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MONASTERY OF MEGASPELION.
couple of years since; but such is the number of strangers who from time to time come here to pass a night, that, naturally enough, the monks did not remember him. Profiting by a pause in the conversation, we excused ourselves on the ground of our day's travel, and betook ourselves to the room prepared for our reception, in one of those singular overhanging houses that crown the monastery wall. It seemed to be the best guest-chamber in the edifice. We were assured that we were but following in the footsteps of royalty, King Otho and Queen Amelia being uniformly entertained in this room whenever they come hither.
In the morning we were conducted through the building. The church, of course, was the part that the monks took most delight in exhibiting. Croziers and crosses, curiously carved, with other articles of solid silver, were proudly and admiringly displayed. But it was the holy “eikon," or picture of the Virgin, made, as we were informed, by the hands of St. Luke himself, and discovered during the Middle Ages by a princess of imperial blood, for which they expected the greatest veneration. The monks bowed profoundly and crossed themselves frequently before it, and reverently kissed the glass with which it is protected from the too rude salutations of the vulgar. This ugly portrait is, in fact, a bas-relief of poor execution, on a blackish wood, and does little credit to the skill of its reputed author. If authentic, it would seem to prove that St. Luke, besides being a wretched dauber, was a very inferior sculptor. Fortunately for the artistic reputation of the saint, there are tokens of its being a product of mediæval times, as evident as are to be found in any portrait ascribed to the same source in the Italian churches.
The brazen gates of the church, made at Jannina in Epirus, some seventy or eighty years ago, are of elaborate workmanship.
From the church we were conducted, through intricate corridors and dark stairways, to the kitchens, the baking-rooms, the refectory, and the wine-cellars—each department being on a scale commensurate with the size of the monastery and the number of its inmates. There were a number of large casks of wine in the cellar, the two largest, Stamato and Angelica, being enormous. Their exact capacity I can not tell;
but the weight of the wine they could contain is estimated respectively at 40,000 and 60,000 pounds.* The wine kept here is all produced by the vineyards belonging to Megaspelion, and intended for homé consumption. Not less than 160,000 or 170,000 pounds of wine are drunk at the monastery in the course of the year. Most of the revenues of the establishment are derived from the sale of the Corinthian currant, about 400,000 pounds of which are yearly sold by its agents. This year the crop has so signally failed, that the holy friars are in great trouble respecting their resources.
The library is contained in a small, dark room, and is kept perpetually under lock and key. There seemed to be about a thousand or fifteen hundred books and bound manuscripts; but in former times much larger and more valuable collections existed here. On two different occasions the library fell a prey to the conflagrations which reduced the monastery to ashes, notwithstanding the tutelar care of the sacred image of the "Panagia" in the chapel. The remaining manuscripts are principally transcripts of the Greek liturgical works and of the Gospels, and many of them are beautifully illuminated, after the manner of the Middle Ages. We could not examine the works critically in the short time at our disposal ; but this had undoubtedly been done by others before us. remarkable fact, that this small library is probably the largest collection of books to be found in any monastic institution in Greece; while the number contained in the monasteries of Mount Athos, in Turkey, though much larger, is not supposed to be very considerable. The incessant wars to which this fair but most unfortunate country has for ages been subject, the spoliations of western travelers, and the ignorance and carelessness of the inhabitants, all combined, are scarcely sufficient to account for such a total dearth of mediæval literature.
We strolled through the gardens and along the hill-side for a fine view of the monastery, to commit to paper, while the “ hieromonachus,” who had been our chief guide, pointed out to us the elements of its strength, and narrated the most striking incidents of its history. In 1770, during the revolt in which the Peloponnesians madly involved themselves by giv
* 16,000 and 24,000 okes.
It is a
DEFENCE OF THE MONASTERY.
ing faith to the lying promises of Russian emissaries, the wary monks stood aloof, and, indeed, lent their aid to the Turkish captives, multitudes of whom they fed, lodged, and sent in safety to their own homes across the Corinthian Gulf. This kindness proved the salvation of Megaspelion, and was amply rewarded by the protection extended to the truly philanthropic monks.
Such a course was no longer practicable when the flames of the Revolution of 1821 burst out, and the conflict was a struggle, not for mere political supremacy, but for national and individual existence. The question now to be decided, was whether a single Greek should be permitted to breathe; for a deep scheme had been laid by the Sultan and his advisers to annihilate every vestige of the Hellenic race, and replace it by a barbarous horde of Albanians and Turks, that should render more implicit obedience to the Porte’s commands. It was, consequently, one of the objects of the Turkish generals to reduce this fortress, commanding so important a passage between the Gulf and the interior. But the monk pointed out with pride the spot where the intruders were met and repulsed by the "Pallecaria," or braves, collected by the monastery. On a former occasion, we were informed, the enemy had climbed to the top of the cliff overhanging the cave, whence they hurled down huge fragments of rock, with the intention of overwhelming the building; but the projecting ledges themselves protected it from injury. With superstitious reverence our guide directed attention to one large boulder on the verge of the impending rock, which seems to be just about to fall. The invader had, with much toil, conveyed it to its present situation; but the Virgin, the patron of the monastery, interposed her power, and miraculously secured it fast just as it was about to descend.
There are altogether some two hundred monks at present in the building, besides fifty more attending to the cultivation of their farms in different parts of the Morea. Their life is an easy one, and their accommodations are much superior to those of the common people, by the sweat of whose brows they live.
Starting early this morning, we took the road for Vostitza.
At first it led along the small stream Buraicus, but presently diverged to the left. We lunched at a solitary khan in full view of the mountains of Northern Greece, and thence descended into a narrow plain bordering on the Gulf of Corinth. While the baggage proceeded at once toward Vostitza, we turned to the right, and rode half an hour or more, to visit the Cave of Hercules Buraicus; but it was scarcely worth our trouble. It contained nothing remarkable, with the exception of some niches, which may have been intended for the reception of votive offerings. We had wandered some distance from the public road, and we now took a more direct course across the plain, which was partly overgrown with myrtle, laurel, and oleander. The vicinity of Vostitza, however, is admirably watered, and almost marshy. It is cultivated chiefly with thriving vineyards of the Corinthian currant, of which Patras is the principal mart. Vostitza itself we found to be more handsome and well built than most Greek towns of its size, and with a population of only a few thousands, possessed of considerable commerce. It is built on the site of Ægium, the most prominent city of the famous Achæan league. Its ancient and modern pre-eminence it owes to a.harbor or roadstead, on a coast where there is a great lack of safe anchorage. There are few or no remains of the ancient city, and the most interesting object we saw was a plane-tree of gigantic proportions, growing near the water's edge.*
We wished to cross the Corinthian Gulf at this place, and, as soon as we arrived, empowered Nicholas to make inquiries for a suitable caïque to transport us, with our luggage and beasts of burden, to the opposite shore. He soon returned, and reported that there was but one such boat in port, and
* Our guide Nicholas told me that at a small village called Pteri, a short distance northwest of Megaspelion, on the River Buphrasia, there is a much larger plane-tree. It is hollow, and in the cavity twenty-four persons can stand at once. This is pretty well for a country that has suffered so generally from the improvident destruction of the forests. The plane-tree, or platanus, is the largest that grows in these regions, and is probably as long-lived as any. There is one upon the banks of the Bosphorus, near Constantinople, which is believed to have been that under which Godfroi de Bouillon harangued the first Crusaders, at the close of the eleventh century of our era.
BARGAINING FOR A BOAT.
that the owner, having learned our situation, demanded the sum of one hundred and fifty drachms. The captain came to see us in person, and affirmed he would not abate a jot from the exorbitant price he asked. In reply, we offered him seventy drachms, and assured him that if he refused that price we should go on to Patras, where we were sure of finding an abundance of suitable boats. He left us no less than three or four times, and each time returned with a lower offer. He gradually fell to a hundred and twenty-five, ninety, eighty, and finally seventy, drachms, and agreed to start as soon as we desired.