak of Athos, and these in situations near to the sea, the remainder of the total of twenty being scattered over fifty miles of coast line on either side of the long promontory. Such, roughly speaking, is the panoramic aspect of Mount Athos.
his exploration of the peninsula. It is about one thousand years old, but has suffered severely in war and revolution, and several of its restored buildings are of quite recent date. Entering the gateway, over which is sculptured in white marble the peacock crest of St. Andronicus, we found ourselves in a paved courtyard about fifty yards square, in which, after the invariable fashion of these monasteries, the principal church, a Byzantine structure in brick and stone, stands in the middle, while a marble basin for holy water, under a painted dome, and surrounded by a marble balustrade, is placed just outside. The loggia, or porch to the church, contained the usual frescoes of inconceivable devils, suffering martyrs, and triumphant but
Founded from the days of Constantine the Great onwards, these monasteries rep-dour - visaged saints, among whom St. resent the several branches and nationalities of the Greek Church - Russians, Servians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Caucasians, etc., and are independent and self-governed, a synod, composed of their respective hegoumenoi or abbots, meeting in weekly session at the small inland town of Karyes, to regulate common questions of jurisdiction, estates, and the like. The Ottoman government is represented by a governor at the last-named place, and by fezzed officials of the gendarme type at each monastery or monastic landing-place, who popped up everywhere, and displayed
Demetrius spearing his prostrate foe, and forty famous martyrs who appear to have been first drowned, then decapitated, then cut into pieces, and finally burnt, are the most conspicuous. The interior of this church contains a very richly gilded iconostasis or altar-screen, and we were shown a small MS. of the Gospels, superbly bound in silver gilt. Above the loggia is the library, where the books and MSS. are now neatly stored in cases with glass doors. A French translation of the Decameron of Boccaccio, and a modern guide-book to Paris seemed to indicate that the holy
fathers found time to vary the austerity of | describe the beauty of this, as of all the conventual discipline with occasional dips walks or rides that we took upon the Holy into lighter life. The refectory is also of Mountain. Its sides are covered with the stereotyped order, shaped like the up- thickets of the richest and most varied per limbs of a cross with an apse at the vegetation, the products of antagonistic further end or high table. Here is de- climės appearing to find equal satisfaction picted in fresco the Last Supper, and full- and sustenance on this amazing soil. The length saints of lugubrious aspect, with mule-tracks or paved causeways that lead terrific beards, adorn the walls with a sort from one monastery to another pass of grim splendor. A projecting pulpit is through continual glades of trees or also an invariable feature, occupied at flowering shrubs, plane-tree and pine-tree, meal times by a deacon, who reads passages from the Scriptures, so that even when giving necessary sustenance to the body the banqueters may not forget the superior requirements of the soul.
Around the principal court are three stories of dwellings, built of red bricks in patterns, and in some cases adorned with arcades. A clock tower contains a big clock with the date 1774, and a diabolicallooking stuffed figure standing by its side, who wields a hammer, but plays no part in the striking. The monastery now contains eighty admitted monks and forty probationers, and Merianthus is the name of its hegoumenos.
By this reverend signor we were shown a cell where the monastic tailor was busily occupied with a sewing machine, and which contained also a plank bed and mattress, and a wooden cupboard; and by him, too, we were conducted to the guestchamber, which in all these monasteries, is a room on the topmost story with a balcony facing the sea, and fitted all round with a divan. Here the visitor takes his seat, exchanges compliments, signs the strangers' book, and consumes an incalculable amount of mastic or of anisette, of jam, and coffee - hospitalities which are proffered with a suave regularity, and cannot with politeness be refused. Every monastery further contains several sleeping-rooms for guests, very often neatly furnished with an iron bedstead, a table, and a chair.
Adorned with roses presented to us by the monks, and mounted on mules which they also willingly lent, we next bent our way to the great Russian monastery variously called Russicon and St. Pantaleemon, situated above the sea about forty minutes to the north. I can scarcely
oak, poplar, olive, cypress, and myrtle. There, too, are arbutus and berberis, cytisus and bay, wild spurge and azalea, and everywhere the pale bloom of the asphodel, the white and pink of the cystos, and the overwhelming lilac of the Judas tree. I was extremely anxious to see the Russian monastery, having heard much of its strangely unmonastic character, and of the political designs which it was supposed both to exemplify and perhaps in the future more directly to promote. From a distance at sea we had observed its vast and pretentious buildings, the green cupolas and glittering balls and crosses of its churches, and the huge, factory-like stone structures with red roofs that line the water's edge. As we drew near the precincts we passed through what was no more nor less than a busy Russian village agog with industry and work. Immense stacks of timber were stored in warehouses, heaps of iron girders and even iron rails littered the ground, several forges were radiating a white heat, and scores of workmen, who looked as little like monks as a private of the Salvation Army looks like a Grenadier, were engaged in manifold forms of toil. There were said already to be in the monastery eight hundred monks, and one hundred probationers, with three hundred attendants in addition, making a total of twelve hundred men in the establishment - a sufficient contrast to the one hundred and thirty chronicled by my namesake in 1834. And yet the total has probably by now been greatly increased, if the immense building on the shore, six stories high, and capable of accommodating several hundred persons, the floors of which were just being put in, was designed for further inmates. In the vaults below the monastery there
are reported to be concealed large stores | could blind our eyes as to the character of of rifles and ammunition. A great many the whole institution; and in taking leave of the monks whom I saw looked far bet-of it I cannot help wondering how soon the ter suited to shoulder a musket than to Russicon Monastery will be heard of in wear the cowl; and the entire establish- the drama of European statecraft. ment bore the appearance not of a retreat of pious-minded persons fleeing from the temptations of a wicked world, but of an enterprising colony bent upon aggravating its territories and providing itself with stores, depôts, and all the necessary furniture of temporal aggrandizement. A ship was even being built in the small harbor, where also a steamboat was lying. In the pursuit of these aims the Russian monks have filched a good deal of land from their neighbors, with the result of great discord and even bloodshed. But here, as elsewhere, the Russians appear to conduct matters with an independent hand, and to treat with some indifference the protests or the scruples of their neighbors.
I do not think that the Russians were well pleased to see an English party, and the hegoumenos Andreas failed to put in an appearance, being variously reported as engaged in prayer and as indisposed. The monastery contains four churches, of which the principal is a large building in the main court, containing a great deal of gilding and many silver gilt and jewelled icons, while the newest is constructed in the topmost story of the principal wing. The refectory is a long room shaped like a Greek capital gamma, in the upper branch of which is a large blue fresco of Christ walking upon the waves. Rows of tables were laid out for the midday meal, and a man might fare worse than as a disciple of St. Pantaleemon, seeing that to every two monks were apportioned a bowl swimming with a concoction of vinegar, water, onions, cucumber, and lettuce, and a bottle of red wine, as well as plates of prunes, great slices of brown bread, a wooden spoon, and a knife and fork for each, actually rolled up in a napkin. The monks seemed of a much younger and lustier type than those we had seen at the other monasteries. We were shown the library, which was well equipped and fitted in the most modern style, besides having an excellent catalogue; the visitors' quarters, which were exceptionally extensive and commodious; and the receptionroom, which was an immense apartment, hung with portraits of the Russian and Greek royal families, and with the photographs of eminent ecclesiastics, among whom figured the present Archbishop of Canterbury. Not even the dainties, however, with which we were here regaled
Embarking in the yacht, we now sailed round the great peak of Athos, passing on the way the monastery of Simopetra, superbly situated at the top of a crag sev eral hundred feet above the sea, and connected with the mainland by an aqueduct of two rows of arches. Its projecting balconies a common feature in all these monasteries - and its majestic position, gave it a most picturesque and impressive appearance, though I fear that my excellent relative must have filled in the greater part of his somewhat imaginative sketch of it after his return home. I have since read in the papers that this monastery has been destroyed by fire. Past Simopetra, past St. Nicholas, St. Dionysius, and St. Gregorius, situated at greater or less heights above the sea, but all of them quaint and beautiful; past the grey craggy peak with small hermit huts clinging to its narrow ledges, with its mighty base confronting the waters, and its naked crest dividing the skies; round the southeast corner, and up the eastern coast we glided, till presently, lowering the boat, we pulled into a little cove where a small brig was lying, and which we believed to be the landing-place for the famous monastery of Lavra. We toiled up a steep ascent to a somewhat sombre and inferiorlooking monastery, only to find that we had come to the wrong place, and to see at some distance on the right the battlements and towers of the real Lavra crowning a hill above the sea. A lovely walk of three-quarters of an hour brought us to the monastery gates, where we were welcomed by the hegoumenos, an old gentieman of stately manners and great urbanity. Lavra was once the largest and wealthiest of all the monasteries of Athos; but in war and revolution it has lost much of its external property and endowment, and now only contains one hundred and twenty monks. Its crenelated rampart, its lofty walls, and its watch towers give it the appearance of a fortified town, and it is recorded that it was once defended by cannon.
Entering by the glass-covered porch, we passed through the great gateway, and found ourselves in a courtyard which contained a curious but happy jumble of churches, and shrines, and marble fonts, and wooden balconies, and tiled roofs, and colored walls, and irregular staircases and