Monastery Xiropotamou Mount Athos

Only half an hour's walk away from Daphne, on the narrow, 11-kilome­tres- long dirt road joining the port to Karyes, we find the Monastery of Xeropotamou, built at a height of 200 metres on a gentle slope which runs down to the western shore of the peninsula.

Tradition attributes the founding of the monastery to the empress Pulcheria (399-453), wife of the emperor Marcianus, or to the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959) or yet again to Romanus I Lecapinus. However, the most plausi­ble account relates that it was built at the end of the 10th century, only a few years after the Monastery of the Great Lavra, by the monk Paul Xeropotaminos. This monk, who was also the first hegumen of the monastery, was one of the outstanding spir­itual personalities of the time - as was his contemporary Athanasius the Athonite -and was one of the signatories of the first Typikon of Mt. Athos, the "Tragus".

Standing on a height next to the bed of the Xeropotamos (or "dry river"), which in the winter or after heavy storms swells dan­gerously, the monastery flourished in the 11th century, thanks to funds pro­vided by the Byzantine emperors, and be­came one of the most beautiful and rich­est of the monasteries. This prosperity lasted until the beginning of the 13th cen­tury, except for the intervals during which the monastery suffered serious damage from earthquakes, pillage by pirates and Saracens or looting by Catalan mercenaries. After the reconquest of Constan­tinople by the Byzantines, the monastery was granted financial assistance by the em­peror Michael VIII Palaeologus (1259-1328), as is recorded in a chrysobull, known as Michael's "chrysoboulos logos" ("gold-sealed word"). According to tradition, the em­peror actually visited the monastery in per­son. When, in 1280, almost all the edifices of the monastery were devoured by flames, another emperor, Andronicus II Paleo-Iogus (1282-1328) provided the financial resources for its reconstruction and made important donations. Because of this he was counted among the new founders of the monastery.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the rulers of Serbia donated large sums of money to the monastery; these were used to build high defensive walls and a tower that could withstand a fire. In 1445 the Katholikon was rebuilt from the beginning, but an­other disastrous fire broke out again dur­ing the Turkish occupation (1507).

The terrible damage caused by this fire was repaired thanks to the efforts of the monks themselves and to the financial assistance of the sultan, Selim I (+1520). The story goes that during a visit to Egypt, Selim dreamt, one night, that his army was sur­rounded by a number of handsome youths who told him that his house (the Ottoman dynasty), would gain mastery over a huge empire, on condition that he show himself generous to a monk who would soon pre­sent himself and make some request. The sultan, surprised and uneasy, discussed his vision the next morning with his ministers and discovered that all of them had had similiar dreams the night before. When he asked one of his Christian soldiers to in­terpret his dream, he was told of the ter­rible devastation which had been suffered by the Xeropotamou monastery on Athos. The sultan showered Xeropotamou and all the other monasteries on Athos with lav­ish gifts and decreed, by a document known as the "Hati Sherif' or "Sacred Ordinance", that the Holy Mountain was thenceforth to be under his personal protection.

The terrible destruction caused by anoth­er fire that broke out in 1609 was repaired thanks to the aid of the Rumanian rulers. At that time, Xeropotamou had risen from the ninth to the eighth place in the Athonite hierarchy, a rank which it retains to this day. However, as the years went by, the monastery lost much of its landed prop­erty. After 1760 the monastery flourished once again for a time, when the Ecumeni­cal Patriarchs Timotheus II (1612-1620) and Methodius I (1668-1671) offered financial assistance in the form of important grants. However, a more substantial contribution was made by the Greek poet and scholar, Caesarius Daponte, who, before he became a monk, was ambassador to the court of the Phanariot hospodars of Mol­davia, Constantine and John Mavrocordatos. On his numerous journeys Daponte was able to raise considerable sums for the monastery of Xeropotamou and the monastic community managed to still have large amounts of money at its disposal, even after the restoration of the edifices and the construction of the great tower. Daponte's method for collecting money, which con­sisted in presenting holy relics and frag­ments of the True Cross for veneration during his travels, was later copied by oth­ers, in their effort to raise the funds nec­essary for the repeated repairs needed by the monastery.

The walls of the Katholikon, which was built between 1761 and 1763 with the help of Daponte, were painted in 1783 by the artists Constantinos, Athanasios and Naoum from Korytsa. In spite of the fact that they are relatively recent, these wall paintings are of superlative quality. In the Katholikon, engraved beside the double-head­ed eagle, there is an inscription composed by Daponte in the 18th century, which refers to the year 6438 from the creation of the world, a date that corresponds to the year 930 according to our system of calculation. Besides the superbly carved wooden iconostasis, there are 200 portable icons in the church. The phiale of por­phyry, which is in the courtyard next to the katholikon, was built during the pe­riod of Daponte (1783).

The murals of the Refectory, which was erected with funds provided by the hospodar of Wallachia, Alexander, were paint­ed in the mid-19th century by the artist Sophronius and Nicephorus from the Skete of St. Anne. Fortunately, the books, the relics of the saints and other treasures be­longing to the monastery escaped un­damaged from the catastrophic fires that repeatedly devastated the monastery. The latest fires broke out in 1952 and 1974, and the damage suffered by the south-west wing during the last one have yet to be re­paired. In the library housed over the narthex are preserved 409 manuscripts, among which 20 manuscripts on vellum, and over 4,000 printed books and in­cunabula.

In the monastery's treasury is kept the largest known fragment of the True Cross. Apart from this holiest of relics, the moa valuable work of art is without a doubt the ophite paten of Pulcheria, a gift of the em­press herself. It measures 15 cm in diam­eter and has been very finely engraved on the inside with a depiction of 15 figures around the main scene of the Preparation of the Throne. Here are also to be found the holy relics of the "Forty Martyrs", as well as some amber croziers and several gold-embroidered vestments and liturgi­cal vessels.

The Xeropotamou monastery, dedicated to the Forty Martyrs, celebrates its feast day on 9 March. Four kellia and most of the buildings of the port of Daphne belong to the monastery.


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