1769 – A closer look at Chilandariou (second day, first intermezzo)

When we walked around the monastery of Chilandariou after a short stay at guesthouse, details caught my eye. Stony details to be precise, in the walls and sometimes on the floors. I would like to share these elements with you, dear reader.DSC_4059.b.webJust opposite of the main entrance of the monastic complex lays this field of bumpy stones. A cat had found a nice spot to dose off. He had his eyes closed. To the left is a source. Metal cups wait for thirsty pilgrims who want to refresh themselves with Holy Water. The blue shrine is left empty. There is nothing to venerate there. But it has a beauty of its own. To the right a Serbian Cross guards the entrance of the Monastery.DSC_4065.b.webThe outer wall of the katholikon has many carved stones. The stones closest to the curved windows are carved as ivy. Like interconnected French ‘fleurs-de-lis’, lilies. The other stones show abstract figures. The big round stone in the middle contains a flower. A closer look learns that there are more organic figures behind the plaster. The little head in the middle is odd. I have the impression that these stones are of pre-Christian origin.
The double-headed eagle. Symbol of Mount Athos, the Greek Orthodox church, Serbia and indeed much more. First used as a symbol in Mosul by the Seljuk Turks in 1058, so I learned. And two hundred years later, in 1250, by the Holy Roman Empire (that medieval empire in the centre of Europe). And then from Byzantium to Russia and much further, in fact you can find it in flags and coats of arms all over Europe. Even soccer clubs in the Netherlands have it as symbol in their flag. It would be a nice idea for a historian to explore the geographic spreading of the bicephalous eagle in time and space.
DSC_4080.b.webEven the inside floors are nicely decorated by skilful monks. In Chilandariou I found two different patterns. The first with a flowery pattern in black and white stones.  The second with a hexagram nowadays known as the star of David.

chilandariou A. Costa photoI found a picture from 1964 by A. Costa of the same floor with a sitting monk with a walking stick.
DSC_4085.b.webTwo interesting animal heads enclose this window. The kind of animal is not so clear to me. It could be lions. Or maybe guarding dogs. It might be mythical creatures. Anyway a rather rare figuration. Pre-Christian as well, I suppose.
DSC_4086.b.webThis bas-relief can be found in the wall of the katholikon. It has flower motives as well as curved, wave like, figures. There are two sets of three pillars. It is well known that on Athos there were several villages in the pre-Christian era. Sometime you can see pillars and other remnants. This might be pre-Christian as well. Pilgrim Herman did some research on that issue before. Herodotos (450 -420 BC) wrote about it:  “Here, upon this isthmus where Athos ends, is Sand, a Greek city. Inside of Sand, and upon Athos itself, are a number of towns, which Xerxes was now employed in disjoining from the continent: these are Dium, Olophyxus, Acrothoum, Thyssus, and Cleonae. Among these cities Athos was divided.” But neither of these cities is close to where Chilandariou is now, according to most of  the maps.  Although according to another map (the big one that we got in the grape yards of E. Tsantali) the ancient ruins of Olophyxus can be found between Chilandariou and Esfigmenou, close to the Miloutin tower. So I think it is highly probable that the pre-Christian stones have been reused for the katholikon.

Bas Kamps


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2 Responses to 1769 – A closer look at Chilandariou (second day, first intermezzo)

  1. Goran says:

    Hi Bas, just few things to share with you: check out the history of Chilandariou and serbian dynasty Nemanjici.
    The mentioned ‘ 2 headed eagle sign’ is symbol of that dynasty. Father Stefan Nemanja Nemanjic (St Symeon) & his son St. Sava are the founders of Chilandariou.

  2. athosweblog says:

    The bas-relief in the wall of the katholikon probably comes from an old stone iconostasis, which could be found in the early churches from Athos. You can find similar carved stones in the phiale of Lavra – and Zygou -,(also see post 508: http://athosweblog.com/2008/06/17/508-a-trip-to-athos-day-2-nr-6/. And the capitals of the columns do not look pre-Christian to me, so this must be a stone made by a Christian artist!?! NB Pagan images or art usually are not found in the wall of a church, but somewhere else in the monastery, like the funeral stele, in a Eastern building/wall of Koutloumousiou. Wim Voogd

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