Monastic Gardeners

Gardening was part of the manual labor performed by monks (Fig. 19). Since it involved arduous physical exertion, garden chores were often assigned to novices or young monks. Matrona of Perge and Theodora of Alexandria, two young nuns who had disguised themselves as monks, were set to work in the garden,71 as was the young George upon his arrival at Choziba and Sabas at the monastery of Flavianae.72 At the Pantokrator monastery, gardeners were ranked as servitors (Souleuta!) together with the bakers and cooks.73 Other evidence as to the relatively lowly status of the gardener (KhPoupo") is found in the typikon of the St. Mamas monastery: the monastery's gardener, two vinedressers, and the baker used the sign of the cross for their signatures, an indication of their illiteracy.74 A more explicit indication of the illiteracy of vinedressers is provided by the twelfth-century typikon of Neophytos the Recluse, who states that because he had never been taught his letters he was assigned by the abbot to work in the vineyards. Only after five years of manual labor tending vines, when he had mastered the rudiments of reading and writing, was he given the position of assistant sacristan (parekklesiarches).75 On the other hand, an educated and advanced monk might show his humility through horticultural labors; St. Hilarion, for example, worked in the garden of the Dalmatos monastery for ten years even though he had attained the great habit, to demonstrate his obedience to the abbot.76 Likewise, Emperor Romanos I is known to have tended a plot of lentils after he retired to monastic life following his deposition from the throne.77

69 Vita of Kyriakos, chap. 16, ed. Schwartz, Kyrillos, 232.12—25.

70 Cf. V Christoph. et Macar., chap. 15; chap. 50 of vita of Antony the Great, PG 26.916—17; trans. Meyer, Life of Antony, 63, chap. 50.

71 Vita of Matrona of Perge, AASS, Nov. 3:792f, chap. 5; K. Wessely, "Die Vita s. Theodorae,"Jahresbericht des k. k. Staatsgymnasiums Hernals (Vienna, 1889): 29.3—7; 32.3—4, 9; 41.9—12.

72 (C. Houze), "Sancti Georgii Chozibitae confessoris et monachi vita auctore Antonio eius discipulo," AB 7 (1888): chap. 4, p. 99.4; vita of Sabas, ed. Schwartz, Kyrillos, 88.18. Other monastic gardeners include Elias Spelaiotes, who dug in the fields and garden even though he had only one good hand (vita of Elias Spelaiotes, AASS, Sept. 3:853b, par. 13), and Euthymios the Younger, who was attacked by demons while he was irrigating his garden (L. Petit, "Vie et office de St. Euthyme le Jeune," ROC 8 [1903]: 194.23—24). See this page (and note 76) for Hilarion of Dalmatos, who worked as a gardener for ten years at an early stage of his monastic career.

73 Pantokrator typikon, ed. Gautier, "Pantocrator," 61.543.

74 S. Eustratiades, "Tupikov th" ev KrovaTavtivoupolei imovh" tou agiou megalomaptupo" Mamavto","

Hellenika 1 (1928): 304.

75 Tsiknopoullos, Kuppiaka tupiKa, 75.

77 See Liudprand, Antapodosis, 5.25, trans. F. A. Wright, The Works of Liudprand of Cremona (London, 1930), 194. I am indebted to A. R. Littlewood for this reference.

18 Flower garden at the Pantanassa monastery, Mistra (photo: T. Gouma-Peterson)

Gardener Monastery

19 A monk gardening at the monastery of St. Paul, Egypt (photo: H. von Aderkas)

Theodore of Stoudios describes the principal duties of the gardener as sowing the vegetable seeds and watering and cultivating the vegetables so as to provide sufficient food for the monastic community. Failure to carry out these duties was punished by performing fifty to a hundred penitential prostrations (metanoiai ). The vinedresser was responsible for pruning, hoeing, and otherwise tending the grapevines.78 The only evidence that nuns worked in convent gardens is found in the typikon of the Cretan nunnery of Damilas, where the two portresses were excused from shooing away birds and watering the plants and vines in the garden and vineyard;79 one may infer that these tasks were normally included among the duties of the other nuns (Fig. 20). Depending upon the size and location of the monastery gardens, outside lay workers might also be hired for horticultural work: at the nunnery of Chrysobalanton in Constantinople, for example, a young lay vinedresser named Nicholas fell in love with one of the nuns of whom he caught sight while working in the vineyard right next to the convent wall.80

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