Horticulture in Urban Monasteries

So far I have focused on monasteries located in the countryside and explored ways in which monks converted forest or desert into gardens. In turning briefly to urban monasteries, and the impact of monastic gardens on the cityscape, I limit myself to the case of Constantinople. Monasteries were an important aspect of the urban scene of the capital from the early period of its development. Little attention has been given so far to the siting of monasteries in the capital, but it would be interesting to study the locations of new foundations over the centuries to see if there was any preference for sites on a hill, or with a sea view, or in a quiet suburb. Some monasteries were established in semi-rural regions just outside or even within the city walls, in spacious calm surroundings with a beautiful natural setting. Others, founded in the very heart of the city, were built in a more constricted space and probably limited horticultural activity to the interior of the complex.

Prokopios notes, for example, that Justinian established the Pege monastery (Fig. 21) in a suburb where there "is a dense grove of cypresses and a meadow abounding in flowers . . . , a garden abundant in beautiful <plants>, and a spring bubbling silently forth with a gentle stream of sweet water."81 There is abundant evidence that many urban monastic complexes incorporated gardens and vineyards within or immediately outside their enclosure walls.82 The early fifteenth-century traveler Clavijo comments, for instance, on the gardens, or-

78 PG 99:1744a. At the Lavra on Mount Athos, vinedressers received extra rations of wine on the days when they pruned the vine branches; cf. Meyer, Haupturkunden, 139.

79 S. Petridès, "Le typikon de Nil Damilas pour le monastère de femmes de Baeonia en Crète (1400)," IRAIK 15 (1911): 108.

80 VIrene Chrys, chap. 15, p. 66.15-16: tOv llloGoÛ tOv thç movfjç jnelffiva Kalliepgoûvta.

81 Prokopios, Buildings, 1.3.6, trans. H. B. Dewing, Procopius, vol. 7 (London-Cambridge, Mass., 1940), 41.

82 Vineyards: the convent of Chrysobalanton had a vineyard "situated close by" (V Irene Chrys., 66); a vineyard adjoined the Chora monastery (L. Deubner, Kosmas und Damian [Leipzig-Berlin, 1907], miracle no. 47, p. 206.54); for vineyards within the monastery of Athanasios on Xerolophos, see MM, 2:82. Gardens: for the garden at the monastery of Christ Philanthropos, see Gautier, "Le typikon de Théotokos Kécharitoménè," 139.2124.

Gardening Nuns

20 Nuns gardening at the convent of Ormylia, Greece

(photo: after S. A. Papadopoulos, Ormylia [Athens, 1992], fig. 101)

20 Nuns gardening at the convent of Ormylia, Greece

(photo: after S. A. Papadopoulos, Ormylia [Athens, 1992], fig. 101)

chards, and vineyards located within the precincts of the monasteries of the Prodromos of Petra, Peribleptos, and St. George.83 A chapter from Theodora Synadene's typikon for the nunnery of Sure Hope, describing the perimeter wall of the convent, provides a vivid image of the abundance of gardens in the vicinity of the monastic complex: the wall goes along the boundary between her son's garden and the convent garden; it then passes another garden and comes to Theodora's own apartments, where it passes by her garden, having on its left the vineyard ofTheodora's sister; later the wall passes by the vineyard for which she herself had arranged the planting.84

In addition to cultivated plots within or immediately adjoining the monastic complex, monasteries acquired by purchase or donation gardens, orchards, olive groves, and the like in other regions of the city or in outlying suburbs. These are frequently attested in inventories of monastic property or in synodal acts ruling on disputes over vineyards and gardens belonging to monasteries.85

The concern of monastic founders and benefactors not only with the functional purpose but the aesthetic impact of gardens and other plantings is suggested by a passage in the Chronographia of Michael Psellos describing Emperor Michael IV's restoration of the Kosmidion monastery; in addition to the refurbished buildings, he mentions "lovely baths,

83 C. Markham, Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo (London, 1859; repr. NewYork, 1970), 30-31, 39.

84 Typikon for Bebaia Elpis, ed. Delehaye, Deux typica byzantins, chap. 145, p. 95.

85 E.g., typikon of Lips, ed. Delehaye, Deux typica byzantins, chap. 49; MM, 2:394-95, 395-99, 407-10, 410-12, 499-501, etc.

Constantinopolis Kosmidion
21 Icon of the Zoodochos Pege, 19th century, showing suburban setting of the Pege monastery outside the walls of Constantinople (photo: E. Papazyan)

numerous fountains, beautiful lawns, and whatever else can delight or attract the eye."86 Likewise Constantine IX Monomachos surrounded the monastery church of St. George of Mangana with "lawns full of flowers," water channels, and basins. "People marvelled at ... the streams of water, . . . the lawns covered with flowers, the dewy grass, always sprinkled with moisture, the shade under the trees."87 The eleventh-century patriarch Constantine Leichoudes is praised by Psellos for the construction of waterworks permitting the installa

86 Michel Psellos, Chronographie, ed. E. Renauld, vol. 1 (Paris, 1926), 72; trans. E. R. A. Sewter, Fourteen Byzantine Rulers (Harmondsworth, 1966), 105-6; Janin, Églises, 287.

tion of a garden and lawns at the convent he founded.88 A twelfth-century dedicatory epigram for the Pantokrator monastery alludes to grass and flowers, fountains, cypress trees, and gentle breezes.89 The fifteenth-century typikon of Patriarch Matthew I for the Charsianeites monastery stipulates that the abbot is to entertain guests at mealtime only in the refectory, not in the garden, thus implying that he enjoyed dining al fresco.90 The best evidence on the appearance of urban monastery courtyards is found in Clavijo's account of 1402: he mentions cypress, walnut, and elm trees within various monastic enclosures (Fig. 22).91

It is well known that, as the population of Constantinople declined over the centuries, the area within the walls became much less congested, so that at the end of the empire the capital was more like a group of villages separated by wheat fields and vineyards.92 What has not been sufficiently appreciated is the role played by monastic horticulture in the "greening" of Constantinople, a topic that warrants further investigation.

Lawn Care

Lawn Care

The Secret of A Great Lawn Without Needing a Professional You Can Do It And I Can Show You How! A Great Looking Lawn Doesnt Have To Cost Hundreds Of Dollars Or Require The Use Of A Professional Lawn Care Service. All You Need Is This Incredible Book!

Get My Free Ebook


  • ennio cocci
    How to get to ormylia monastery?
    8 years ago

Post a comment