353 – Books: John Athelstan Riley 1887

Athelstan Riley, Athos or the mountain of the monks published 1887.
The whole text of the book is online. Here follows his interesting account of the ascent to the summit in 1883:

So away we rode, the Archbishop, O (= his friend Rev. Arthur Edward Brisco Owen, hv) and myself, the faithful Pantele in front with his master’s stick, and two muleteers to show us the way.

Up we went, past the region of forest trees, over the rocks and loose stones, which afforded but trea cherous foothold for the mules ; but these wonderful beasts never once came down. Our prelate was in merrypin. The keen mountain air seemed to have raised his spirits to the highest pitch. He had provided himself with a long and thick stick, and as he rode behind O ‘s mule he devoted himself to accelerating its pace by the most vicious prods and blows, ‘ Thwack, thwack,’ went the stick, ‘ Hi ! hi ! ‘ shouted the Arch bishop, and the unfortunate animal would bound up the mountain side with sudden jerks which momently threatened to shake its rider from his seat.

‘ I wish the Archbishop would lose that stick,’ said O ; and presently he did, and a pretty fuss there was until it was recovered !

At last we reached a rocky platform overhanging a precipice, on which stands the little Church of the Panaghia, 1,000 feet below the summit of the mountain. Attached to this chapel is a hut, in which the pilgrims rest on the night before the festival of the Transfiguration. Nobody lives here, and the place is only used on this one night of the year.

Beyond this point the mules could not go ; so we dismounted, and having looked into the little church went inside the hut. A wooden sleeping-bench formed its only furniture, upon which I lay down to rest for a few minutes before we recommenced our ascent. Meanwhile O had converted another part of the bench into a temporary observatory, and was engaged in taking the readings of the aneroid and the thermo meter, so as to calculate the height of the mountain. We had not been more than two minutes in the hut when I saw O hastily investigate his dress. ‘ Why, here’s a flea !’ said he, ‘ and another ! and another ! and another !’ He caught a dozen straight off, and then snatching up his scientific apparatus dashed out of the room. I was not slow to follow him, before the fleas had time to turn their attention to me. They had evidently been left behind by the pilgrims five days before, and were naturally exceedingly hungry. After a few minutes’ rest on the grass outside we started for the summit, to the Archbishop’s great disgust, for he wanted to take an hour’s nap. We were soon past the pine trees, climbing up the steep side of the white marble peak by a zigzag path. Very soon the Arch bishop became exhausted, and, as we feared he would never reach the top, whilst we were determined to finish our climb, we left him sitting on a rock, and gained the summit of the mountain in exactly one hour after leaving the Panaghia. We found ourselves in a cloud, and it being very chilly we took refuge in the little Chapel of the Transfiguration, lighted the lamps of the iconostasis (with great difficulty), for the wicks, like everything else in the chapel, were as wet as they could be and sang Magnificat.

This chapel is of the most primitive construction. It has no windows, and a dome built of loose stones forms the roof, through the holes in which a few rays of light penetrate into the church. It measures nine feet from the west wall to the iconostasis, and five beyond to the east wall. At the west there is a shed, which might be called a narthex, containing a little well scooped out of the rock to hold the rain water from the roof. On the iconostasis are four icons of brass, those next the holy doors representing the Transfigu ration and the Blessed Virgin, the others St. Atha nasius and St. John the Baptist. On coming out we found that the clouds were no longer round the peak, but were floating beneath us. The rocky platform at the top of the mountain is very small ; there is only just room for the chapel and a small path round its south and west sides. On the north the mountain de scends abruptly in a tremendous precipice ; on the remaining sides the platform slopes a little before breaking away. Just as we had sat down to rest and O had lighted a pipe, the clouds cleared off and dis closed the land and sea below us. To the north the promontory stretched away to the mainland, twisting itself into little bays and gulfs, looking like some snaky monster floating on the sea. We could distinguish several of the monasteries on the east side of the pro montory, lying peacefully by the sea shore. On the west of us was the Gulf of the Holy Mountain spark ling in the sunshine, and, beyond, the peninsula of Longos, or Sithonia ; on the north-east the blue waters of the Strymonic Gulf, with the island of Thasos in the distance ; on the south the open sea, with Lemnos on the horizon. It was indeed a glorious sight.

Whilst we wem thus enjoying ourselves a cheery voice broke the stillness of the air, and round the corner of the chapel wall appeared the Archbishop, with the faithful Pantele bringing up the rear. The prelate threw himself down beside us, exhausted by his unwonted exertions but yet immensely pleased with himself. ‘ We are all hadjis now,’ said he, using the Turkish word for a pilgrim. And, indeed, a visit to the Holy Mountain, including the ascent of the peak, is looked upon by the orthodox world as a pilgrimage second only to that of a visit to the Holy Land. When he had recovered his breath he bethought himself of the perpetual cigarette, but the papers had been left behind.

Donnez-moi votre tchibouque,’ said he to O , who thereupon handed to him his pipe, and the Arch bishop began to console himself with the fragrant weed.

No wonder he was tired ; in addition to his ordinary grey cloak lined with ermine he had put over all another enormous cloak, also lined with fur, from which his head alone appeared. Fancy climbing a mountain in two long fur cloaks and a cassock !

We left the summit at a quarter to four o’clock, after having picked up some loose pieces of marble as memorials of our pilgrimage. When we had de scended a short distance, O , finding his stone heavy, handed it to the Archbishop to be passed on to Pan tele, for him to carry ; but the prelate in his excess of good spirits tried to throw it to his cavass, which of course resulted in its flying wide of its mark and roll ing down the slope until it was lost at the bottom. Whilst the Archbishop was giving vent to his merri ment at the catastrophe, his foot slipped and he very nearly met with the same fate, and there was something extremely comical in the sight of the Arch bishop lying flat on his back with his high hat bounding down the side of the mountain and taking a short cut of its own to the bottom. However, we all reached the Panaghia in safety at 4.45. We instantly mounted our mules, for we observed to our dismay that the blackest of clouds was descending from the top of the mountain, and that a great storm was evidently brewing. We rode down as fast as we could, and reached Kerasia at six o’clock.

More on this book at nr. 220.  .

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1 Response to 353 – Books: John Athelstan Riley 1887

  1. Vasilis says:

    Athos on stamps. A new series was published on 4 july 2008. Title: Holy Monasteries II. The five are:
    x95 ?????????????
    x95 ???????????
    x95 ????????
    x95 ?????????? ???
    x95 ??????????


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