Monastery Horticulture

The Complete Grape Growing System

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With some exceptions, planting a garden was an essential aspect of monastic foundation, whether it be a solitary hermitage or an enormous complex housing hundreds of monks. The twelfth-century archbishop ofThessalonike, Eustathios, criticized hermits who withdrew to mountains and, like the Cyclopes, did not plow or plant anything;33 in fact, however, this lifestyle was characteristic of only a relatively small number of ascetics who survived by foraging for wild herbs, fruits, or nuts34 or emulated the example of St. Paul the

32 On Simonopetra, see S. Nomikos, "Water Supply—Irrigation—Water Power," in Simonopetra: Mount Athos (Athens, 1991), 88-112. The typikon of Neophytos, in describing the irrigation channels dug to water the garden of the Enkleistra on Cyprus, comments that sometimes a violent downpour would produce too much water, which would bury the garden with sand and stones, requiring much labor for the monks assigned to remove this debris; cf. Tsiknopoullos, Kuppiaka tupika, chap. 18, p. 88.

33 Eustathios of Thessalonike, Commentary on the Odyssey, 1618.31-34, as noted in A. Kazhdan, "'O teleio" imovaxo" h o teleio" poleiiiath"; o augkepaaimo" twv koivrovikffiv iSavikWv ato BuZavtio," Dodone 15 (1986): 211.

34 Hirschfeld (Desert Monasteries, 215) provides a good description of the "grazer" hermits of the Judean desert, who subsisted on wild plants such as melagria (asphodel), reed hearts, saltbushes, and wild caper buds,

First Hermit, who supplemented his diet of spring water and dates from the ancient palm tree that grew near his cave dwelling with a daily bread ration brought by a crow.35 In reality, most hermits did tend small garden plots, even St. Antony the Great, that model of the ascetic life. His biographer, Athanasios, tells us that when Antony first withdrew to the desert, he depended upon charitable donations of bread for survival.36 Later, however, when he moved to the greater solitude of the Upper Thebaid he became more self-sufficient. He settled at the foot of a mountain, where "there was water, crystal-clear, sweet, and very cold. Spreading out from there was flat land and a few scraggy date-palms."37 In the beginning he accepted bread from his traveling companions and nomadic Arabs, supplementing his diet with dates from the palm trees. Realizing, however, that he was imposing upon others for his bread supply, he decided to raise his own grain. So he asked some visitors to bring him a two-pronged hoe, an axe, and some grain. When these were brought, he went over the ground about the mountain, and finding a small patch that was suitable, and with a generous supply of water available from the spring, he tilled and sowed it. This he did every year and it furnished him his bread. He was happy that he should not have to trouble anyone for this. . . . But later, seeing that people were coming to him again, he began to raise a few vegetables too, that the visitor might have a little something to restore him after the weariness of that hard road.38

St. Antony's small-scale garden in the Egyptian desert may have resembled the gardens still tended today by Bedouin in the vicinity of St. Catherine's monastery in the Sinai peninsula

Archaeological excavation and survey work in the Judean wilderness have uncovered the remains of gardens attached to both hermitages (Fig. 9) and monasteries, identified by terracing or by the waterworks that irrigated them. One of the best examples is the vegetable plot of the hermit Kyriakos, known to us from his vita written by Cyril of Skythopolis. Cyril tells us that since the hermitage had no cistern, Kyriakos had made indentations in the supplemented by bread and kidney beans brought to them from the outside world. See also Patrich, Sabas 8, 42-43.

35 Life of St. Paul the First Hermit, trans. H. Waddell, The Desert Fathers (London, 1936) 31, 35. The hagiographer comments that the palm tree provided Paul with food and clothing, presumably some sort of tunic woven from palm leaves or fibers.

36 Vita of Antony, PG 26:856a, 861b; trans. R. T. Meyer, St. Athanasius:The Life of Saint Antony (Westminster, Md., 1950), chaps. 8, 12.

37 Vita of Antony, PG 26:916a; trans. Meyer, Life of Antony, chap. 49.

38 Vita of Antony, PG 26:916-17; trans. Meyer, Life of Antony, chap. 50; cf. S. P. Bratton, Christianity, Wilderness and Wildlife:The Original Desert Solitaire (Scranton, Pa., 1993), chap. 10. For the impression made on a 19th-century visitor to the monastery, located in an oasis, and its gardens, see G. J. Chester, "Notes on the Coptic Dayrs of the Wady Natrun and on Dayr Antonios in the Eastern Desert," Archaeological Journal 30 (1873): 113: "<The monastery's> lofty walls enclose . . . large and beautiful gardens, abounding in vegetables and date palms, olives, carobs and other trees. These are watered by rills conducted from a magnificent spring, which bursting out of a cleft in the rock behind, falls into a round artificial basin hewn in the natural stone, and afterwards into a large covered reservoir. It was of course the existence of this delicious and copious Ain which, in the first instance, determined the position of the Convent. . . . The charm of these beautiful and well-watered gardens in that 'barren and dry land' will be readily imagined."

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1 Aqueduct at Stavroniketa monastery, Mount Athos (photo: R. Gothoni)

rocks in which he collected sufficient rainwater during the winter to serve both drinking and irrigation purposes during the summer, specifically for watering his vegetables.39 In fact, archaeologists found below his cave at Sousakim, a plot measuring ca. 25 m2, and at a distance of ca. 250 m a second plot covering an area of ca. 40—50 m2.40 At the monastery of Chariton the remnants of terraced garden plots totaling more than 18,000 m2 can still be seen (Fig. 10).41

On the Greek mainland a garden played an important role in the daily routine of the hermit Luke the Younger of Steiris. We learn from his vita that he planted his vegetable plot (here called a paradeisos) not for his own sustenance, but rather to keep himself busy with manual labor and to provide food and "ample delight to the eyes" of his visitors. His garden, although small, "was planted with . . . every variety of vegetables" and provided such an abundance that he gave the produce away with a liberal hand.42 Some guests were invited to pick the vegetables themselves and to cook them at the hermitage for their meal.43

39 Vita of Kyriakos, chap. 16, ed. Schwartz, Kyrillos, 232.25—29.

40 Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 220. Another garden plot was found at a hermitage near 'Ein er-Rashash in the northern Judaean desert; it had a terrace wall, was watered by a spring, and measured 5.5 X 1.2 m; cf. ibid., 218.

41 Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 200.

42 V Luc. Steir., chap. 19. See also chaps. 54—55 for the garden he planted at another hermitage later in his career. Chapter 41 relates how Luke brought a gift of vegetables from his garden to the bishop of Corinth.

Temperature Saint Catherine Monastery

8 A Bedouin garden near St. Catherine's monastery, Mount Sinai (photo: after Aramco World, March-April 1995, 25)

Hermitage Sinai

9 Cliffside hermitage with garden terrace near Choziba, Judean desert (photo: Y. Hirschfeld)

Monastery Christ The Desert
10 Remains of terraced gardens at the monastery of Chariton, Judean desert (photo:Y. Hirschfeld)

The planting of gardens, orchards, and vineyards was one of the first steps in the foundation of a new monastery complex, undertaken simultaneously with the construction of a church and cells. The intertwining of the establishment of garden and church (Fig. 11), as the two essential elements of monastery foundation, is demonstrated by a passage in the typikon for the monastery of the Savior at Messina. Its founder Luke writes that he planted the monks, "like some sacred shoots in this spiritual paradise of Christ. Then we most frequently irrigated <them> with the sweet and most fresh springs of the sacred commands and teachings." In a subsequent paragraph he describes how he established "olive groves and vineyards, vegetable gardens, and very large buildings in the fields to receive the fruits of the harvest time and to serve as quarters for those laboring out there. In some places, too, we built and planted holy churches."44

44 Typikon of Luke, ed. J. Cozza-Luzi, "De typico sacro messanensis monasterii archimandritalis," Novae patrum bibliothecae 10.2 (1905), 126; the English translation is a slightly modified version of that by T. Miller, Documents, 645. See also chap. 24 of the vita of Germanos of Kosinitza, where the planting of vineyards and gardens is mentioned in the same sentence as the construction of cells (AASS, May 3:10*b).

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11 A monk gardening at the Great Meteoron monastery, Thessaly (photo: Great Meteoron monastery)

Mount Athos Diet

12 Gardens outside Koutloumousiou monastery, Mount Athos (photo: after Koutoumanos, Athos from the Heavens)

13 Walled gardens outside Xenophontos monastery, Mount Athos (photo: after Koutoumanos, Athos from the Heavens)

Gardens, vineyards, and orchards were planted both within and without the cloister walls, depending no doubt on the size of the monastery and the nature of the terrain (Fig. 12). They were typically walled (Fig. 13) and had a gate to keep out animals, both domesticated and wild.45 They provided the bulk of the monastic diet, which consisted primarily of bread,46 leafy and leguminous vegetables, fruit, wine, and olive oil. Dairy products, eggs, and fish were consumed more sparingly. Hagiographic and documentary sources provide more details about the varieties of vegetables grown in monastery gardens: the generic greens or 1d%ava (which probably included lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy greens), onions, beets, squash, leeks, carrots, garlic, cucumbers; among the legumes were broad beans and chickpeas. Fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, figs, mulberries, cherries, grapes, melons, pomegranates, and oranges are known to have been grown in Greece and Anatolia, with dates and carobs being a staple in the Near East.47 The hagiographic sources reveal an ambivalent monastic

45 Cf. D. Papachryssanthou, "Un confesseur du second Iconoclasme: La vie du patrice Nicétas C$36)," TM 3 (1968): 335, chap. 11; VNiceph., 168.14—15. See also J. Lefort, N. Oikonomidès, et al., Actes d'Iviron, vol. 1 (Paris, 1985), 157.

46 Hirschfeld, "Importance of Bread."

47 Information on the varieties of fruits and vegetables available in monasteries has been drawn from Hirschfeld, "Importance of Bread," 149—50; Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 86—88; the Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database; and J. Koder, Gemüse in Byzanz (Vienna, 1993). For the reference to a Seville or bitter orange tree (nerantza) at the monastery of Argyroi, killed by frost, see Theodore Balsamon's epigram of lamentation, ed. K. Horna, "Die Epigramme des Theodoros Balsamon," Wiener Studien 25 (1903): no. xxxi, pp. 193—94; for the name of the monastery, see R. Janin, La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin, vol. 1, Le siège de attitude toward the consumption of fruit: in many texts, fruit is considered a standard part of the monastic diet, suitable for ascetics,48 while elsewhere it seems to be considered as a special treat and is described as the favorite food of children.49 Aromatic plants such as mint and cumin added flavor to food and were also used in the preparation of a hot drink called eukration or kyminaton.50 Besides fruits and vegetables, groves of nut and olive trees provided additional food sources, as well as oil, and vineyards offered grapes for fresh and dried fruit, wine, and vinegar.51

The written sources furnish virtually no information on the location of the garden within the monastic complex, nor the layout of its beds. We can perhaps get an idea of how such a garden may have looked from the idealized plan for a vegetable garden at the ninth-century western medieval monastery of St. Gall (Fig. 14). The garden is depicted with eighteen beds, probably raised above the ground, each holding a different kind of vegetable or herb. Walter Horn has suggested that this was a kitchen garden, where flavorful supplements to the primarily vegetarian monastic diet were cultivated. He argues that root vegetables, squashes that grow on vines, cabbages, and legumes that take up a lot of room were grown in more spacious gardens outside the monastery walls. Nonetheless, cabbage and lettuce are mentioned on the St. Gall plan, along with onions and parsnips. In addition, the garden grew garlic, celery, radishes, and chard, as well as herbs such as parsley, chervil, dill, and coriander. The St. Gall vegetable garden was located right next to the orchard, which curiously enough also served as the cemetery (Fig. 15). Horn has pointed out the convenient location of the vegetable garden near the poultry runs and the monks' latrine, suggesting that both animal and human waste was used as fertilizer.52 Such use of manure in Byzantine monastery gardens is attested by a passage in the vita of Athanasios of Athos which explicitly describes the use of animal manure as garden fertilizer.53

Constantinople et le patriarcat oecuménique, pt. 3: Les églises et les monastères (Paris, 1969), 51 (hereafter Janin, Églises), and S. Lampros, "'O MapKiavoç KÔ8l4 524," Néoç 'EU. 8 (1911): 135, and 15 (1921): 428.

48 Cf., for example, vita of Theodore of Edessa, ed. I. Pomialovskii, Zhitie izhe vo sv. ottsa nashego Feodora arkhiepiskopa Edesskogo (St. Petersburg, 1892), 99.9—11; The Life of Irene,Abbess of Chrysobalanton, ed.J. O. Rosenqvist (Uppsala, 1986), 54.22—24, 76.2—3 (hereafter V Irene Chrys.); I. van den Gheyn, "Acta graeca ss. Davidis, Symeonis, et Georgii Mitylenae in insula Lesbo," AB 18 (1899): 224.6-7; L. Petit, "Vie de saint Michel Maléinos," ROC 7 (1902): 568.6; M. B. Cunningham, The Life of Michael the Synkellos (Belfast, 1991), 68.17-18.

49 In his rules on monastic penances, Theodore of Stoudios stipulates that anyone who tastes fruit before it is blessed by the priest is to be deprived of it for the ensuing year (PG 99:1749a). This is the only food so singled out. For fruit being the favorite food of children, see V Luc. Steir., chap. 3, and D. Sullivan, The Life of Saint Nikon (Brookline, Mass., 1987), 258, chap. 75.19-20.

50 For cumin, see VLuc. Steir., chap. 30; on eukration, Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 88-89; on kyminaton, P. Gautier, "Le typikon de Théotokos Kécharitoménè," REB 43 (1985): 95.1345, 97.1382.

51 For this we have not only textual evidence, but also the actual remains of wine and oil presses at monasteries; cf. Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 106-11, and R. Frankel, "Oil and Wine Presses in the Southern Levant in Antiquity," DOP 51 (1997): 73-84.

52 W. W. Horn and E. Born, The Plan of St. Gall, vol. 2 (Berkeley, Calif., 1979), 203-8.

53 V Athan.Ath. (A), 81, chap. 173.4-7. This passage is linked with the cleaning of latrines, but there is no explicit statement that night soil was used as fertilizer. In this connection A. R. Littlewood has pointed out to me that Columella, in the 1st century a.d., recommended the use of human excrement as fertilizer, although he preferred bird dung, especially that of pigeons; cf. his On Agriculture, 2.14.1-2, trans. H. B. Ash (Cambridge,

Vegetable Garden Layout

14 Plan of the vegetable garden at St. Gall (photo: after W. W Horn and E. Born, The Plan of St. Gall, vol. 2 [Berkeley, Calif., 1979], 204, plan 426)

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