2091 – Athos: Feature Documentary from 2016 and a film from an American Athos pilgrim in January 2019

In post 1901 we showed the screener of the German-Austrian documentary film from 2016, “Athos – Im Jenseits dieser Welt”, now also available on YouTube in HD quality with English subtitles (called “Athos – Feature Documentary”). This 95 minutes long excellend film by Peter Bardehle and Andreas Martin might be a good idea to see during the coming Holy Days, together with this film of 30 minutes made by a American pilgrim last winter: “Mount Athos – An American Protestant Pilgrimage”.

Merry Christmas to you all! Καλά Χριστούγεννα σε όλους!

Wim Voogd, Herman Voogd, Bas Kamps


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2090 – “The beauty of the Mountain, which remains, in my experience, the loveliest piece of scenery in all the universe.” About Steven Runciman

The men on this picture were shown before, in the post about the painter Derek Hill. Now we shift our focus to Steven Runciman. An interesting man who travelled for the last time to the Holy Mountain when he had reached the age of 97. Sir Steven Runciman is the second on the left, next to Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia. To put him is his era, he studied French with Aldous Huxley and was a close friend to George Orwell.

According to Andrew Robinson, a history teacher at Eton:

“he played piano duets with the last Emperor of China, told tarot cards for King Fuad of Egypt, narrowly missed being blown up by the Germans in the Para Palace hotel in Istanbul and twice hit the jackpot on slot machines in Las Vegas”. (Wikiwand)

If this was put in a film, the critics would comment that such a life is rather unlikely. In addition: his first student in Trinity College in 1927 was, the later British diplomat and Sovjet agent Guy Burgess, who is remembered for his intellectual brilliance and his dirty fingernails. His life spanned nearly a century in which he travelled a lot. Thanks to an inherited fortune he had the means to travel. A famous quote of his: “riches should come as the reward for hard work, preferably one’s forebears”. Runciman is well known for his History of the Crusades. The book was criticised for his admiration of the Byzantine Empire, which was damaged severery by the brutal forces of the crusades. The fourth crusade lead to the downfall of Constantinopel.

A photographic portrait of Steven Runciman at his home in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. made by Murdo Macleod for the Guardian.

As said he travelled to the Holy Mountain in the year 2000 when he had reached the blessed age of 97. The reason he travelled there was that he wanted to witness the blessing of the Protaton Tower at Karyes, which had been refurbished thanks to a gift from him. He had donated his Onassis prize of 1997. The price was $ 200.000. He inaugurated the monastic archive of the Tower. His first trip to Greece was almost more than a lifetime ago, in 1924.

Here we have Steven Runciman as a student in Cambridge.

Anthony Bryer describes Runciman in his obituary as follows:

“It was to Mount Athos that SR (Steven Runciman) made his final and most astonishing journey, in July 2000, in his 98th year. It was to inaugurate the treasury and archives of the Holy Mountain, to which he had dedicated his Onassis Prize of 1997. They are housed in a fortified library, the Protaton Tower, which is a Byzantine version of Elshieshields Tower where SR kept his own papers in Dumfriesshire. The Patriarch of Constantinople did not come, having some trouble with the monks of Athos, but SR was pleased that the monastery of Vatopaidi gave him the guest-room used by the Prince of Wales. In an interview there he spoke of his first visit to Athos in 1937, but did not mention his return then, by bus to Thessaloniki when he assisted at the childbirth of a fellow passenger, in a thunderstorm. The scene is described in A Traveller’s Alphabet under A for Athos.”

In his book A Traveller’s Alphabet: Partial Memoirs (1991) the lemma under A is Athos and not Athens were he lived for more than a year.

The Protaton Tower in the fog as we saw in in April this year.

In the tower the following text can be read:

“This tower of the Protaton was restored, decorated, and enriched as a treasure house for both archive and library, that is as a sanatorium for the soul, and as a store for vestments, and was brought to its present state of splendour through the generous support of the great master and leading light of all those who are concerned with the Eastern Roman Empire and the history of our nation, Sir Steven Runciman, so that this building, which was once the defence tower of the village of Karyes, should now be the guardian of the treasures and of the saving memory of the Holy Community, on the 2nd/15th day of July in the year of our Lord 2000.”
(Quote from the Yearbook of the Friends of Mount Athos, 2000.)

He delivered a speech and talked about his first visit to the Holy Mountain: he had arrived in July to find it shrouded in a chilly mist such as he had left a few days previously in his native Scotland. ‘But the skies soon cleared and I was able to see the beauty of the Mountain, which remains, in my experience, the loveliest piece of scenery in all the universe.‘ (Quote from the Yearbook of the Friends of Mount Athos, 2000.)

A painting of Steven Runciman by Stephen Conroy

After his death his collection of Edward Lear watercolors were donated to the Scottisch National Galleries.

Bas Kamps

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2089 – discovery of female remains in a chapel near Pantocratoros

Today this article is published in The Guardian, about recent finds under the floor of the chapel of St Athanasios, just outside the walls of the monastery. It looks like the bones they found are that small, that they have belonged to females.

At the red arrow: the chapel of St Athanasios near Pantocratoros

“If a woman is found among the bones it will be the first known incident of a female finding her final resting place on Mount Athos,” said the architect restorer Phaidon Hadjiantoniou, who discovered the remains while conducting conservation at the chapel.

“There are times during pirate raids and hostile incursions that monks are known to have opened their doors to women but it is very rare,” he said. “There is a famous tale of a Serbian king who brought his wife to Athos but, throughout, she was carried and never allowed to step on Athonite soil. Carpets were placed in all the monastery rooms to ensure that even there she didn’t touch the ground.”

Copy from The Guardian: the ‘female’ bones in the floor of the chapel

The bones are a secondary burial, so they have been moved from their original burial site. Dr Yannis Maniatis will conduct carbon dating to determine the date of death. This will give some answers about the time and maybe whereabouts of these bones. May they even date from classical/pre-Christian times, when Athos still was inhabited by Greek families?

Wim, 16/12 (thanks Gert Jan and Rolf Bos)

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2088 – The path and stairs to the cave and chapel of St. Nelios

april 2019

Looking down the path to Kavsokalivia is clearly visible. We came from there and I took the photo below from the cave and the chapel, high up the rock, while standing on this path. Watch the striking red trunks of the strawberry trees at the beginning of the stairs.

The cave and chapel of St. Nelios.

Herman Voogd

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2087 – Pilgrim portraits by Barry Oreck

In April 2019  we went to Athos with our dear friend from the US, Barry Oreck. It was for him the first time on the Holy Mountain. Sensing the special moments during our stay he made some beautiful portraits.


After arriving in Dafni we took the bus to Karyes. From Karyes we visited the nearby monastery of Koutloumousiou and walked via Kapsala to Pantocratoros where we spend the night.

stream near Pantocratoros

The path from Pantocratoros to Profitou Eliou was difficult to pass because of the rainfall,

courtyard Vatopedi

From Profitou Eliou we walked back to Pantocratoros and then following the coastal path to Vatopedi. This was our 2nd night.

Path ob the south slope of the mountain

From Vatopedi we took an early taxi to Karyes, then the bus back to Dafni where we took the boat to Kavsokalivia. There we started walking, along the south slope of the mountain, to the skiti of Prodromou.

Nelios, the path to the cave

On this third day we made a short detour to the spectacular cave of Nelios.

resting at the cave of Nelios
arsanas Simonas Petras

The last day we walked from Prodromou to Lavra where we took a taxi for a long trip again to Dafni where we took the boat to Simonas Petras, our last monastery.

Halfway up to Simonas Petras

From the arsanas it is a short climb to the monastery. A portrait of Jacques Poell.

Back to Ouranoupolis passing Xenophontos.

Photo’s by Barry Oreck

Barry Oreck at Nelios

Herman Voogd

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2086 – Agiou Paulou monastery: the pavilion of Princess Mara

Agiou Paulou

One of the more physical proofs that there has been a woman on Athos is the Pavilion of Princess Mara, born in 1416 and a daughter of a Serbian monarch Đurađ (George) Branković . She married Ottoman Sultan Murad II for political reasons. She is also the mother of the conqueror of Constantinople, Mehmed II. Mara kept, despite her marriage, true to her Christian faith. She donated money and dependencies to the monastery and later, after Constantinople fell, she bestowed the gifts of the Three Magi upon the monastery: a holy relic, an Ottoman loot from the fall of Constantinople. 

The kalderimi from the monastery to the pavilion
The Princess Mara pavilion (at the red arrow)

Legend has it that Mara tried to present the gifts to the monastery herself, but she was stopped on the spot where the pavilion is by a voice from heaven, telling her that a Queen already stays on Mount Athos, the Virgin Mother. This happened after the fall of Constantinople on May 28th 1453.

the front of Mara pavilion
With two dates on the arch: 1470 and 1928

The year 1470 must be the moment when Mara presented the gifts of the Magi, I presume. The date 1928 is probably the year that the small pavilion is build, also named “Kyra Mara”. I do not know why a clock, carved in stone, appears here. The large hand of the clock points between 8 and 9, the small hand at the 12: what could be the reason?

This painting is inside the pavilion: Princess Mara presenting the three gifts to the monks: “no place for secular rulers”.

This long text in Greek is found under the painting
The door to the chapel with marble decorations above it (with a large crack in it!).

Two icons, the other half of the painting and some objects inside the pavilion.

The chapel seen from its sideway.

Wim Voogd, 9-12-2019

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2085 – Women who ignored the avaton

on the tourist boat looking at Panteleimon

 In early legal documents (in the years 970 and 1045) the exclusion of women is implied but it is never specifically stated. According to Graham Speake in his book Renewal in Paradise the principle of Avaton was so well established, so widely understood that there was no need to spell it out. In 1924 the prohibition of women had been officially stated. In Greek law any woman who sets foot on Athos will receive a prison sentence of between 2 and 12 months.

Here are some women who did enter the Holy Mountain (or not?):

Galla Placidia

The first violation of the Avaton  was , according to the legend, Galla Placidia in the 5th century. She was the daughter of Emperor Theodosius I. When she entered the church of Vatopedi she heard a voice from an icon saying: “Stop! Come no closer, for another queen then you reigns here”.

on the right Helena of Bulgaria

Helena of Bulgaria the wife of Serbian Emperor Stefan Dusan in 1345. She went to Athos to protect her from the plague, but she did not touch the ground during her entire visit, as she was carried in a hand carriage all the time.

Aliki Diplarakou, a Greek “Miss Europe” entered Athos dressed as a man in 1930. Her story was later featured in Time Magazine on 13 July 1953, in an article titled “The Climax of Sin”.

Maryse Choisy

In 1931 by French journalist Maryse Choisy, who disguised herself as a sailor.

She wrote about her experience in a book entitled “One Month With Men”.

A clearly manipulated image of Maryse Choisy, dressed as a man, in the streets of Karyes. Did she made everything up or did she really stayed a month on The Holy Mountain?

The first photograph of this post and this one, I made while being on the tourist boat in 2018 where many women take the opportunity to get an impression of the peninsula and its monasteries.

Herman Voogd

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