1176 – Zwergers book "Wege am Athos": old paths and deathly victims

Skulls of monks in the ossuarium of Bogoroditsa

In Blog nr 1119 I wrote my first impressions about this book (buy it here!). It is not an easy task to make a summary of its contents, because mr Zwerger chose to write his book in a diary-form, with a lot of different information, collected over many years. But the knowlegde he had about Athos and especcially about hiking on the Holy Mountain, is like a goldmine. It would recomment the book to all pilgrims who already paid a visit to Mt. Athos, but not to people who plan to go there for the first time, because the information he gives in his book is too specialized.

unknown ossuarium skulls 4
Unknown ossuarium

The main theme in his book is his enormous effort to restore the old foothpaths during the period 1990-1996. At that time he already had the age of 66 and he continued to visit the Holy Mountain until he was at least 70 years old (from 1956: 49 times in 50 years!).

Skulls at Prodromou

I am quite impressed by the amount of kilometers he walked on Mt. Athos during his explorations of old paths. On one of his trips he made a big mistake: during a trip he found out that the path led to a death end and he was unable to continue his way. He wanted to go to an Athos-monastery, that was nearby and he already had it in sight. So he decided not to turn around and follow the path back again, but he chose to go his way through the wilderness. This is a classical mistake many unexperienced visitors to Mt. Athos make, and the mistake might be even dangerous too (we made this mistake in 1997). Sometimes people die getting lost in the wilderness

Konstamonitou knekelhuis
Ossuarium Konstamonitou

Photo by Tats, place unknown

Mr. Zwerger discribes how he gets into trouble, because the terrain gets very steep and the thorn bushes make it almost impossible to go on. Because he had his map and an altimeter he could save himself.
But there are stories told that pilgrims disappeared on Mt. Athos without any trace.

053 Athos Dionysiou - schedels
Skulls Dionysiou

Xenofontos skulls
Skulls Xenofontos

Mr Zwerger even recollects two actual deathly victims on Mt. Athos (page 162). In the mid or end of 1990 a German pilgrim simply disappeared on a trip between Sografou and Chilandariou. Some people claimed that a group of Albaniens commited a crime, but there is no prove for that. Mr. Zwerger beliefs he probably died of a heart attack. Because only his rucksack was found, he thinks that wild animals must have taken the body or bones to an unknown spot.

04-10 Lavra 14

Lavras osteofilakio

And than there is the story about an Austrian, who started ahike in Lavra. He had planned to walk

to the top of Mt. Athos. After he was last seen at a dry well at 500 meters high, he never returned and his body was never found.
Mr. Zwerger poses a theory that he might have been tempted to descent the mountain from a different slope. Sometimes it looks easier to go down, and especially when you make a jump, you might never get back and climb up again. Nowbody knows what happened to this pilgrim (while his family was waiting for him on a nearby Greek Island). So take this warning: never leave a path and try to go your own way, unless you are in a group, but even then this warning is valuable.



Skulls in the Skete of St. Andreou – Serail

Mr. Zwerger also told this crazy story. While visiting Docheiariou his eyes fell upon the skull of a young child. A monk explained that this child probably died of an illness during the Second World War, when women from neighbouring towns fled to Mt. Athos!

Vatopediou ossuarium 11 jan 2005 2
Skulls in an unknown kellion near Karyes 

unknown second ossuarium

unknown second ossuarium 2

Wim Voogd, 20/1 (NB.: today our application for the Athos trip 2011 was sent to the Pilgrims bureau!)

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7 Responses to 1176 – Zwergers book "Wege am Athos": old paths and deathly victims

  1. Bertinos says:

    The “multi-headed dragon” with 10 crowned and horned heads is the Beast (which number is 666) from the Apocalypse (hence the depiction of the old Saint John the Divine/Theologian in his cave at Patmos). The first scene with the Virgin Mary refers to chapter 12 from the Apocalyps.

    PS: her 12-starred crown was taken as flag of the European Union…

  2. Wim says:

    Here is the complete tekst of chapter 12 of the Apocalypse of St. John:
    And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: 2 And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. 3 And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: 4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. 5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.

  3. Fremaki says:

    Hello Wim,
    The second picture is probably Osiou Grigoriou’s osteophylakion.
    The fifth picture is from Ιερό Χιλιανδαρινό Κελλί του Αγίου Ιωάννη Χρυσοστόμου, 10 minutes walk from the Saint Andrew’s skete, close to the old footpath to Vatopedi.
    No idea about the last two pictures…

    By the way, when will you be on Athos this year ? Personnaly, I’ll go in May and in June : we might meet !

  4. Wim says:

    Would be great to meet, but our journey is planned in October….

  5. Fremaki says:

    Too bad…
    By the way, I thought reservations in the Pilgrim’s Bureau are open only 6 month in advance, not earlier ; do you benefit from a ‘special treatment’ or am I wrong ?

  6. Wim Voogd says:

    No, I did not get any special treatment, because today I heard that I have to wait another 2 months, before I can apply again. I just tried to get permission as soon as possible, in order to book an early (and cheaper?) flight to Thessaloniki. Another reason for booking now was that, when I tried to make a reservation in 2009, exactly 6 months before the date of our planned pilgrimage, I was somewhat sureprized to hear that the requested date was already fully booked!?!

  7. Norbert Müller says:

    Mr Zwerger’s book “Wege am Athos” is a really amazing collection of his Athos experiences over many years. While our small group appreciated his detailed map for planning our tour in advance of our 4-day’s visit on Athos in 2006, I read his book three years after our visit… and it provided a lot of additional information and adventurous stories that go far beyond what we have seen during our short stay. Anyway reading his stories is an excellent motivation for planning another tour!

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