Monastery Site Selection

Most founders of Byzantine monasteries took care in choosing the site of their monastic complexes: they looked for fertile land, a good water supply, temperate climate, peaceful surroundings, security, and the natural beauty of the landscape. Good climate and pure water were essential for health and horticulture, while isolation and quiet would provide physical security and an environment conducive to contemplation and spiritual progress.2

I am grateful to my colleagues Angela Hero, Joseph Patrich, and Svetlana Popovic, who provided useful bibliographical citations, and to René Goth6ni,Thalia Gouma-Peterson,Yizhar Hirschfeld, and Antony Littlewood, who gave me illustrative materials. Thanks are due also to Yizhar Hirschfeld, Sharon Gerstel, Antony Little-wood, and the anonymous reviewers, who read earlier drafts of this article and made useful comments. Research for this article was greatly facilitated by use of the Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database.

1 There is much information, for instance, on such gardens and fields in Athonite documents; see, for example, J. Lefort, N. Oikonomidès, et al., Actes d'Iviron, vol. 4 (Paris, 1995), no. 97, which describes the gardens near Thessalonike leased by the monastery to the Argyropouloi in the early 15th century. C. Constantinides, "Byzantine Gardens and Horticulture in the Late Byzantine Period, 1204—1453: The Secular Sources," in this volume, 88—90, summarizes much of the available data.

21 have developed this topic further in a paper on monastery site selection delivered at the Belfast colloquium of September 1998, "Founders and Refounders of Byzantine Monasteries."

Typical is the ideal monastery site described in the Life of St. Luke of Steiris: "See what sort of place this is where you are standing—how temperate in climate, how pleasant, free from all disturbance and isolated from men, and also how well supplied with very pure water, sufficient both for the demands of thirst and for the irrigation of vegetables and plants."3 In the eleventh century, Christodoulos described as follows a site on the island of Kos that he considered for his new monastic foundation: "an extensive ridge with no habitation, in a well exposed site, well-watered besides and temperate."4

An even more striking example of a real appreciation of the landscape setting, for both the view it afforded and its agricultural bounty, is a passage in Isaac Komnenos' twelfth-century typikon for the Kosmosoteira monastery at Pherrai, where he lauds its site, with the river Ainos, the sea, with its surf and its calms, the pasturage and grazing land of evergreen meadows to nourish horses and cattle. There is the site on the crest of the hill, with its easy access. There is the fine temperance of the currents of air and the power of strong breezes with the everlasting reeds rustling in tune with them about the mouth of the river. There is the immense plain, and the panoramic5 view, especially in summertime with wheat in flower and in ear, which impresses great gladness on viewers. There is the grove of lovely saplings growing so near the monastery upon which vines are entwined, while clear and cold water gushes forth, bringing delight to parched throats.6

Other monastic founders, on the other hand, selected less well favored sites for their new foundations. Athanasios of Athos, for instance, was motivated by spiritual rather than practical concerns when he picked the location of the Lavra. He chose a spot near the southeastern tip of the holy mountain where he had first lived as a hermit, battled with the devil, and received enlightenment, even though it had an inadequate water supply.7 The future patriarch Nikephoros I, when he first retired from his civil service career, is said to have intentionally selected an unsuitable site for his monastic foundation on a ridge overlooking the Bosporos. Since he was renouncing the comforts of urban life,8 he reportedly deliberately sought out a place where it would be an arduous struggle even to grow a few vegetables. His biographer emphasizes that the location was "unlovely because of its harsh

3 The Life and Miracles of St. Luke of Steiris, trans. C. L. andW. R. Connor (Brookline, Mass., 1994), chap. 54 (hereafter VLuc. Steir.).

4 F. Miklosich and J. Müller, Acta et diplomata graeca medii aevi sacra et profana, vol. 6 (Vienna, 1890), 62—63 (hereafter MM); trans. P. Karlin-Hayter, in Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents, ed. J. Thomas and A. C. Hero (Washington, D.C., 2000), 581 (hereafter Documents).

5 Reading eÙtepPhÇ for eÙtpePhÇ, as suggested by Ph. Koukoules, BuÇavtivrôv pioç Kai ftOliTiaiiOç, vol.

6 L. Petit, "Typikon du monastère de la Kosmosoteira près d'Aenos (1152)," IRAIK 13 (1908): chap. 74, p. 57; slightly modified version of the English translation by Nancy Sevcenko, Documents, 833.

7 Vitae antiquae duae Sancti Athanasii Athonitae, ed. J. Noret (Turnhout, 1982), vita A, chaps. 57—59; vita B, chaps. 21, 25 (hereafter V Athan. Ath.).

8 Vita of Nikephoros, ed. C. de Boor in Nicephori archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani opuscula historica (Leipzig, 1880), 147.26—148.9 (hereafter VNiceph.); trans. E. Fisher in Byzantine Defenders of Images, ed. A.-M. Talbot (Washington, D.C., 1998), 50-51.

and uneven ground and completely barren for cultivation because of the steepness of the ridge; it was a thirsty <land>, not softened by any water, and unless rain water was brought <to it>, deprived <even> of that by virtue of its precipitous slope."9 This seems to be a case in which the beauty and fruitfulness of the landscape were considered a negative criterion for a monastic foundation, although Nikephoros soon built irrigation channels to facilitate horticulture. Thus the hagiographer may be seeking to justify Nikephoros' choice of an apparently inappropriate site by stressing the virtuous element inherent in the strenuous effort required to provide well-watered gardens for his monastic complex.

The deliberate choice of monastery sites inappropriate for horticulture is also evident in the lengthy vita of Lazaros of Mount Galesion, which emphasizes the lack of water at all three complexes he founded on the holy mountain. The monks had to rely on rainwater from cisterns or water carried up from the river by pack animals, and there was an insufficient supply for irrigating vegetable gardens.10 Thus the monks were dependent on charitable donations and provisions from a nearby monastery at the foot of the mountain for their food.11 Lazaros, however, felt the mountain to be ideal for monastic settlement precisely because it was "impassable and craggy and very rugged . . . <and> waterless, and for these reasons was able to offer much tranquillity to the person who went there."12 In his words: "If you <really> want to be saved, <then> persevere on this barren mountain . . . the fathers <of old> always sought out the deserts and most uncomfortable places, not those which had springs and leafy trees and other physical comfort<s> ... <as soon as> they began to transport <fertile> soil from elsewhere for growing vegetables and they set up trees and cisterns in front of their doors, <those monks> went into decline and were delivered to destruction."13

It may not be a coincidence that Lazaros received his early monastic training at Mar Saba in the Judean desert, where horticulture was also virtually impossible;14 the monastery

9 VNiceph, 148.

10 Vita of Lazaros of Galesion, chaps. 45, 91, 174-76, ed. in AASS, Nov. 3:523c, 537b, 561-62 (hereafter VLaz. Gal.).

The aridity of Mount Galesion is also emphasized in an undated chrysobull of Andronikos II (MM, 5:266): "For the place is a steep and rugged mountain, possessing scarcely anything <conducive> to refreshment and physical comfort; for neither is it shaded by trees, nor do any plants or grass grow there, nor does it bear anything else useful <that comes> from the earth, but is completely and totally unsuited for such fruits of the earth, although it is fertile in virtue, both producing it naturally and also receiving seeds and thus conceiving and bearing and nurturing virtue and making it increase manyfold." Part of this passage is also found in the vita of St. Meletios the Confessor, ed. S. Lauriotes, "Bio" Kai politeia Kai |iepiKh 0aU|iaTa)V Sihghsi" tou oaiou patpo" himWv Meletiou tou 'O|io1oghtoU," rphgopio" o nalaiia" 5 (1921): 613, which adds the detail that the monks had to relieve their thirst by drinking their own sweat!

11 Cf. chap. 34 of the VLaz. Gal., which states that the monks got most of their food from donations, but that their beans were provided by a field at the monastery of St. Marina.

12 VLaz. Gal., chap. 36, AASS, Nov. 3:520e.The English translation here and in following passages is taken from R. Greenfield, The Life of Lazaros of Mt. Galesion:An Eleventh-Century Pillar Saint (Washington, D.C., 2000).

14 Chapter 26 of the Life of John the Hesychast states that "not even in fresh air and a garden do figs or any tree grow, because of the great heat and dryness of the air of the laura . . . and indeed, although many have tried to plant along the gorge, where there is depth of soil, and have watered throughout the winter, the plants

Judean Desert Flowers

1 Monastery of Choziba, Judean desert (photo: Y. Hirschfeld)

had to rely on vegetables grown in a garden in Jericho and on wheat transported from Transjordan,15 although the associated hermitages did have small garden plots. Likewise, the desert monastery of Choziba (Fig. 1), where "everything is so blasted by the burning sun have scarcely been able to hold their own for a year because . . . of the great dryness of the air, and the excessive heat." Cf. E. Schwartz, Kyrillos von Skythopolis (Leipzig, 1939), 221; trans. in R. M. Price, Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1991), 240.

15 Cf. J. Patrich, Sabas, Leader of Palestinian Monasticism (Washington, D.C., 1995), 165; Y. Hirschfeld, "The Importance of Bread in the Diet of Monks in the Judean Desert," Byzantion 66 (1996): 144—45, 150.

that one can see the rock emitting tongues of flame" and pools of water were heated by the sun to the boiling point, was primarily supplied from gardens located in more salubrious terrain on the edge of the desert near the oasis ofJericho. These fertile lands are described by a twelfth-century Byzantine pilgrim, John Phokas: "the whole district is well watered and is used for a garden for the monasteries situated in the desert. The ground is parcelled out and shared among the Holy Monasteries. It is all planted with trees and vines and for this reason the monks have set up towers among the monks' allotments, from which they harvest fruit in plenty."16

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