2240 – Xiropotamou monastery and the question of the strange figure in de clock tower (a jaquemart) – part 2

In post 2234 I showed pictures of the surrounding area of Xiropotamou and the graveyard/ossuary.

In this post we wil take a closer look at the courtyard and its buildings. As said before, it is not easy to present pictures of this monastery, because the archondaris and the monks are not very keen on visitors, especcialy if you are not orthodox. Even a group of Rumenean Orthodox pilgrims, who kindly requested if they could see the Katholicon from the inside, were refused rather bluntly, provoking indignant reactions.

We will start this photo survey at the main gate: a marble gate with a large icon behind glass of the 40 Martyrs (where the monastery is dedicated to) and a beautiful haute-relief in the frieze. Under the frieze is a text in Greek visible, but it is almost impossible the see or read it.

The text under the frieze

The corridor behind the main gate that leads to the courtyard: here the archondaris welcomes you and checks your diamoniterion.

The courtyard with the Katholicon in the centre, the Phaile on the right and a place where plants and herbs grow in pots.

Looking back at the entrance. On the groud floor on the left you are invited to have a small meal and a drink or coffee. The stairs lead to the archondariki and your rooms.

The clock tower, Phiale and Katholicon.

When you look at older pictures from the clock tower, you will see a strange phenomenon, that occurs in a few monasteries on Athos: above the clock you can see a statue of a figure (a man) standing, holding a club (or sword?). I found two photo’s from 1911 and 1927:

Perilla 1927
Hasluck 1911

Probably most visitors of Athos remember the same figure standing in the clock tower of Vatopedi:

and I also found a photo of the this figure, that once stood on the clock tower of Iviron monastery (thanks monk T.) – this one has disappeared in the meanwhile.

Iviron Monastery 23-6-2007

Here in Iviron you can clearly see a man with a hammer and a bell. It took me some time to figure out before I found some more information about this strange (black?) figure. Finally I found this website of a Georgian artist, who renovated the man with the hammer in Vatopedi monastery. He tells about his renovation activities and he explains the meaning of this strange figure (in Vatopdi also with a sword/scimitar).

‘On the tower of this monastery there is a 300-year-old clock and a monument of a man with a sword. The man is also holding a hammer and an iron plate. Every half an hour he hits the hammer on the plate and reminds us that we are mortal’.

This is maybe the simple explanation about this enigmatic statue. But I wonder if this figure is typical for Athos bell towers or if this phenomenon is found at other places? And why does it appear to be a black man and why has he a (Turkish?) scimitar? Why is he dressed in this way? Many questions are to be answered yet.

The (empty) left window above the modern clock in the clock tower of Xeropotamou monastery in 2019.

Wim Voogd. 6/6/22

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1 Response to 2240 – Xiropotamou monastery and the question of the strange figure in de clock tower (a jaquemart) – part 2

  1. Japetus says:

    These bell striker figures or jaquemarts as are called, are automata that usually depict father time/chronos and with their appearance suggesting memento mori, as is in death coming closer each hour that their bell tolls, hence the sword.

    They were common in monasteries in the west but seem to be a novelty or a fashion in Athos that arrived pretty late, at the second half of 18th century. I thought only Vatopediou had one, very interesting to see that at least two other monasteries featured these.

    Western monasteries might depict demons, death with a sickle or other mythological creatures, but these were a no-no in greek orthodoxy. The figure of ‘Arapis’ instead is common in greek folklore for the archetypal fear bringing icon, probably having its origins from the saracen pirates that brought fear -in Athos too- with their sudden raids..

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