When Raymond Geldermans travelled to the Holy Mountain in 1972 and in 1982 he found the skiti of Andreou, alias the Serail, completely in ruins. As Wim recently pointed out in recent posts the skiti still has its ruins. But in those days it was practically left alone, it was dying. The complex was about to collapse.
This picture is taken in the spring of 1972. The serious condition of the building is obvious. The stairs were covered with shrubberies. The building on the left was literally falling apart (picture by Raymond Geldermans, april 1972). How could this happen?
The Serail was a Russian settlement, since the late nineteenhunderds, and had its heydays before the Russian Revolution. Grand Duke Aleksey Alexandrovitch, son of Tsar Alexander II lay the first stone of the big church on the 16th of june 1867. The imposing size of the complex, by far the biggest on Athos was a horror to the Greek, who nicknamed it the Serail, the palace. From the 1917 revolution the influx of Russian monks dried up due to travel restrictions in the communist era. In the sixties only one Russian monk lived in the skiti. When he passed away the complex was left completely empty. Later it was taken over by the Greek who started restoration work.
For Geldermans it was an intense Pompeï experience. As he wrote: In ictu oculi, in the twinkling of an eye, all life is petrified. There was a shoemakers workshop, a chemist and much more. As if the monks could return anytime.
A misty morning walk towards the Serail. This picture has got a special quiet and mysterious atmosphere. Exactly how a walk on the Holy Mountain should be (picture by Raymond Geldermans, april 1982).A warning sign posted on the entrance door. The sign reads: “Attention, danger, death”, as if death is an infectious disease you have to be warned for. (picture by Raymond Geldermans, april 1982). In an attempt to find the exact location of the ossuary, Geldermans came to the conclusion that is must have been building D in Wims recent post. It is the L-shaped building on top of the map. Nowadays all the floors have disappeared and so, probably, have the human remains.
An enormous collection of skulls piled up in an open cupboard. Eleven layers and at least twenty skulls per board. So hundreds of them, several generations of monks. It seems to be the complete group of Russian monks who worshipped, prayed and worked here since the middle of the 19th century. Memento Mori (picture by Raymond Geldermans, april 1982).The skull and bones of the last monk, as Geldermans called this picture, collected in a rusted olive oil can. Probably after someone collected the remains to store it somewhere. It looks as if it was forgotten and left alone. Contemporary Pompeï. When there was no living soul left there anymore. (picture by Raymond Geldermans, april 1982)
Many skulls were displayed on shelves….some were put to rest on a chair…
And the last ones seems forgotten.
Normally a deceased monk will stay for 3 years or longer in a grave. When there is need for the grave because another father has died, monks dig up the bones and skull and bring the remains to an οστεοφυλάκιο ossuary. Name and day of death are put on the forehead of the skull (all above pictures by Raymond Geldermans, april 1982).A lot has changed since those dying days. Nowadays the domes and crosses glow again in the morning sun as signs of a brighter future (picture by Bas Kamps, September 2013).
Bas Kamps & Herman Voogd
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