Icon, Iviron 1535
But what is it like never to look at a woman? Hector gazes across some olive groves at the sapphire Aegean: “Well, actually, once every few years, one or two monks may indeed see a woman. Sometimes, you understand, women come to the beach here, for an adventure. It is illegal, but they come swimming. They wear bikinis, and then… then is difficult for us.” He looks wistful for a while. Then he smiles again. “But most monks will never see a woman. And after a time… you know… is not so difficult.”
Another clue to the monks’ attitude to women is provided by the writings of Robert Curzon, an English traveller who visited Athos in the 1840s. On his wanderings around the monasteries, Curzon came across a man who had been left as a foundling on the peninsula, and thereafter been brought up by the monks. This experience meant the man had spent all his life in Athos, and therefore had no idea what women looked like. The only idea of the female body that the man possessed was derived from icons of the Blessed Virgin. Perhaps that is why the man asked Curzon if all women had haloes.
Article by Sean Thomas in the Guardian 2007. If you want to read the book of Curzon it is available on line.