Clearing of the Land for Horticulture

The construction of rural monasteries wrought changes in the Byzantine landscape, whether in Palestine, Anatolia, Greece, or Italy, and whether the chosen site was idyllic or harsh. The impact on the land was relatively small compared to that of agricultural village communities and rural estates; nonetheless, monks often served as "pioneers" in undeveloped areas. With the exception of the most ascetic of hermits (the ßOGKot, or "grazers"), who, living in caves, eating wild plants, and drinking rainwater, made virtually no impact on their environment,17 almost all hermits and monks were involved to some extent in subduing and transforming their natural surroundings. One of the biographers of Athanasios of Athos seems conscious of this point when he describes the condition of the holy mountain when Athanasios first arrived there: the land was unplowed and unsown; the hermits did not cut furrows in the ground but collected wild fruits from trees for their food; their huts were made of twigs with straw roofs.18 But when Athanasios began to build the Great Lavra, his first action was to cut down trees in the thick forest and to make level areas in the rough ground.19 Clearing forest land and burning the slash figure in hagiographic descriptions of the foundation of a number of other monasteries in Italy and Anatolia.20

In heavily forested areas, land had to be cleared not only for the construction of churches and cells, but also for planting the gardens, orchards, and vineyards that formed an integral part of most monastic complexes. The biographer of the tenth-century monk Neilos of

16 J. Wilkinson et al.,Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 1099—1185 (London, 1988), 328—29. Choziba must have had at least a small garden, however, since George of Choziba worked at the monastery as a gardener; see p. 59 and note 72 below.

17 An example of such a hermit is Paphnoutios, who preceded Lazaros on Mount Galesion; see VLaz. Gal. chap. 39, .4.455, Nov. 3:521 D: "<He took> his food from the plants that grew in front of the cave, and his drink was the water that trickled down from the rock above it and was caught by that below, lying stagnant where it was hollowed out a little." For more on the "grazers," see note 34 below.

18 VAthan. Ath. (A), chap. 38, p. 19; VAthan. Ath. (B), chap. 13.

19 VAthan. Ath. (B), chap. 23.21—23. See also chaps. 8—9 and 11 of Athanasios' typikon for the Lavra, ed. P. Meyer, Die Haupturkunden für die Geschichte der Athosklöster (Leipzig, 1894), 139.

20 See, e.g., vita of Christopher and Makarios, ed. I. Cozza-Luzi, Historia et laudes ss. Sabae et Macarii (Rome, 1893), 83, 87 (hereafter VChristoph. et Macar.); vita of Sabas theYounger, ibid., 15.15—16, 18.2—7; vita of Nikephoros of Miletos, ed. T. Wiegand, Milet 3.1. Der Latmos (Berlin, 1913), 165.26—32; vita of Nikephoros of Sebaze, ed. F. Halkin, "Une victime inconnue de Léon l'Arménien? Saint Nicéphore de Sébazè," Byzantion 23 (1953—54): 27.14-16.

2 Terraced gardens at the monastery of St. Paul, Mount Athos

(photo: after E. Koutoumanos, Athos from the Heavens [Athens, 1994])

2 Terraced gardens at the monastery of St. Paul, Mount Athos

(photo: after E. Koutoumanos, Athos from the Heavens [Athens, 1994])

Rossano, for example, describes "the monks working on the mountain and rolling <down> the burned trees to make a clearing and transform wood-bearing land into grain-bearing land."21 Rocks had to be removed from stony soil, garden plots leveled, or terraces constructed (Figs. 2, 3).22 In more barren areas, fertile soil might have to be transported to build up planting beds. Thus at the Enkleistra of Neophytos on Cyprus a ravine was filled in with earth to make level terrain for a garden.23

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