The third contact print from the Cas Oorthuys files in the Dutch photo museum contains pictures of Simonos Petras and Docheiariou. He did not visit these monasteries, because photographs up close are missing. And on this contact print number 99027 I run into a chronological problem. The two monasteries are in fact far apart and between the monastery are the harbor town of Dafni, Xenofontos and the Russian monastery Panteleimonos situated. Cas Oorthuys did pay a visit to this Russian monastery, as we will see on the next contact print, that I will publish later. I suspect that Cas Oorthuys confused his travel schedule afterwards and that he accidentally pasted Docheiariou into his contact printout earlier.
Simonos Petras monastery, seen from the arsanas – harbor. This probably one of the finest monasteries on the Holy Mountain, that looms over the rocks on which it is built. Many people say this monastery resambles the Tibetian monasteries in the Himalaya.
The arsanas of Simonos Petras in 1957 and – by coincidence – my photo on the same spot, 58 years later.
The monastery of Docheiariou, seen from a boat. This is the last monastery that you will see from the baot before arriving in Ouranopolis. As you can see on the map below it is very far from Simonos Petras.
Docheiariou monastery in 1957.
When we visited this monastery in 1980 we were the only two pilgrims. We met a professor from Thessaloniki, who microfilmed the books from the library and gave us a tour in the old tower. I remember the age-old parchment covers and the pages that had tiny holes, made by the bookworms. One of the bound pages would be a page from a 4th century book.
Four fishermen in their boat at the harbor of Docheiariou, one of them drinking water from a bucket.
Docheiariou: another photo of the fishermen in their boat and the jetty.
The second contact print from the Cas Oorthuys files in the Dutch photo museum contains pictures of Karyes, the Protaton church, and pictures of men (with the writer A. den Doolaard?) on the road with mules, probably going from Karyes to the monastery Xeropotamou.
Here is an image of the clock tower belonging to the Protaton church in Karyes, with a man pulling a loaded mule. In the background the building of the Holy Epistatia, the main seat of the government on Athos.
On this next picture, made on the same spot, you see that construction labor is being done on the outside walls of the Protaton. It looks as if the original stones of the outside walls of the church are being covered with a plaster, that was still there when I took the picture below in 1986.
During the last renovations of the Protaton, when the fundaments were also secured, all of this (ugly) grey plaster has been removed and the original stones reapeared, as you see on the picture above.
Xeropotamou monastery seen from above.
A large group of mules pass the pilgrims when they go to the next monastery, somewhere near Xeropotamou (?). Cas Oorthuys and his two fellow travelers had only one mule.
A monk passes by on his own mule.
The entrance to the monastery Xeropotamou with the mule of Cas Oorthuys (?). The pine trees on this picture are gone today.
Xeropotamou: the entrance with a monk
Xeropotamou: the pilgrims enter the monastery
The Xeropotamou entrance in 2019: almost nothing changed. The glass frame that protects the painting of the 40 martyrs above the door has been replaced by a modern one and the frames of the windows that have been slightly changed. The windows on the second floor are smaller and the color blue with some decorations were added on the wall. The pine trees has been cut down and vines have taken their place, just like the situation in 1928 (see postcard below).
Somewhere outside Xeropotamou (?): a man on a mule
A man sitting on a fence, bare-chested. This photo must have been taken somewhere outside a monastery, because monks would not allow any half-naked men in their surroundings. It is unknown to me who this might be, maybe their guide Asterios Kyriasis? According to me this man does not resamble the writer mr. A. den Doolaard.
Already 12 years ago I expressed my wishes to show you more about the journey of one of the most famous Dutch photographers, Cas Oorthuys, to the Holy Mountain, together with the Dutch writer A. den Doolaard (link to my post about Ewing Galloway). They visited Athos four days – three nights in July 1957 together with their guide Asterios Kyriasis, who spoke French and a little English. The writer published his travel experiences in 1959 in his book “Greeks are not gods” (post 1531). In december 1959 two articles were published in the magazine “Katholieke Illustratie” with many photos of Cas Oorthuys, who lived from 1908-1975 (more in posts 636, 646, 649 and 652).
In 2018 my wishes to open the Oorthuys Athos photo collection finally came through: in that year the Dutch Photo museum in Rotterdam started the crowd sourcing project Captions for Cas: 33,649 sheets of contact prints were digitized (with 500.000 photos and slides!) and I provided the descriptions of the 72 contact prints (more than 800 pictures) he took in Thessaloniki, Chalkidiki and Athos. The huge job ended in October 2020 and now the entire project is made available to the public (look here). Recently I received the museum’s generous cooperation to publish five of these contact prints. The first one I chose to share with you are the twelve pictures from his visit to Vatopedi monastery (see the contact print above). Let’s have a closer look:
A monk walks on the road that leads from the arsanas up to the Vatopedi monastery.
Cas Oorthuys and A. den Doolaard started their Athos pilgrimage in Ierissos. Early in the morning they took a Greek diesel kaik from Ierissos to Vatopedi monastery, together with their guide and tow monks. Later they visited Karyes, Xeropotamou and Gregoriou and Dionysiou monastery. They ended his trip visiting Panteleimonos and went – along Dafni – back to Ouranopolis by boat. From the boat he made pictures from the monasteries Simonos Petras and Docheiariou.
The courtyard of Vatopedi with the katholicon on the left and the East wing on the right.
The belfry and clocktower in the courtyard of Vatopedi: in between them you can see the trapeza.
A view from a gallery in the East wing.
These beautiful overviews are taken from the highest position in the West wing, where you can overlook the roofs and the chimneys.
The next two photos are from the interior of the trapeza (refter) of Vatopedi. As you can see on the picture below that I took 29 years later in 1986, the bottom of the tables were not painted blue yet. Nowadays the blue color is painted over again in white.
The entrance to Vatopedi with mules.
The outside wall of the North wing of the monastery, where the archondariki – guesthouse is situated.
This nice photograph is from the book Tour de Grece by Amadee Ozenfant from 1938. The heavily packed mules just passed the main entrance and came a long way over the monopati, probably from Karyes. In the background the stairs to the guestrooms of Vatopedi. I assume this are not pilgrims but muleteers who are bringing supplies to the monastery.
This is the last climb that pilgrims have to endure after a long walk. In 2009 we walked the coastal path from Mylopotamos to Vatopedi with stops in Iviron, Stavronikita and Pantokratoros.
In 2019 we walked from Pantokratoros to Vatopedi also along the coast but first taking a detour to Profiti Elias. Here, already without backpacks, we climb to our room.
While many of us and the world around us suffer under the terrible consequences of the Covid-19 virus, I am happy to give you some good news. In these hard times I have been reading a book with stories that show that there is also a good virus: the Athos-virus. And the men (and one woman) who wrote their stories for this book, are all infected by the same virus: as soon as you get infected, it won’t let you go.
The book explains the many different reasons one finds to go back to the Holy Mountain over and over again and why the “monastic magnet” pulls you to this special place.
FoMa 30 years celebrations
In post 2176 I explained that the book was published to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Friends of Mount Athos (FoMA) and the initiative came from the footpath team. The participants visit, at the instigation of HRH The Prince of Wales, Athos from 2001 on yearly basis, to keep the paths and to re-open lost or overgrown paths/monopati.
The book is compiled and edited by Peter Howorth and Christopher Thomas and is divided in four parts: Before, Encounters, FoMA Footpaths Project and Back Matter. It has 304 pages with 130 illustrations and the foreword is from HRH The Prince of Wales (Charles) himself. It also includes a map made by Peter Howorth, with eight illustrations: three maps of Athos (one of the sediments, and two with the numbers of the illustrations of Efrem and plants on them), a side view of the Athos peninsula, seen from the South-West, a small map of Greece, a plan of the capital Karyes/the Konaki (see 1269), its surroundings called Kapsala and the route of Way of the Bey. I was lucky in 2017 to go on a hike through Kapsala together Roland Baetens – Efrem – from Belgium, who is the photographer and who is mentioned in the story by David Stothard (P. 222 – “the technique of crawling on hands and knees to find a lost path”- to read more click here: posts 1970 and 1972).
The first part of the book is about former visitors to Mount Athos and who wrote books about it, like the famous book from Sydney Loch, who lived in the tower of Ouranopolis together with his wife Joice Nankevill Loch (see 1214). In this part is a chapter called Monoxylites, a text from the book ‘Dare to be Free’, written by Sandy Thomas. The most interesting is that Peter Howorth, based on a letter Sandy wrote to his parents after he arrived in an army camp in Syria, now added the last chapter of this book, that was never published before. It tells how Sandy ended his journey during the Second World War after he left Mount Athos, a fascinating addition to the book and it makes his story complete.
Another story, written by John Warrack -The Diary – from 1953 reminded me of the same experience I had in 1986, when I stayed at Dionysiou monastery during Easter and had the possibility to attend the all-night Easter Virgil, that lasted 7 hours, that ended early in the morning with the lightning of the candles, while all the cheerful monks were saying: “Christos Anesti!” (and with a copious meal with fish and wine afterwards). Almost every chapter in this part has its own special information: Michael Bruce tells the story about the orphan who guided the mules and said that he came to Athos as one year old baby. In October 1959 he was 10 years old: he had never knowingly seen an woman in his life and was looking forward to see the world outside!
The (according to me) main theme of the book comes back in many stories in part two “Encounters”: what brings men to go to the Holy Mountain? Abbot Ephraim says that “no one comes to the Holy Mountain by accident: whatever reason they think they are coming for, is not God’s reason” – p. 70). And Roumen Avramov says: “What then does a secular, atheist and rationalistic academic look for in the Holy Mountain? I think it is a conscious or implicit quest for spirituality in the broadest sense, a thirst for history, art, nature and friendship”. I fully agree with this last view. During my first two visits to Holy Mountain in 1980 and 1986 I was complete overwhelmed by the beauty of the nature and the fact that you entered a place where time stood still and where the Middle Ages still existed. I remember sitting in Karyes one evening in April and at dusk when somebody came by with a ladder to lighten the oil street lights with a fire. They next day I was lucky to buy an Agios Nicolaos icon made by the Pachomaioi brothers, who recently still lived in this house in Karyes (see post 1728).
And I remember the toilets at Iviron clearly, that hung on the outside of the wall! During following visits I opened my eyes for the beauty of the icons and paintings and I started reading about the history, while realizing that a visit to Athos was getting a glimps of what once has been the Byzantine empire. Chistopher Deliso says about this (p. 182): “as a repository of the cultural and spiritual heritage of Byzantium, the Holy Mountain continued to play a vital role in the living history of that civilisation”.
One of most exciting things was to discover that some buildings stood empty for decades. Near Karakallou we entered the deserted Timiou Stavrou kellion, where we found the passports of the Ukraine monks lying on the floor. We could see that they first travelled to Istanbul/Constantinople and then to Jerusalem, after which they went to Athos, where they died somewhere in de 60 or 70-ties last century. In the years after the group of pilgrims who joined in a pilgrimage got bigger and friendship started playing a more and more important role. Bart Janssens even says in this context about his footpath path-clearing team and its meticulously run operation: “man does not need friends, he needs brothers in arms” (with only clippers and a pair of gloves!).
To answer the question why Athos attracts many men like a monastic magnet, Chistopher Deliso puts it down in a few words: “whatever the case, Athos is always working on you, restoring you to strength, giving you the answer to a dilemma and preparing you for the return to the outside world. Most fundamentally, the Holy Mountain returns you to that world a better man than when you arrived”.
FoMA Footpaths Project
Part three is about the FoMA Footpaths Project. We learn that even Prince Charles helped to clear the paths in 2001 (p. 199). Many other interesting facts are shared by the writers. I did not know that before cars came to Athos (in 1952 the first was used for transport wood by Agiou Pavlou monastery and in 1963 to transport king Paul en Prince Constantine from Dafni to Karyes for 1000th year Athos celebrations), pilgrims could borrow a mule only as far as the next monastery. At that time the Athos landscape was very different from now, because all these thousands of mules had to be fed by letting them graze pastures. All these pastures has disappeared from the landscape, as we can read in the fourth part of the book: Back Matters. Here we learn that Athos is “a unique botanical paradise, in an almost primitive condition, thanks of the lack of grazing animals” – p.264. But at the same time, because of the disappearance of non-woodland to feed the mules, no roe-deer are to be found on Athos and because of this, no wolfs (or hardly any: read more here: 1916). The last part gives a lot of interesting facts about the ecology and nature, and not in the least, an extensive overview of Athos vegetation and flora by Philip Oswald, illustrated with pictures. Thanks for this useful information!
Let me end this review of this wonderful book with a minor critical note: at first glance I thought the book is written by and for a FoMA in-crowd, because almost all texts in parts 2, 3 and 4 are produced by FoMA members (except for the two female writers Veronica Della Dora and Anna Conomos-Wedlock?). The book might have been more in balance if more writers from outside would have been asked to contribute to the book. Not all writers have the gift of writing a good short story (nor do I by the way), but I must keep in mind that probably not everyone is used to write texts. But everyone of the authors shares his own true experiences and stories, written from the heart and personal perceptions. And I realize that if even more writers from outside would have participated, the book probably would have been twice as thick. The same applies for the pictures used: they illustrate in a sound and proper way the stories told, but they were not made by professional photographers. I know for example that father T from Simonospetras has a lot to offer in this respect, because I have seen his photo collection and I have to say that his photographs are of an outstanding quality.
But anyway, for all those who never visited the Holy Mountain but especially for those who have been there, this book is worthwhile to read. All the individual stories tell us which impact a pilgrimage can have on a person, no matter what reason you have to go there, and this book makes a complete overview of how beautiful and special Mount Athos is. But beware: “Before you come to Mount Athos you must have a plan. But when you arrive here, you must be prepared to change, disregard or tear it up completely. Things will happen according to God’s will, not yours. It is important to let go of your “worldly” mindset and embrace what might seem like obstacles and or difficulties. You must not worry. The Panaghia will guide you!” (Peter Brian Desmond – p. 251).
This is what I would recommend: buy this book and spend a few valuable hours during this Christmas reading it. The book is not cheap, but not more expensive then the Christmas diner you hoped to have in a restaurant. And a fact is that you didn’t go to Athos this year, so with the book on your lap (it is big!), start dreaming about your next pilgrimage in 2021 and that the “Athos”-virus can infect you again (where we all hope and pray for).
But mind you, bring shears and clippers, because we will probably need it to (re)conquer the possible overgrown monopati and kalderimi on the Holy Mountain, that have been left untouched for 9 months now, despite of the fact that a small group of the FoMA footpath team has been able to do some fieldwork on Athos in May 2020!
The first monastery where the ferry calls is Dochiariou. Since 2014 this monastery is enriched with two bronze statues of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. During our last pilgrimage I had an opportunity to take close-ups, en face, of the archangels. They both stand on a large pillar along the pier. The pillar is sculpted in the ancient Greek tradition, with an Ionic capital.
Michael with his sword, the guardian of Orthodoxy. And Gabriel, the foreteller of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. It is said that the statues are protecting the avaton, the rule that Athos is forbidden for women. Probably even more important is the fact that the monastery itself is dedicated to these two archangels. Inside the monastery two icons of both of them can be found.
The bronzes are made by Fivos Sargentis (1972), a Greek sculptor who works figuratively, both modern and traditional. He makes sculptures in a broad spectrum. His themes vary between Icarus and Charlie Chaplin.
In my opinion these two moderns statues do not add anything valuable to the Uncesco World Heritage site of Mount Athos. I think the priority should lay in the preservation of the site and not in the creation of new works. Especially not in places where it interferes with the historic values of the monuments, like here where the statues are placed in front of the wonderful medieval monastery that was founded in the late 10th (or early 11th) century.
An exception can be made if the works have a specific artistic value, that enhances the splendour of the architecture of the Holy Mountain. That is not the case here, as far as I am concerned.
The splendour of the mediaeval architecture in Dochiariou.
On the boat between Dafni and Ouranoupolis, on the way back from the Holy Mountain, you are often surrounded by seabirds. Mostly seagulls that follow the ferry. They are so greedy that they even pick a piece of bread of a stretched hand.
The last time we left Athos, may 2019, we saw a flock of different birds, flying fast and very low over the waters. They were shearing over the sea. They had relatively long wings.
I zoomed in and took a closer look.
Only recently I tried to find out what kind of seabird this might be. I’m not an expert on birds but some googling taught me that it is probably an Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan, also known as: Levantine Shearwater).
According to the information on BirdLife International it is a native breeder on Mount Athos, especially on the stretch between Dafni and Ouranoupolis, where we sailed. It breeds on uninhabited islands or on very isolated headlands. The species is on the red list and is classified as vulnerable.
John Chrysostomos born 347 – 14 September 407, was an important Early Church Father who served as archbishop of Constantinople. He is honoured as a saint in many religions. The feast days of John Chrysostomom in the Eastern Orthodox Church are 14 September, 13 November (today) and 27 January. His skull and right hand are kept as relics in Vatopedi monastery. Some chapels om Athos are dedicated to this saint.
This is the kellion of St. John Chrysostomos, a large chapel and some buildings. Monks are walking around. This is a very nice print of the kellion, I found on the Mount Athos Heritage site. It used to be a Russian settlement in Kapsala not far from Karyes and Sk. Andreou.
From a distance the kellion/chapel looks like this nowadays. It is in complete ruins. This happened with a lot of Russian settlements when, after the revolution in 1917, the influx of monks stopped.
The chapel, all though in a very bad condition, is still standing upright. The neighbouring buildings are gone except for a few walls.
When my brother Wim visited the destroyed settlement he went inside the chapel and made pictures. A few years later I visited the same spot but didn’t what to take the risk of entering the dilapidated building.
Creepers who has to be almost a hundred years of age, are slowly crushing the stones.
It makes me sad to think that the chapel will collapse in a couple of years and that these remains of the Russian monks then will be buried under the stones and debris of the chapel.
In earlier post we paid attention to the large earthquake of 1905 with an estimated magnitude ranging from 6.8 to 8.3. Eleven persons were reportedly killed. In 2019/20 an scientific article was published with the title The Large Earthquake (~ M7) and Its Associated Tsunami of 8 November 1905 in Mt. Athos, Northern Greece by Triantafyllou, Ι., Zaniboni, F., Armigliato. Its on the internet but behind a paywall. Fortunately some information and a few maps are available. It tells us more about the damage that was caused by the quake, the landslides and the tsunamis.
Parts of the Iviron monastery collapsed including chapels. The ground of the monastery was shaken and new water springs were created. According to an eyewitness monk called Avimelech Mikragiannanitis.
The monk continues saying that the “ entire cone of Athos was reshaped due to the so many falls of marble rocks” . Lavra and the cells of the skiti of Kavsolalivia were damaged by falling stones.
“In the nearby arsanas of Perdiki (Pantes) five seculars and six monks were situated onboard six fishing boats. All of them but one monk submerged taken away by the sea which rose up to 3 m. For it happened that the uphill part of the mountain near St. Peter thrown down covering a distance of half a mile [along the beach]…One monk survived since he rest upon a wooden beam. He was also able to save a secular who jammed in the rocks…”