Female Remains Found at Strictly Male-only Greek Monastery

Female Remains Found at Strictly Male-only Greek Monastery

An examination of some bones has surprised many experts in Greece. Some of the bones seem to be female remains and this is raising eyebrows among many academics. If the bones are confirmed to be female it may force researchers to rethink the history of Mount Athos, which is one of the holiest places in Orthodox Christianity.

A restorer, Phaidon Hadjiantoniou, who has been working at the site for decades, unearthed the bones in a chapel’s subsoil, during conservation work. The chapel is dedicated to St Athanasios, which dates back to the Byzantine Empire and is part of the monastery of Pantokrator. Hadjiantoniou was intrigued and it was the first time he had found bones beneath a chapel floor and he immediately contacted a specialist.

Mysterious bones

The remains unearthed ‘included a forearm, shinbone and sacrum’ according to The Guardian . There are believed to have been seven people buried under the floor. It appears that they had been initially buried elsewhere and were at one time interred under the chapel, in what is known as a secondary burial. The monastery’s abbot and monks were perplexed at the finds.

Laura Wynn-Antikas, an American anthropologist examined the bones and compared them with others found at the monastic site. Some of those found in the chapel’s subsoil were not as robust as others found at Mount Athos and appear too small to be from men. The anthropologist found that some of the bones unearthed ‘had measurements that noticeably fell in the range of a female’ according to The Guardian . This led her to conclude that the bones were female remains.

Some of the bones found at the Chapel of Athanasios seem to be female. (Phaidon Hadjiantoniou)

Raising questions

Wynn-Antikas told The Guardian that, ‘If we are talking about a woman or indeed more than one woman, it will raise a lot of questions’. This is because of the unique history of the autonomous monastic community on Mount Athos. There have been Christians living on the mount for almost 1800 years. Today there are over 20 monasteries on the mountain and nearby peninsula, and it is home to almost 2500 monks, some of which live in caves and huts.

For millennium women and even female animals have been banned from the enclave which is an autonomous political entity in the Greek Republic. Women were banned from Mount Athos in order to ensure that the monks kept their vows of celibacy. The only females allowed in the area are female cats - presumably they are needed to catch mice.

Mount Athos’ prohibition on lady visitors is very controversial and the European Union has declared it illegal to ban women. However, the ban on women remains and only a limited number of male pilgrims can visit per day. This is what makes the possible discovery of the female bones so important. Hadjiantoniou stated that, “If a woman is found among the bones it will be the first known incident of a female finding her final resting place on Mount Athos” according to The Guardian .

  • Meteora: the Impressive Greek Monasteries Suspended in the Air
  • Raiders of Hispania: Unravelling the Secrets of the Suebi
  • Hidden Religion: Abba Yohani and the Clandestine Cave Churches of Ethiopia

Monastery of Pantokrator, Mount Athos. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Pirates and raiders

One possible explanation for the discovery of female remains may be related to the troubled history of Mount Athos. The area was plagued by raiders and pirates for much of its history and there are recorded instances when the monks opened up the monastery to women seeking sanctuary. What is clear is that the bones almost certainly belonged to someone who was rated as important by the monks.

Being buried in a chapel was a singular distinction. If some of the bones are shown to be female, they probably belonged to a woman or women of high social or religious standing. There have been recorded instances of females staying in the monastery, despite the 1000-year-old ban. Hatjiantoniou has speculated that the female remains ‘might possibly belong to a woman called Stasha, the wife of a 16th-century landlord called Barboul or Barbouli who lived at the monastery with his sons’ according to The Greek Reporter.

Solving the mystery

Investigating the remains is challenging as there are no skulls and the bones were also removed from their original burial place. International Business Times quotes Wynn-Antikas as saying that ‘the bones have been moved from their original burial, so information has been lost’. The remains have been safely stored and have been transported to Greece’s Demokritos research center in Athens.

Here the bones will be carbon dated by a leading Greek expert and their DNA tested, and it is hoped that this can help to clear up the mystery of the female remains in a male-only monastery. Moreover, if it is proved that a woman was buried on Mount Athos, it could lead to more calls for the monasteries to end their ban on females.

Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Israeli archaeologist yuval peleg halts his jeep where the jagged Judean hills peter out into a jumble of boulders. Before us, across the flat-calm Dead Sea, the sun rises over the mountains of Jordan. The heat on this spring morning is already intense. There are no trees or grass, just a few crumbling stone walls. It is a scene of silent desolation—until, that is, tourists in hats and visors pour out of shiny buses.

Related Content

They have come to this harsh and remote site in the West Bank, known as Qumran, because this is where the most important religious texts in the Western world were found in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls—comprising more than 800 documents made of animal skin, papyrus and even forged copper—deepened our understanding of the Bible and shed light on the histories of Judaism and Christianity. Among the texts are parts of every book of the Hebrew canon—what Christians call the Old Testament—except the book of Esther. The scrolls also contain a collection of previously unknown hymns, prayers, commentaries, mystical formulas and the earliest version of the Ten Commandments. Most were written between 200 B.C. and the period prior to the failed Jewish revolt to gain political and religious independence from Rome that lasted from A.D. 66 to 70—predating by 8 to 11 centuries the oldest previously known Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.

Tour guides shepherding the tourists through the modest desert ruins speak of the scrolls’ origin, a narrative that has been repeated almost since they were discovered more than 60 years ago. Qumran, the guides say, was home to a community of Jewish ascetics called the Essenes, who devoted their lives to writing and preserving sacred texts. They were hard at work by the time Jesus began preaching ultimately they stored the scrolls in 11 caves before Romans destroyed their settlement in A.D. 68.

But hearing the dramatic recitation, Peleg, 40, rolls his eyes. “There is no connection to the Essenes at this site,” he tells me as a hawk circles above in the warming air. He says the scrolls had nothing to do with the settlement. Evidence for a religious community here, he says, is unconvincing. He believes, rather, that Jews fleeing the Roman rampage hurriedly stuffed the documents into the Qumran caves for safekeeping. After digging at the site for ten years, he also believes that Qumran was originally a fort designed to protect a growing Jewish population from threats to the east. Later, it was converted into a pottery factory to serve nearby towns like Jericho, he says.

Other scholars describe Qumran variously as a manor house, a perfume manufacturing center and even a tannery. Despite decades of excavations and careful analysis, there is no consensus about who lived there—and, consequently, no consensus about who actually wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“It’s an enigmatic and confusing site,” acknowledges Risa Levitt Kohn, who in 2007 curated an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego. She says the sheer breadth and age of the writings—during a period that intersects with the life of Jesus and the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem—make Qumran “a powder keg” among normally placid scholars. Qumran has prompted bitter feuds and even a recent criminal investigation.

Nobody doubts the scrolls’ authenticity, but the question of authorship has implications for understanding the history of both Judaism and Christianity. In 164 B.C., a group of Jewish dissidents, the Maccabees, overthrew the Seleucid Empire that then ruled Judea. The Maccabees established an independent kingdom and, in so doing, tossed out the priestly class that had controlled the temple in Jerusalem since the time of King Solomon. The turmoil led to the emergence of several rival sects, each one vying for dominance. If the Qumran texts were written by one such sect, the scrolls “help us to understand the forces that operated after the Maccabean Revolt and how various Jewish groups reacted to those forces,” says New York University professor of Jewish and Hebraic studies Lawrence Schiffman in his book Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. “While some sects were accommodating themselves to the new order in various ways, the Dead Sea group decided it had to leave Jerusalem altogether in order to continue its unique way of life.”

And if Qumran indeed housed religious ascetics who turned their backs on what they saw as Jerusalem’s decadence, then the Essenes may well represent a previously unknown link between Judaism and Christianity. “John the Baptizer, Jesus’ teacher, probably learned from the Qumran Essenes—though he was no Essene,” says James Charlesworth, a scrolls scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary. Charlesworth adds that the scrolls “disclose the context of Jesus’ life and message.” Moreover, the beliefs and practices of the Qumran Essenes as described in the scrolls—vows of poverty, baptismal rituals and communal meals—mirror those of early Christians. As such, some see Qumran as the first Christian monastery, the cradle of an emerging faith.

But Peleg and others discount Qumran’s role in the history of the two religions. Norman Golb, a University of Chicago professor of Jewish history (and an academic rival of Schiffman), believes that once Galilee fell during the Jewish revolt, Jerusalem’s citizens knew that the conquest of their city was inevitable they thus gathered up texts from libraries and personal collections and hid them throughout the Judean wilderness, including in the caves near the Dead Sea. If that’s the case, then Qumran was likely a secular—not a spiritual—site, and the scrolls reflect not just the views of a single dissident group of proto-Christians, but a wider tapestry of Jewish thought. “Further determination of the individual concepts and practices described in the scrolls can be best achieved not by forcing them to fit into the single sectarian bed of Essenism,” Golb argued in the journal Biblical Archaeologist.

One assumption that is now widely accepted is that the majority of the scrolls did not originate at Qumran. The earliest texts date to 300 B.C.—a century before Qumran even existed as a settlement—and the latest to a generation before the Romans destroyed the site in A.D. 68. A few scrolls are written in sophisticated Greek rather than a prosaic form of Aramaic or Hebrew that would be expected from a community of ascetics in the Judean desert. And why would such a community keep a list, etched in rare copper, of precious treasures of gold and silver—possibly from the Second Temple in Jerusalem—that had been secreted away? Nor does the word “Essene” appear in any of the scrolls.

Of course none of this rules out the possibility that Qumran was a religious community of scribes. Some scholars are not troubled that the Essenes are not explicitly mentioned in the scrolls, saying that the term for the sect is a foreign label. Schiffman believes they were a splinter group of priests known as the Sadducees. The notion that the scrolls are “a balanced collection of general Jewish texts” must be rejected, he writes in Biblical Archaeologist. “There is now too much evidence that the community that collected those scrolls emerged out of sectarian conflict and that [this] conflict sustained it throughout its existence.” Ultimately, however, the question of who wrote the scrolls is more likely to be resolved by archaeologists scrutinizing Qumran’s every physical remnant than by scholars poring over the texts.

The dead sea scrolls amazed scholars with their remarkable similarity to later versions. But there were also subtle differences. For instance, one scroll expands on the book of Genesis: in Chapter 12, when Abraham’s wife Sarah is taken by the Pharaoh, the scroll depicts Sarah’s beauty, describing her legs, face and hair. And in Chapter 13, when God commands Abraham to walk “through the land in the length,” the scroll adds a first-person account by Abraham of his journey. The Jewish Bible, as accepted today, was the product of a lengthy evolution the scrolls offered important new insights into the process by which the text was edited during its formation.

The scrolls also set forth a series of detailed regulations that challenge the religious laws practiced by the priests in Jerusalem and espoused by other Jewish sects such as the Pharisees. Consequently, scholars of Judaism consider the scrolls to be a missing link between the period when religious laws were passed down orally and the Rabbinic era, beginning circa A.D. 200, when they were systematically recorded—eventually leading to the legal commentaries that became the Talmud.

For Christians as well, the scrolls are a source of profound insight. Jesus is not mentioned in the texts, but as Florida International University scholar Erik Larson has noted, the scrolls have “helped us understand better in what ways Jesus’ messages represented ideas that were current in the Judaism of his time and in what ways [they were] distinctive.” One scroll, for example, mentions a messianic figure who is called both the “Son of God” and the “Son of the Most High.” Many theologians had speculated that the phrase “Son of God” was adopted by early Christians after Jesus’ crucifixion, in contrast to the pagan worship of the Roman emperors. But the appearance of the phrase in the scrolls indicates the term was already in use when Jesus was preaching his gospel.

Whoever hid the scrolls from the Romans did a superb job. The texts at Qumran remained undiscovered for nearly two millennia. A few 19th-century European travelers examined what they assumed was an ancient fortress of no particular interest. Then, near it in 1947, a goat strayed into a cave, a Bedouin shepherd flung a stone into the dark cavern and the resulting clink against a pot prompted him to investigate. He emerged with the first of what would be about 15,000 fragments of some 850 scrolls secreted in the many caves that pock the cliffs rising above the Dead Sea.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War prevented a close examination of the Qumran ruins. But after a fragile peace set in, a bearded and bespectacled Dominican monk named Roland de Vaux started excavations of the site and nearby caves in 1951. His findings of spacious rooms, ritual baths and the remains of gardens stunned scholars and the public alike. He also unearthed scores of cylindrical jars, hundreds of ceramic plates and three inkwells in or near a room that he concluded had once contained high tables used by scribes.

Shortly before de Vaux began his work, a Polish scholar named Jozef Milik completed a translation of one scroll, “The Rule of the Community,” which lays out a set of strict regulations reminiscent of those followed by a sect of Jews mentioned in A.D. 77 by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder. He called the sect members Essenes, and wrote that they lived along the western shore of the Dead Sea “without women and renouncing love entirely, without money, and having for company only the palm trees.” Pliny’s contemporary, historian Flavius Josephus, also mentions the Essenes in his account of the Jewish War: “Whereas these men shun the pleasures as vice, they consider self-control and not succumbing to the passions virtue.” Based upon these references, de Vaux concluded that Qumran was an Essene community, complete with a refectory and a scriptorium—medieval terms for the places where monks dined and copied manuscripts.

Though he died in 1971 before publishing a comprehensive report, de Vaux’s picture of Qumran as a religious community was widely accepted among his academic colleagues. (Much of his Qumran material remains locked up in private collections in Jerusalem and Paris, out of reach of most scholars.) By the 1980s, however, new data from other sites began casting doubt on his theory. “The old views have been outstripped by more recent discoveries,” says Golb.

For example, we now know that Qumran was not the remote place it is today. Two millennia ago, there was a thriving commercial trade in the region numerous settlements dotted the shore, while ships plied the sea. Springs and runoff from the steep hills were carefully engineered to provide water for drinking and agriculture, and date palms and plants produced valuable resins used in perfume. And while the heavily salinated sea lacked fish, it provided salt and bitumen, the substance used in ancient times to seal boats and mortar bricks. Far from being a lonely and distant community of religious nonconformists, Qumran was a valuable piece of real estate—a day’s donkey ride to Jerusalem, a two-hour walk to Jericho and a stroll to docks and settlements along the sea.

And a closer look at de Vaux’s Qumran findings raises questions about his picture of a community that disdained luxuries and even money. He uncovered more than 1,200 coins—nearly half of which were silver—as well as evidence of hewn stone columns, glass vessels, glass beads and other fine goods. Some of it likely comes from later Roman occupation, but Belgian husband-and-wife archaeologists Robert Donceel and Pauline Donceel-Voute believe that most of the accumulated wealth indicates that Qumran was an estate—perhaps owned by a rich Jerusalem patrician—that produced perfume. The massive fortified tower, they say, was a common feature of villas during a conflict-prone era in Judea. And they note that Jericho and Ein Gedi (a settlement nearly 20 miles south of Qumran) were known throughout the Roman world as producers of the balsam resin used as a perfume base. In a cave near Qumran, Israeli researchers found in 1988 a small round bottle that, according to lab analyses, contained the remains of resin. De Vaux claimed that similar bottles found at Qumran were ink­wells. But they might just as well have been vials of perfume.

Other theories abound. Some think Qumran was a modest trading center. British archaeologist David Stacey believes it was a tannery and that the jars found by de Vaux were for the collection of urine necessary for scouring skins. He argues that Qumran’s location was ideal for a tannery—between potential markets like Jericho and Ein Gedi.

For his part, Peleg believes Qumran went through several distinct stages. As the morning heat mounts, he leads me up a steep ridge above the site, where a channel hewn into the rock brought water into the settlement. From our high perch, he points out the foundations of a massive tower that once commanded a fine view of the sea to the east toward today’s Jordan. “Qumran was a military post around 100 B.C.,” he says. “We are one day from Jerusalem, and it fortified the northeast shore of the Dead Sea.” Other forts from this era are scattered among the rocky crags above the sea. This was a period when the Nabateans—the eastern rivals of Rome—threatened Judea. But Peleg says that once the Romans conquered the region, in 63 B.C., there was no further need for such bases. He believes out-of-work Judean soldiers and local families may have turned the military encampment to peaceful purposes, building a modest aqueduct that emptied into deep rectangular pools so that fine clay for making pots could settle. “Not every pool with steps is a ritual bath,” he points out. He thinks the former soldiers built eight kilns to produce pottery for the markets of Ein Gedi and Jericho, grew dates and possibly made perfume—until the Romans leveled the place during the Jewish insurrection.

But Peleg’s view has won few adherents. “It’s more interpretation than data,” says Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who shares de Vaux’s view that the site was a religious community. She says that some archaeologists—by refusing to acknowledge evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls—are inclined to leap to conclusions since their research relies solely on the ambiguous, physical remains at the site.

Even jurisdiction over Qumran is a source of contention. The site is located on the West Bank, where Palestinians and some Israeli archaeologists say that Peleg’s excavations are illegal under international law.

The Qumran controversy took a bizarre turn last March, when Golb’s son, Raphael, was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. In a statement, the New York District Attorney’s office says that Raphael “engaged in a systematic scheme on the Internet, using dozens of Internet aliases, in order to influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in order to harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars” who disputed his father’s findings. The alleged target was Golb’s old rival, Schiffman. For his part, Raphael Golb entered a plea of not guilty on July 8, 2009. The case has been adjourned until January 27.

About the only thing that the adversaries seem to agree on is that money is at the root of the problem. Popular books with new theories about Qumran sell, says Schiffman. Golb notes that the traditional view of Qumran is more likely to attract tourists to the site.

Some scholars seek a middle ground. Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, envisions Qumran as a fort that later sheltered a group producing not only scrolls but an income through tanning or pottery making. It was a settlement, he says, “that wanted to be self-reliant—the question is just how Jewish and just how devout they were.”

Efforts at compromise have hardly quelled the conflicting theories. Perhaps, as French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert suggests, Qumran scholars are shaped by their personal experience as well as by their research. “One sees what one wants to see,” says Humbert, whether it’s a monastery, a fort, a tannery or a manor house.

But the debate matters little to the thousands of visitors who flock to the Holy Land. For them, Qumran remains the place where a modern-day miracle occurred—the unlikely discovery of sacred texts, saved from destruction to enlighten future generations about the word of God. As I climb into Peleg’s jeep for the quick trip back to Jerusalem, new crowds of tourists are exiting the buses.

Andrew Lawler, who lives in rural Maine, wrote about the Iranian city of Isfahan in the April 2009 issue of Smithsonian.

Contemplative Women's Monasteries

Our Lady of Confidence Carmelite Monastery is home to the nuns of the Discalced Order of Carmelites, who lead a cloistered life dedicated to prayer, work, and contemplation.

The Littleton Carmel observes the original Constitutions of the Discalced Nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel as written by St. Teresa of Avila and renewed by the Holy See in 1990 with the most minor and necessary adaptations possible.

Since our arrival in Brooklyn, we have been overwhelmed by the generous warmth and support of the people in the Diocese. In the intervening years since the re-founding of the Brooklyn Carmel, we can only say with the Psalmist, “Lord you give me joy in all that you do, it is you who have accomplished all that we have done.”

We are an Order of Cloistered Contemplative Nuns, centering contemplation of the Paschal Mystery of Redemption. We are called by God to follow Jesus Christ our Holy Redeemer and to be a "Living Memory" of Him. Through our life of prayer and sacrifice, we pray for the Church, the world and all God's people.

Santa Rita Abbey is a Cistercian monastery, a school of charity and of the Lord’s service. We were founded in 1972 in the high desert of Southern Arizona, a land of wide vistas and large sky where our monastery nestles in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains.

In our loving community of Sisters here in Wappingers Falls, New York we work together, pray together and play together, setting aside of course, those private times of solitude needed by each Sister to develop and deepen her own inner life.

Our Lady of the Angels Monastery is a community of Trappist-Cistercian nuns.

Our Chapel was officially dedicated to Saint Therese on the very day of her canonization, May 17, 1925, thus making it the first in the world to have the Little Flower as its titular Saint.

We are an enclosed, contemplative community of nuns in Goonellabah, New South Wales, Australia, whose lives are dedicated to prayer for the needs of the Church and the whole world.

This religious family is a renewed form of the Carmelite Order. As such, it joins fidelity to the spirit and traditions of the Order with the will for constant renewal.

We are cloistered contemplative nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, an Order rich in its heritage of saints among whom we find three Doctors of the Church.

The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Post Falls began in 2018. The Carmelites devote their lives to prayer, strive to live a life hidden with Christ, and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As Poor Clares, we are enclosed, Franciscan, contemplative nuns who observe the First Rule of St. Clare. Our charism is centered on the love and contemplation of Jesus, in sisterly fraternity, and in intercessory prayer for the Church and world.

The purpose of the Carmelite vocation, in a sublime and mysterious way, is nothing less than to be a co-redeemer with Christ, to save souls with Him.

Discalced Carmelite Nuns live a life wholly dedicated to contemplation. They live a strict papal enclosure, a full liturgical life including daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, and a life of penance in the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila.

As Passionists, we are called to keep alive the Memory of Christ's Passion. We do not only recall it in our minds, but we render it present in our lives by living His self-emptying love in our daily lives for the salvation of souls.

In 1610 St Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal founded the order of the Visitation of Holy Mary to give to God souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve Him in spirit and in truth. Our order was established to welcome those not able to practice austerities required in other orders.

This community is one of about 160 autonomous monasteries of the worldwide contemplative Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, founded on June 6 1610 in Annecy, France, by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. The monastery is strictly contemplative with papal enclosure and solemn vows.

The Contemplative Sisters of Saint John usually establish their houses near a priory of their Brothers. The Contemplative Sisters desire to live a life of prayer and adoration. Their mission is to be silent witnesses of Christ's love for the Church and for all men.

The Handmaids are cloistered contemplatives dedicated to the honor, praise and worship of God. By our hidden apostolate, we extend the arms of prayer and sacrifice around the world, with a special solicitude for God's priests.

Hidden in the heart of rural Vermont, in the heart of the Church, the nuns of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary dedicate their lives to seeking God in His infinite Beauty. Remaining close to His Word by a rich tradition of liturgical prayer and Gregorian chant, we contemplate, praise, and thank Him, giving voice to the needs of all humanity and creation.

Launceston Carmel was founded from Glen Osmond Adelaide in June 1948 at Longford, Tasmania. The community moved to the present monastery built in the hills of West Launceston in April 1975 at the request of the then Archbishop Guilford Young to be nearer the priests and people.

The Nuns of the Carmel of Our Lady of Divine Providence are members of the Discalced Carmelite Order. They live a contemplative life. Their apostolate is prayer and sacrifice for the needs of the Church and the world. Theirs is a life of solitude, silence, and sacrifice modeled on the life of our Blessed Mother.

St. Joseph’s Monastery in Seattle was founded in 1908 by a little band of four nuns who ventured from the Baltimore Carmel by train at the request of Archbishop Edward O’Dea. St. Joseph’s Monastery is the 7th Carmelite Monastery to be founded in the United States and the first on the West Coast.

The order of Discalced Carmelites was founded in 1562 by Saint Teresa of Jesus. Our community of Discalced Carmelite Nuns came from Durango, Mexico in 1934. We are dedicated to the apostalate of prayer, at the service of all humanity, the Church, and particularly for the Church of San Antonio.

Discalced Carmelite Nuns live a life wholly dedicated to contemplation. Like Elijah on Mount Carmel, they seek the face of God through their life of prayer. They live a strict papal enclosure, a full liturgical life including daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, and a life of penance in the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila.

The call to Carmel is a call to an extraordinary way of life. a sublime vocation, but it is offered to ordinary modern young Catholic women no different from yourselves. This call is a personal invitation from God Himself to a life of intimacy with Him through the complete gift of oneself.

Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Harrisburg Diocese gave the Carmelites permission to branch out and found a new community. With his blessing, the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph began the design process and in 2012 purchased the land on which to build. The founding sisters moved to the new monastery in July 2018.

The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph near Agnew was dedicated and consecrated on December 14, 2001. The Carmelites devote their lives to prayer, strive to live a life hidden with Christ, and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph near Agnew was dedicated and consecrated on December 14, 2001. The Carmelites devote their lives to prayer, strive to live a life hidden with Christ, and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The vocation of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns is a gift of the Spirit. Through it, they are called to a hidden union with God in friendship with Christ, in familiarity with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in an existence in which prayer and immolation blend into a great love for the Church.

We are a small community of cloistered contemplative religious of the Roman Catholic Church who live a simple traditional lifestyle totally dedicated to God. Ours is a life of prayer and sacrifice which is our particular apostolate in service of the Church, praying for God's people, especially His beloved priests.

A community of Cloistered Dominican Nuns with Solemn Vows, Papal Enclosure and Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, following the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers, we live a hidden sacrificial life of faith, adoration and charity at the heart of the Dominican Order.

Corpus Christi Monastery is the oldest Dominican monastery in the United States, a 125 year old branch of the first monastery of nuns founded by St. Dominic de Guzman in Prouilhe, France, in 1206. Our vocation places us In Medio Ecclesiae, in the heart of the Church, the heart of the Order.

As Dominican Contemplative Nuns, we have withdrawn from the world in such a way as to embrace everyone in the heart of Christ. As a community, we are called by God to witness to his love, to adoration and prayer, with the Word of God as the center of our lives.

The nuns are consecrated to God by public vows through profession of the evangelical counsels. Our monastery observes the norms of the purely contemplative life, by maintaining our withdrawal from the world by enclosure and silence, through work and study, prayer and penance, while pursuing communion through the Dominican form of government.

Called to be contemplatives, absorbed in God alone, Carmelites are also called to be at the service of the Church and of all people. The ascent of Mount Carmel is a call to face the challenge of prophecy and contemplation.

As cloistered contemplatives, we are a community of sisters wholly dedicated to praying for the Church and for all of God's people. Our prayer is our mission in the Church and in the world. The Monastery of St. Clare is one of six Poor Clare monasteries in Canada: two English-speaking in British Columbia, and four French-speaking, in Quebec.

Currently, 17 women between 22 and 95 call the Carmel of St. Joseph home. Individually and communally our lives are centered on God. Everything in our lives is focused on a life of prayer, centered around the daily celebration of the Eucharist.

We are consecrated women of the Teresian Carmel living in sisterly communion, holding the lamp of contemplation until we become a living flame of love. We are cloistered Carmelite nuns, called to live the Gospel and the charism of Saint Teresa through a hidden life of unceasing contemplative prayer in the service of the Church.

We are Hermits of the Little Way of Merciful Love of St Thérèse, living as a community of Carmelite Hermits, joined together by mutual charity for material and spiritual support and stability.

We are consecrated women of the Teresian Carmel living in sisterly communion, holding the lamp of contemplation until we become a living flame of love. We are cloistered Carmelite nuns, called to live the Gospel and the charism of Saint Teresa through a hidden life of unceasing contemplative prayer in the service of the Church.

This is a cloistered community of contemplative prayer in which the sisters live their lives for God and for His Church. The call to Carmel is a call to serve the Church through prayer and sacrifice. The sisters' charism is guided by their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, and by St. John of the Cross.

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the first Order dedicated to the Mother of God. We draw our inspiration from the prophet Elijah. The Carmelite nuns live as desert hermits in communities that are small and family-like after the express wish of St. Teresa of Jesus, the 16th century reformer of Carmel.

Working in silence and solitude, a Carmelite strives for union with her Beloved, offering her prayers and sacrifices for souls, especially for priests. Living in strict papal enclosure, her life reminds the world that there is another life for which we must now prepare.

Discalced Carmelite nuns seek union with God by a consecrated life of prayer and self-sacrifice, striving to live the evangelical counsels as perfectly as possible in the spirit of their foundress, Sts. Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross.

We gratefully count ourselves blessed to be daughters of the Church, in the spirit of our foundress Saint Teresa of Jesus, with love for priests and for souls, obedience to the Magisterium, and fidelity to our Carmelite heritage.

The Discalced Carmelite Nuns belong to a worldwide religious family. The Order of Carmel has its spiritual roots sunk deep in the Old Testament, following the example of the holy Prophet Elijah who withdrew from the world in order to pray the intercede for God’s people on Mount Carmel.

Jesus Christ is the center of Carmel and of our lives. Discalced Carmelites seek the fullness of divine intimacy on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Carmel is all Mary’s, who shines as a model of the evangelical virtues.

The Carmelite is one who has heard in the silence of her heart the unique and precious invitation of Jesus Christ to become wholly consecrated to Him in a "Covenant of Spousal love." In union with Mary, she desires to live this consecration totally and faithfully through the hidden but effective apostolate of love, prayer and sacrifice for the needs of the entire Church.

The intention of St. Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite's foundress, was that the sisters' lives should be entirely directed toward prayer and contemplation, that all observe the evangelical counsels, in a small sisterly community founded on solitude, prayer and strict poverty. The call to Carmel is a call to serve the Church through prayer and sacrifice.

Prayer, silence, and contemplation make up our community life. We attend morning Mass, pray the divine office six times a day, and spend two hours in mental prayer. We also do the manual labor of the house. We are a cloistered community in which we live our lives for God and for His Church.

Prayer, silence, and contemplation make up our community life. We attend morning Mass, pray the divine office six times a day, and spend two hours in mental prayer. We also do the manual labor of the house. We are a cloistered community in which we live our lives for God and for His Church.

Although Carmel is enclosed, it is essentially missionary and active through contemplative prayer. Since these nuns live in Utah, which is predominantly Mormon, the Catholic diocese living in a spiritual desert needs the witness and support of the nuns' contemplative life.

The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Flemington follow the ideal of life established by St. Teresa of Avila to support the Church by their contemplative lives of prayer. Their loving fidelity to the Magisterium is lived out in the cloister where prayer, solitude and the common life in a Marian spirit nourish an apostolic zeal.

The Carmelite Monastery of Carmel, California, nestled close to the Santa Lucia foothills overlooking the Pacific Ocean, provides a distinctively beautiful ambience for a joyful life of prayer in a contemplative community of women, consecrated to Jesus through solemn vows.

The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ada, Michigan (formerly the Carmel of Grand Rapids), was founded in 1916 from Queretaro, Mexico when the 16 Carmelite Nuns from that Carmel fled to the United States during the persecution of the Church during the Mexican Civil War.

Our life is one of loving prayer, fed by liturgy, silence, solitude, challenging and joyful community support. We place our hearts in that of Mary, following in the footsteps of her Son toward deeper union with God for the life of the world.

The vocation of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns has a rich history, whose origin dates back to the middle of the twelfth century on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. A group of men, former Crusaders and pilgrims, desiring to dedicate their lives more radically to Christ as hermits, were drawn to Mount Carmel—a place in itself abounding in symbolism and Biblical roots.

The Carmel of St. Teresa is a contemplative monastery of consecrated women of the Discalced Carmelite Order. The vocation of a Carmelite Nun is a call to a "hidden union with God" in friendship with Christ and in familiarity with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Carmelite Nuns share with the whole Carmelite Family a single common charism being the commitment to "live in allegiance to Jesus Christ" in a contemplative stance, which marks and sustains our life of prayer, community and service lived in intimate familiarity with the Holy Virgin and in the prophetic spirit of Elijah.

The Carmel of St. Teresa is a contemplative monastery of consecrated women of the Discalced Carmelite Order. The vocation of a Carmelite Nun is a call to a "hidden union with God" in friendship with Christ and in familiarity with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our apostolate is prayer - for the Church, especially priests, and for the whole world. Our charism is guided by our foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, and by St. John of the Cross. St. Therese of Lisieux has also influenced many who have been drawn to this life of total giving of self to God.

The call to Carmel is a call to serve the Church through prayer and sacrifice. Our apostolate is contemplative prayer for the Church within enclosure. The Order of Carmel dates to its spiritual founder, the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, 900 years before Christ.

We are Discalced Carmelite Nuns, a contemplative monastery of consecrated women in love with God and called by Him to joyfully live a vowed life together, in creative fidelity to the Teresian charism in the 21st century, in the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

The Visitation, a contemplative order, was founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal "to give to God daughters of prayer, and souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth." Prayer is primary in the life of the sisters.

The Visitation, a contemplative order, was founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal "to give to God daughters of prayer, and souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth."

The Visitation, a contemplative order, was founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal "to give to God daughters of prayer, and souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth." Prayer is primary in the life of the sisters.

St. Francis de Sales, our Founder, desired to “give God daughters of prayer, and souls so interior, that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite Majesty, and to adore Him in spirit and in truth.”

They are contemplative Sisters who live in the heart of the world in order to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit for the New Evangelization. As non-cloistered contemplative sisters, they welcome people to their convents and chapels for prayer, lectio divina, or a simple listening ear.

They are contemplative Sisters who live in the heart of the world in order to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit for the New Evangelization. As non-cloistered contemplative sisters, they welcome people to their convents and chapels for prayer, lectio divina, or a simple listening ear.

Devoted to a life of contemplation, the mottoes of the community are: "Adoration, Reparation and Suffering" and "Fidelity, Constancy and Generosity". The sisters' life of prayer is a true living of the Gospel and it is in every way apostolic.

The Sisters are a community called to a life of contemplative prayer, directed in a special way to the great love which Jesus showed to all mankind in the shedding of His Precious Blood.

God, through His Spirit, Who is Love, has called us and gathered us together into a religious community whose members are entirely dedicated to the contemplative life and the service of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and thus to serve the Church’s missionary activity.

God, through His Spirit, Who is Love, has called us and gathered us together into a religious community whose members are entirely dedicated to the contemplative life and the service of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and thus to serve the Church’s missionary activity.

God, through His Spirit, Who is Love, has called us and gathered us together into a religious community whose members are entirely dedicated to the contemplative life and the service of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and thus to serve the Church’s missionary activity.

God, through His Spirit, Who is Love, has called us and gathered us together into a religious community whose members are entirely dedicated to the contemplative life and the service of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and thus to serve the Church’s missionary activity.

Passionist Nuns "are to strive for perfection in God's love by living in His Divine Presence and by preserving indelibly written in their hearts the most holy Life, Passion and Death of the loving Jesus.

The sisters' life as contemplative nuns flows from the personal love of Christ for us manifested in His passion, death and resurrection. We seek to comfort Him in His Sacred Passion by pondering the mystery of His undying love, by loving our sisters in community life and through Divine Worship.

The cloistered Passionist Nuns were founded by St. Paul of the Cross to live a hidden contemplative life dedicated to intercessory prayer for the apostolic work of his congregation, for the Church and for the whole world. This cloistered community's contemplative mission is to promote devotion to, and grateful remembrance of, the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.

The whole life of the Dominican Cloistered nuns is harmoniously ordered to the continual remembrance of God. Called by the Lord, we strive to have the same mind as Christ Jesus through the daily celebration of the Eucharist, and the Divine Office.

The community of Our Lady of Mount Thabor Monastery is a group of women called by the Church to live the joy filled Monastic life of community, prayer, work, silence and study for the sanctification of souls.

Our life, as nuns of the Order of Preachers, is centered on prayer. This includes communal prayer, through daily Mass and the solemn chanting of the Liturgy of the Hours, and times of quiet prayer given to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the rosary and lectio divina.

As Dominican Nuns, we are consecrated to God by solemn vows and appointed for the work of divine praise. Our life of prayer and adoration, sacrifice and penance is uniquely intertwined with the preaching and work of the Dominican friars for the salvation of souls.

Consecrated to a life of prayer and praise, we cloistered Dominican nuns share in the redemptive work of Christ in the heart of the Order of Preachers. Our primary mission is to pray for the salvation of souls, and to support the preaching mission of the Dominican friars.

Consecrated to a life of prayer and praise, we cloistered Dominican nuns share in the redemptive work of Christ in the heart of the Order of Preachers. Our primary mission is to pray for the salvation of souls, and to support the preaching mission of the Dominican friars.

Cloistered contemplative life: faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church and observing Papal enclosure. The celebration of the Eucharist is central to our daily life. An important focus is praise and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and choral celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours at prescribed times.

The Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of St. Jude withdraw from the world to be at the heart of the Church. Our primary mission is to pray for the salvation of souls and for the preaching mission of the Dominican friars.

We have dedicated ourselves to the following of Jesus Christ within the monastic, contemplative tradition given to us by Saint Dominic. We do this principally through: Prayer offered both in a common liturgy, and in solitude, community life, and an apostolic spirit.

Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey is a monastery of Cistercian (Trappist) nuns. A community of 22 Roman Catholic women, we try to follow Jesus Christ through a life of prayer, silence, simplicity, and ordinary work. Our rule of life, after the Gospel, is the Rule of St Benedict. Our order is wholly ordered to contemplation.

We belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, whose members are also known as Trappists or Trappistines. Mount Saint Mary's Abbey was the first monastery of Cistercian nuns to be founded in the United States.

The Abbey of Regina Laudis, founded in 1947 in Bethlehem, Connecticut, U.S.A., is a community of contemplative Benedictine women dedicated to the praise of God through prayer and work. The nuns of the abbey chant the Mass and full Divine office each day, while expressing the traditional Benedictine commitment to manual work and scholarship through various contemporary media and professional disciplines.

St. Scholastica Priory, a contemplative monastery of Roman Catholic nuns, follows the Rule of St. Benedict, written about 530 A. D. As Benedictines, we are not considered part of an order in the modern sense: our house is autonomous, but we are aggregated to the international Subiaco-Cassinese federation of Benedictine monasteries.

The Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert is a monastic community of women in the Benedictine tradition. We profess vows of stability, conversion of life and obedience. Our primary mission is to seek God through a life of prayer, silence and solitude.

Our Lady of the Rock Monastery is a Benedictine monastery of women located in the heart of the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington state. It is a place of recollection, prayer, and joyous self-giving. Set amidst 300 acres of forest and farmland, the nuns live out their lives faithful to the traditions handed on to them by their holy founders, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica.

Conscious of our unique call in the heart of the church as enclosed contemplatives, we dedicate our entire selves to living the Eucharistic Mystery. Through our daily celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and time given to loving prayer before the exposed Eucharist, we are graced to incarnate this Mystery in our own lives.

It was revealed to our father St. Francis that he was to model his life on the Gospel. The form of life he established for St. Clare and the Poor Sisters was to observe the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of one's own, and in chastity.

The Handmaids are cloistered contemplatives dedicated to the honor, praise and worship of God. By our hidden apostolate, we extend the arms of prayer and sacrifice around the world, with a special solicitude for God's priests.

Like the Norbertine canons, Norbertine canonesses are consecrated for the service of divine worship, and vow to live “according to the Gospel of Christ and the Apostolic way of life”. However, the canonesses fulfill the wholly contemplative dimension of this Norbertine propositum and thus live a cloistered contemplative life with a truly Apostolic spirit.

Clare and her sisters joyfully embraced a life of poverty, prayer and contemplation, solitude and seclusion that they might serve the Lord and His church through this holy manner of living as Francis had foretold. This life continues today in our little monastery of San Damiano on Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

Our charism is to observe the poverty and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Holy Mother, living the Gospel life as followers of St. Clare and St. Francis, in contemplative community of charity and unity within the enclosure.

We are contemplative nuns, in the Franciscan tradition. Our mission is to offer our Eucharistic Lord continual adoration in a spirit of reparative thanksgiving, as well as serve as intercessors for the needs the Church and all souls. We are blessed to live in the Sonoran desert, in solitude and silence and surrounded by God’s beauty.

The Poor Clares of Barhamsville are a cloistered, monastic community following the inspiration of St. Francis of Assisi and his faithful disciple, St. Clare. We seek the face of God as He reveals Himself in the Liturgy of the Church, our contemplation of the Eucharist and the Scriptures.

Founded in 1098, the Order of Citeaux is one of the Church's ancient monastic orders. The sources of Cistercian monasticism are the Sacred Scriptures, the Rule of St. Benedict, the traditions of the Desert Fathers, the spirituality of our own 12th century Fathers, and the treasury of lived wisdom handed-on by each succeeding generation of monks and nuns.

Our Benedictine way of life finds its expression in giving ourselves to God through our vows. Daily it is expressed in the time we give to the praise of God in The Liturgy of the Hours, in daily Mass, lectio divina, in personal prayer and reading. Our ministry is our monastic life: the search for God lived here within St. Emma’s.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles is a traditional monastic community of women who desire to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary in the giving of herself to God to fulfill His Will, especially in her role of assistance by prayer and work to the Apostles, first priests of the Catholic Church.

The contemplative Benedictine Nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga reside in the heart of the Church, living lives of prayer, praise and conversion according to the Rule of St. Benedict. In our daily ora et labora (prayer and work), we seek to glorify God through hearts united to the humble, obedient and chaste Christ.

The Capuchin Poor Clares are a religious Order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi in the thirteenth century. We live in community, embracing joyfully a life of poverty and fraternity. We are contemplative sisters whose lives revolve around prayer, manual work, study and silence, all for the greater glory of God.

The Capuchin Poor Clares are a religious Order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi in the thirteenth century. We live in community, embracing joyfully a life of poverty and fraternity. We are contemplative sisters whose lives revolve around prayer, manual work, study and silence, all for the greater glory of God.

The Capuchin Poor Clares are a religious Order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi in the thirteenth century. We live in community, embracing joyfully a life of poverty and fraternity. We are contemplative sisters whose lives revolve around prayer, manual work, study and silence, all for the greater glory of God.

The Capuchin Poor Clares are a religious Order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi in the thirteenth century. We live in community, embracing joyfully a life of poverty and fraternity. We are contemplative sisters whose lives revolve around prayer, manual work, study and silence, all for the greater glory of God.

The Capuchin Poor Clares are a religious Order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi in the thirteenth century. We live in community, embracing joyfully a life of poverty and fraternity. We are contemplative sisters whose lives revolve around prayer, manual work, study and silence, all for the greater glory of God.

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, encapsulates in "Verbi Sponsa" what our community strives for in our vocation: "Welcoming the Word in faith and adoring silence, they put themselves at the service of the mystery of the Incarnation and united to Christ in the mystery of Redemption." We live a life of prayer in the spirit of the Franciscan Saint Clare.

Our Poor Clare family is made up of cloistered contemplative nuns who serve the church and the world mainly by a life of prayer, and our extern sisters who are also called to minister to the community by meeting its external needs.

We follow a tradition of eight centuries of enclosed monastic life of prayer and penance according to the Primitive Rule of St. Clare of Assisi and the reform of St. Colette of Corbie. With childlike trust in the Lord’s promise to our foundress, "Ego vos semper custodiam" (“I will always protect you”), we live our Gospel poverty in radical dependence on Divine Providence.

Our Poor Clare family is made up of cloistered contemplative nuns who serve the church and the world mainly by a life of prayer, and our extern sisters who are also called to minister to the community by meeting its external needs.

This order of Poor Clares is an institute of the contemplative life directed in a special way for the praise and worship of God. It strives to give witness to Christ praying on the mountain and to share in the most universal way the hardships, miseries and hopes of all mankind. The sisters live a life of prayer, in the spirit of the Franciscan Saint Clare.

We are cloistered, contemplative Poor Clares who follow the reform of St. Colette of Corbie. Our life is one of praise and adoration of God, as well as prayer and penance on behalf of the Church and the world. In the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, we strive to foster a joyful community of charity, together with the sisters the Lord has given to us.

The Order of Poor Clare Colettines is an institute of the enclosed contemplative life ordained in a special way for the praise and worship of God. This is fulfilled principally through daily Mass, celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day (this includes midnight rising), and Eucharistic adoration.

The Poor Clare Colettines follow the reform begun by St. Colette of Corbie in 15th century France. They retain the traditional habit, night rising, perpetual fast and the observance of papal enclosure. They also continue to go barefoot as a sign of Gospel poverty and in witness to the transcendence of God.

Following in the footsteps of their foundress, St. Clare of Assisi, these Poor Clare sisters live an enclosed life of prayer and penance, in solitude and silence, occupied with God alone, urged on by love for the whole people of God. Centered in Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, their life revolves around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Office and Eucharistic adoration.

As daughters of Saints Francis and Clare, we cherish their legacy of burning love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, steadfast loyalty to the Vicar of Christ and Holy Church, and a life of joyous Gospel poverty. Our daily life of prayer, work and recreation revolves around Holy Mass and the Divine Office, beginning each midnight with the Office of Matins.

As Poor Clares we are a pontifical order of Franciscan cloistered, contemplative nuns with solemn vows who observe papal enclosure, living in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Our apostolate is perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament with solemn exposition.

The Poor Clares of the Primitive Observance are a cloistered, contemplative order, seeking union with God through a life of prayer and sacrifice, in the spirit of St. Clare, to whom St. Francis was mentor and guide.

As Poor Clares observing the First Rule of Saint Clare, we are enclosed, Franciscan, contemplative nuns. Our charism is centered in the love and contemplation of Jesus, in sisterly unity, and in intercessory prayer for the Church and world.

The Overlooked Queer History of Medieval Christianity

T oday, it would be easy to assume that same-gender desire, particularly among men, is at odds with the history of Christianity. After all, many elements of modern conservative evangelical Christianity, from the infamous campaigns of the Westboro Baptist Church to faith-based pushes for anti-LGBTQ policy, give the impression that the religion is fundamentally opposed to the LGBTQ community.

The division, however, is not as rigid as one might imagine. Historical evidence speaks to a rich tradition of continuity in literature, philosophy and culture that runs from antiquity all the way to medieval Christianity, where same-gender intimacies were able to flourish.

In fact, we can find across the medieval world the potent glimmers of queer community and the role it played in formulating a language for Christian subjects as marginalized and persecuted peoples. Many stories of how queer figures maneuvered across various secular and religious spaces of the medieval world share a jaw-dropping candidness about same-gender intimacies and sexuality, and can provide important evidence about how medieval writers thought about the intersections of gender and sexual desire.

While same-gender relations were not accepted within medieval Christianity the way they are by many today, they also did not elicit the intense disdain that we find within the modern Christian right. Despite evidence of great diversity in sexual practices, same-gender intimacies hardly are the focus of concern for most early-Christian and medieval writers. In fact, prohibitions against same-gender intercourse happened selectively, often motivated by political factors more so than religious ones. For example, in the sixth-century, Emperor Justinian&rsquos historian, Prokopios, tells us that Justinian passed legislation against same-sex relations only so that he could persecute certain political enemies whose sexual histories were known to him.

In addition, across the medieval Mediterranean, we find a series of saints&rsquo lives that tell the stories of individuals who had been assigned female at birth, but became monks in all-male monastic communities. In the story of Saint Eugenia, who briefly lived her life as the male monk Eugenios, the saint is sexually harassed by a woman by the name of Melania. The text is quite clear that Melania is drawn to the monk&rsquos male appearance. This story is important, because it demonstrates to us the need to treat these monks as men and not to misgender them as women. Rich and complex in their own right, these figures allowed medieval authors to tackle difficult questions about community, gender, sexuality and piety.

Since authors did not always know how to grasp and interpret their protagonist&rsquos gender, the stories expose to us the ways in which sexual desire between men manifested itself in religious communities. In the story of the fifth-century saint Smaragdos, the young, beardless monk arrives at the monastery, where he is isolated by the Abbot and placed in a separate cell. The author tells us that he was placed here so that he could not be seen by his brothers, lest he cause them to stumble because of his emerald-like beauty.

We might surmise that the narrator is able to write with such frankness about same-gender desire precisely because the conceit is that this monk, assigned female at birth, is a woman (in some capacity) in his mind. But a familiarity with these texts and a sensitivity to the languages in which they were originally written shows a much more complex reality to this separation and prohibition.

The Abbot is never confused as to how or why a young monk might sexually arouse his fellow monks, nor is there any concern or question of his gender. A similar awareness of same-gender desire in monasteries is evident across a wide spread of early Christian and medieval authors. For example, in Cyril of Scythopolis&rsquo Life of the fifth-century Palestinian monastic founder Euthymios, the monk asks his followers to &ldquotake care not to let your youngest brother come near my cell, for because of the warfare of the enemy it is not right for a feminine face to be found in the [monastery].&rdquo And such prohibition against &ldquofeminine faces&rdquo or &ldquobeardless men&rdquo are found across the rules written to regulate monastic life. Likewise, in his mid-seventh century Heavenly Ladder, John Klimachos praises monks who are particularly adept at stirring up animosity between two others who have &ldquodeveloped a lustful state for one another.&rdquo

Yet, despite discomfort about sexual intimacies stirred up within the cloisters, the perceived problem always comes down to the fact that these men are committed to celibacy, not that they are men. This same-gender sexual activity is treated with less concern than instances of monks who are accused of having sex with women outside the monastery. While relations between monks are courteously dissolved and handled internally, intercourse with women often leads to a monk&rsquos expulsion from the community.

In a surprising and telling instance, the seventh-century theologian Maximos the Confessor reflects on what it is that binds communities together, stating that it is &ldquosensual affection&rdquo and &ldquodesires&rdquo (erota) that causes creatures to flock as one. It is from this &ldquoerotic faculty&rdquo that animals flock together, being drawn &ldquotoward a partner of the same kind as one.&rdquo Here, his description of conviviality builds on a language of intimacies between similars, providing ample metaphors in Greek for the filiations between men in monastic communities and other social groups.

But, institutionalized spaces for same-gender intimacies were not unique to the monastic world in the Middle Ages. For example, the rite of spiritual brotherhood or adelphopoiēsis (literally, &ldquobrother-making&rdquo) bound two men in a spiritual brotherhood, echoing certain elements of the marriage rite. The process has been controversially heralded by the late Yale historian John Boswell as a medieval &ldquosame-sex union.&rdquo We are even told that these spiritual brothers would share the same bed and live closely bound lives.

While scholars over the years have added a great deal of nuance to Boswell&rsquos initial argument, they have also strongly attempted to deny any form of same-gender desire behind the rite. An unpublished manuscript at the Vatican Library, however, tells a very different story. In this text, which can only be consulted in its original handwritten medieval Greek, the 13th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Athanasius I, writing centuries after the inception of the rite, condemns it because it allegedly &ldquobrings about coitus and depravity.&rdquo In this later period, we see a newfound homophobic resistance to the rite that, in the reaction&rsquos vitriol, speaks to the role this rite could really play for men committing themselves to each other: The Patriarch&rsquos words acknowledge the reality that no matter its intention, the rite enabled the space for sexual intimacies between men. That the &ldquobrother-making&rdquo rite possibly allowed room to maneuver for premodern queer men, long before that term ever existed, is critical to the history of Christianity.

Narratives like these push us to understand the ways in which intimacies between men existed in various aspects of religious life, even between monks. These relations may not have always been prized or embraced, but they also did not receive the hatred and intensity of vitriol they find in radicalized Christianity today. In fact, the evidence we have suggests that in the privacy of monastic communities and rites like adelphopoiēsis, queer figures had ample room to exist in loving relationships, far beyond what the archive has been able to preserve.

Our written sources point obliquely to the existence of these relations, but detailed stories of these intimacies are left only as an imprint, an outline in the sand of lives now lost that have been forgotten by history. As historians, our role is not simply to regurgitate what was written, but to read between the lines. That&rsquos the only way we&rsquoll unearth the realities of subjects whose lives were either shielded by secrecy or erased, often on purpose, by the history that followed.

How I wound up in the Arizona desert with Elder Ephraim

People of God

My journey began long before I walked down the ramp of the oldest airline company, &ldquoRoyal Dutch Airlines,&rdquo founded in 1919, onto American soil.

Since November 2014 we have been working, with the blessing of Vladyka, then still an archimandrite, Tikhon (Shevukonv), on the small-format booklet series &ldquoPeople of God,&rdquo on modern saints and ascetics of piety. Vladyka thought of the project himself and of formatting this supply of fascinating material in the shape of a modern paterikon. Vladyka Tikhon himself edited the first two books in the series, on the great elders Paisios the Athonite and Archimandrite John (Krestiankin). Some of the ascetics, about whom it was proposed to publish, were already glorified as saints, while the canonization of others remained only a question of time and the determination of God. When we worked on the first paterikon on Paisios the Athonite the elder was not yet glorified, but when the book was released from the publishing house, Venerable Paisios was already canonized and as if blessed our subsequent work on the series &ldquoPeople of God.&rdquo

I think many are familiar with the spiritual experience of when reading or hearing stories of the saints or ascetics of piety, feeling their invisible presence, their prayerful help. Gathering material for the books, I felt the saints are near. Temptations, internal and external, were intensified: people were angry with me for no special reason my own passions, which I thought had abated, raised their heads.

Books on the elders Gabriel (Urgebadze), Zosima (Sokur), Nikolai Guryanov, Paul (Gruzdev), and other elders and saints have been published&mdashmore than twenty books.

We also prepared a book on the great Elder Joseph the Hesychast for publication in this &ldquoPeople of God&rdquo series. Having great love for this elder, with fervent zeal I gathered material on a few of his spiritual children who themselves became elders: Hieroschemamonk Ephraim of Katounakia, Elder Arsenios the Hesychast and Cave-dweller and the still living and thriving Archimandrite Ephraim (Moraitis) of Philotheou.

In 1960 the Greek Orthodox priest and theologian Archpriest John Romanides wrote: &ldquoThe Holy Mountain should immediately send their representatives to America and found there monastic habitations, otherwise Orthodoxy on the American continent awaits its inevitable destruction.&rdquo

A few years later these prophetic words were embodied in life by the efforts of just one person. Monasteries of Elder Ephraim appeared in many regions of America and Canada: New York, Texas, Florida, Washington, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, Michigan, Montreal, and Toronto. Chief among them is the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Arizona, and therefore now the elder is often known as Ephraim of Arizona.

The saints are near

While working on the books about great Athonite elders the feeling of their nearness, their presence, and of spiritual connection with them, the feeling of heartfelt affection became so strong, so real, that I began to doubt: maybe it was womanly exaltation, my gender&rsquos prelest? So many turn to the elders for prayerful help, so many spiritual children they have&hellip

Is it possible that they knew even about me, sitting here at my old computer, in a small house on the outskirts of some provincial town? The autumn air smelled strongly of rotting leaves, early twilight was quickly creeping up, icy wet wind knocked on the door, but the artificial yellow light in the room couldn&rsquot drive away the thick impenetrable fog outside the window. Thoughts of doubt and disbelief tempted, crowded, and crept into my soul.

&ldquoDear elder! I so want to see you and receive your blessing! I so want to see St. Anthony&rsquos Monastery, where you are now laboring with your spiritual children! For me to travel to America would be like flying into space&hellip But I believe, if you pray, I will wind up at your monastery. And it would mean the spiritual connection is real.

The next morning, in the daylight, yesterday&rsquos thoughts, doubts, and requests already seemed stupid, childish, and fantastic.

You won&rsquot believe it, but within a month I was standing at the gates of St. Anthony&rsquos Monastery in Arizona, mouth agape with surprise, looking around at the Sonora desert, right across from me the native inhabitants of these places&mdasha twenty-three-foot-wide cactus. It was like a fairy tale. I probably looked quite ridiculous.

Flying across the ocean

My miraculous trip across the ocean happened in the following way. A day after my fervent requests, an American named Richard came to Optina Pustyn, being baptized there with the name Ambrose. We met at the monastery and became friends. I recorded a conversation with the newly-baptized, published on pravoslavie.ru, and now Richard-Ambrose, having come to visit me, behind a cup of tea laughed, saying:

&ldquoI&rsquom a famous person in Russia now! I go to Moscow, visit Novodevichy Monastery, and they call me by name. I ask: &ldquoHow do you know my name?!&rdquo They answer: &ldquoWe read pravoslavie.ru, and saw your photo there!&rdquo

Ambrose is now my spiritual brother&mdashwe have the same Optina archimandrite for a spiritual father. My brother began to share with me his regrets, that he didn&rsquot fulfill his spiritual father&rsquos blessing&mdashhow to go to confession now? &ldquoWell, I&rsquoll ask forgiveness and explain that I wasn&rsquot able, that I&rsquoll fulfill it next time&hellip&rdquo

&ldquoWas it a difficult blessing?&rdquo

&ldquoNot very: they blessed me to visit St. Anthony&rsquos Monastery, the one in Arizona in the Sonora desert. It&rsquos not so far from my home state of South Carolina, but I wasn&rsquot able to arrange it all, I had a lot of things to do, and didn&rsquot go&hellip&rdquo

I think you will understand why my heart began to pound at these words.

Ambrose didn&rsquot come alone this time, but with a friend Michael. Michael is Russian and lives in America. Besides his legal degree from Russia he received a legal education from George Washington University in the US capital, is licensed and works successfully as a lawyer. He&rsquos a very smart, faithful young man. He serves in the altar in an Orthodox church, regularly confessing and communing. We went to Shamordino together and swam in the holy springs. He read one of my books and liked it. He asked me:

&ldquoOlga, would you like to see Orthodox America?&rdquo &ldquoI want to want to, but what&rsquos the use? For me, getting to America is like getting to the moon&hellip&rdquo

My American friends laughed. And here, by the prayers of Elder Ephraim, with the help of Misha[1] and Ambrose I found out that the path to America is much closer and easier than to the moon.

Sonora Desert, Arizona

Ambrose and I landed in Arizona at the same time, him coming from South Carolina, a subtropic state of sabal palm trees and white-toothed smiles, and me from the capital Washington, one of the few pre-planned cities of America, where there is a great concentration of historical attractions, free museums, and gorgeous parks.

We met at the airport. Ambrose was holding a garment bag in one hand and with the other clutching a book to his chest he had taken with him on the plane. &ldquoDo you have this book? I really, really like it! I never read anything like it! Never! You have to read it if you haven&rsquot!&rdquo

I know my spiritual brother does a lot of reading, has a PhD, and easily quotes various authors, beginning with the ancient Greek fathers of tragedy and drama. At Shamordino there is an elderly academic nun who, realizing Ambrose was an American, advised him to learn at least a little about Russia for his spiritual salvation. The tactful Richard-Ambrose just politely smiled in response, not telling the nun that one of his papers dealt with the role of Peter Arkadievich Stolypin in Russian history. So, Ambrose is quite bright, an intellectual. Therefore, for me, his enthusiastic review of the book is the best recommendation.

He turned the book around and I saw depicted on the cover Archimandrite Nathaniel (Pospelov) of the Pskov Caves Monastery. He was reading &ldquoEveryday Saints.&rdquo I smiled at Ambrose.

My American brother rented a car and we drove through the desert with gigantic many-armed saguaro cacti reaching up to fifty feet high and 150 years of age. I think we could say this huge, fat cactus probably remembers the nineteenth century&hellip Its roots spread 100 feet out from its body. Saguaro flowers, delicate and beautiful, blossoming at night, are a state symbol of Arizona. Besides the saguaro, another fifty types of cacti grow in the Sonora.

Posters at a roadside café tout their usefulness. Apparently cactus stems are wholly edible they can be baked and fried, a paste is made from the pulp, wine from the juice, jams and compotes from the fruits, and its tough wood is used for fuel and building material.

The Sonora is the hottest of the four American deserts, but now, in December, at night it&rsquos only 77° F. I read a book on animals in the Sonora. I didn&rsquot know if I would see any of them, but they sound very interesting: antelope squirrels, antelope rabbits, and prong-horned antelope, grasshopper mice, deer mice, ground squirrels, and also bat-eared foxes, coyotes, desert badgers&hellip The dangerous desert predator, the puma, has become very rare and is disappearing from hunting. The Sonora lizards are the only poisonous lizards in the world. There are seven types of rattlesnakes, black tarantulas, yellow scorpions, and black widows&mdasha female with a bite lethal for humans.

&ldquoOlga, do you want to go for a walk in the desert, see some more, maybe take a picture with a cactus?&rdquo &ldquoLater&hellip Next time&hellip&rdquo

Many of the inhabitants of the Sonora are used to leading a nocturnal lifestyle&mdashit&rsquos always cooler at night. During the day they hide out in burrows. But there are those of the day: animals often crossed our path, but whether they were coyotes or bat-eared foxes I don&rsquot know. I was just glad they weren&rsquot pumas. Unknown birds of this foreign continent flew in the sky.

The Monastery of St. Anthony the Great

We arrived at the monastery at six at night, in time only to look around. It got dark pretty quickly and I couldn&rsquot see anything clearly. I only met a Russian hierodeacon, Seraphim, who&rsquos been living in America since 1995 and in the monastery since 2002 with the obedience of working in the bookstore and meeting guests.

Stone paths, framed by multi-colored bricks, lead to the monastic cells and pilgrims&rsquo guest houses. Men are forbidden to enter the women&rsquos guest house. In my room of six bunks there were only two people, one American, the other Greek. The Greek woman didn&rsquot speak English very well, but the three of us understood one another beautifully, got quickly acquainted, and spoke a bit about ourselves.

Quiet time began at 7 PM for rest before the night service, during which you cannot make noise, take a shower, or talk. Each bed has a nightstand with a lamp, and you can read during quiet time if you don&rsquot want to sleep. There are a few chairs, some cabinets for clothes, and a bathroom with a shower. The cells are very cozy, with icons above the beds, and blinds always drawn on the windows. There&rsquos an air conditioner and a fan. In the kitchen there&rsquos a supply of potable water, you can brew tea and coffee, and there&rsquos large containers of apple and orange juice in the fridge.

Monastery services

At midnight my roommates and I went to the service together. We went early to get a blessing from Archimandrite Ephraim and Abbot Paisios&mdashthe elder&rsquos spiritual child who followed him from Mt. Athos.

We went up to the elders in order. Elder Ephraim used to give his blessing first, but now he stands behind Abbot Paisios and blesses second. The elder, eighty-seven years old, is gradually moving towards a more private, reclusive life. He already doesn&rsquot go to the common meals with the brothers. The elder looks much younger than his years: short, of ascetic composition, gray beard, very kind eyes. Extraordinary feelings envelop you in his presence, but I won&rsquot enlarge upon this, keeping in mind the words of the holy fathers: &ldquoTo praise an ascetic monk is the same as to trip him.&rdquo

There&rsquos no electricity in the church except for two small lights for the chanters. After the All-Night Vigil, at Liturgy, two monks from opposite sides light the candles on the chandelier. Then one of them, with a special stick with a hook on the end, with considerable effort pulls the large chandelier with burning three-foot candles, as far as the chains allow. Then the chandelier swings back and the chandelier begins to move in a pendulum motion. Then the monk takes the smaller chandelier hanging in the center of the larger one and swings it in the opposite direction of the larger one. It&rsquos a little hard to describe, but when it begins to spin in the darkness of the church in all its radiant splendor&mdashit leaves a remarkable impression. And it rotates on its own for a surprisingly long time&mdashuntil the end of the service!

Women stand strictly on the left side of the church, men on the right. No one tries to break this routine. During the singing of &ldquoHoly God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal&hellip&rdquo in Liturgy, two monk-ecclesiarchs cense the church and believers according to Athonite tradition with hand censers&mdashno chains, but a long handle with chiming bells. Choral singing is not used, except for the &ldquoCherubic Hymn&rdquo and &ldquoIt is Truly Meet.&rdquo One of the chanters on the kliros sings the melody in a particular voice while two others follow along with the root notes as an ison. It turns out quite beautifully. The Creed is not sung, but read by the abbot. Communicants don&rsquot say their name as we do in the Russian Church, and having communed, wipe their own mouths with the cloth. They don&rsquot kiss the chalice. There&rsquos no zapivka,[2] just the handing out of antidoron. There are a few other differences, but they don&rsquot strike the eye, and are noticeable only to the clergy and kliros.

I was standing in these amazing night services and thinking that women can&rsquot go to Mt. Athos, so visiting the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great and the others founded by Elder Ephraim is a unique opportunity for women to feel the spirit of Athos. You&rsquore touched by the prayers of the holy Athonite elder Joseph the Hesychast, through the prayers of his spiritual children who have themselves become great elders. This prayer and love can be felt anywhere on earth, even at a distance of a thousand miles. You pray in your mother tongue, and in some miraculous manner, by the grace of the Holy Spirit Who gave the apostles the gift of speaking in other tongues, the elder, having acquired this grace, understands you.

In a Greek church you can go up to the solea, which is not elevated, and venerate the icons. On the icons are several metal plates&mdashon one, a hand, on another, a leg, an eye, a baby, another hand, a whole person. It&rsquos a Greek tradition&mdashhaving prayed for healing or the gift of children, and having received your request, you order these plates in gratitude.

After the service is trapeza. On weekdays the brethren have breakfast in their cells, the pilgrims in the trapeza, and they have lunch together. On feast days there&rsquos a common breakfast. About forty-five brothers sit across from the abbot&rsquos table, then the table for male pilgrims, and then further, the table for female pilgrims. Trapeza begins with the ringing of a bell. About ten minutes later there&rsquos another bell, and you can pour yourself some cold water from a jug. The meal ends with the third ringing of the bell.

Today was a feast and we had festal dishes: mashed potatoes, fried fish, salad, olives from the monastery garden, and an apple on each plate, and bottles of apple cider vinegar and fresh olive oil. It was a festal trapeza. There was none of the typical Russian feast day fare: fish for the ascetics was already a big slackening from their daily menu. At the end of the meal they eat a piece of the Theotokion bread with a festal service, in order of seniority, pinching off a piece from the common loaf.

The next weekday at breakfast the brothers were gone. The pilgrims themselves pass by large plates and pots of food, serving themselves each what they want: nuts, halva, Turkish Delight, olives, salad, bread smeared with peanut butter, cups full of tea and caffeine-free coffee&mdashyou have to sleep after the night services!

Monastery and church surroundings

After sleeping a few hours after the service I quietly got up&mdashmy neighbors were still sleeping&mdashand went to look around the monastery. Everything around was filled with the freshness and sunlight of the early morning. There are palms of several types, larches, pines, various cacti, multi-colored shrubbery&mdashmore than 2,000 types of plants providing shade and coolness, the sound of water in fountains decorated with stone lions and eagles. Flowers in flowerbeds, in stone vases, and usual ceramic pots gladden the eye. A bit farther, in the monastery garden are oranges, lemons, grapefruits, pistachio trees, and date palms. There&rsquos a small vineyard and olive grove. A worker, gathering the citruses, gave me a couple of lemons.

I was struck by the beautiful churches, varying in size and style. The main church is named for St. Anthony the Great&mdashthe father of ancient monasticism&mdashand St. Nektarios of Aegina&mdasha highly venerated Greek saint having the grace to heal cancer. The icon of the Mother of God &ldquoof Arizona&rdquo was painted and sent from Greece for the cathedral. It is venerated as wonderworking. Its style is reminiscent of the well-known &ldquoQueen of All&rdquo icon.

Some distance from the monastery, on a hill is seen the snow white church of the Prophet Elijah, with blue cupolas. Fr. Seraphim gave me the key and a blessing to enter this remote church all alone. He suggested that I return to the guest house for a bottle of water. I didn&rsquot want to return, which I ended up regretting, because we had to walk not far but in the heat, without any shade along the road, then up the steps to climb the mountain to the church.

I walked tentatively through the desert, timidly looking around, searching for rattlesnakes and scorpions. Having climbed the steps up the mountain, from which opened up a miraculous view of the surroundings, I calmed down and easily opened the massive door with the key. The church was cool, and a prayerful silence reigned. I prayed. I returned without any fear, admiring the unusual views of the vast desert. The only thing&mdashI made a mistake and went the opposite direction of the monastery at the fork. How I managed to get lost in broad daylight I don&rsquot know. Apparently I was affected by a few nights practically without sleep from the long flight and night service.

On Elders Ephraim, Paisios, and Paul (Gruzdev) and oranges

After my short trip on my own into the desert Hierodeacon Seraphim introduced me to one of the few Russian families living not far from the monastery. Michael and Olga invited Ambrose and I over, and we drove down the deserted highway in search of their home. There were no cars, it was a complete wilderness&mdashonly a cactus&mdashthe silent guards of the surrounding area. Turning onto a country road, coyotes passed by our car. Finally into the desert, leaving the pavement behind, a sign appeared: &ldquoDead end.&rdquo

The houses of those who moved near the monastery and exchanged the noisy attractions and benefits of city life for the desert are located at a considerable distance from one another, with only the Sonora between them in all its glory.

The owners greeted us joyfully.

&mdashHello, allow us to thank you for the invitation!

Olga: You know, we Russian families, living here, all read the site pravoslavie.ru. I&rsquod like to take this opportunity to thank the creator and spiritual guide Vladyka Tikhon (Shevkunov). We know this site won&rsquot let us down, that we won&rsquot read anything confusing there, that would lead into temptation&hellip You can feel the sobriety, spiritual discernment&hellip And by the way, I know you by correspondence&mdashI have your book Paths of Our Lives. You even signed it yourself for me!


Olga: Do you remember? After an excursion at Optina you signed my friend&rsquos book and she asked you: &ldquoSign another for my friends in Arizona, Olga and Michael.&rdquo We are those very same friends!

(&ldquoIt&rsquos truly a small world!&rdquo I thought.)

&mdashHow did you come to America?

Olga: I came as a programmer and wanted to get to know some advanced technology and to see how things were here in the West&hellip I had no plans to stay here permanently. But the Lord was in control, and now I can work from home as a programmer&mdashit&rsquos a miracle, and not a small one.

Michael: And I&rsquom a doctor. I worked here in a medical corporation which manufactures medical equipment. I met Olga in California almost as soon as I arrived. We got married here in America. We went to a Russian church in San Diego where we lived, and constantly prayed that the Lord would send us where we could be saved.

&mdashHow did you end up here, in the Sonora desert?

Olga: You might be surprised, but I think I should start with my grandmother&rsquos spiritual father, Fr. Paul (Gruzdev). My grandmother&rsquos name was Vera, and she was from one of the places where Fr. Paul served. She was his spiritual child. The women that helped him were all my grandmother&rsquos friends. He called them &ldquoMy grandmas&rdquo&hellip My mom confessed to him, and probably it was his prayers that impacted our lives. Look, we have a portrait of him there&mdashthey&rsquore all Greeks, various elders, and Fr. Paul with them, for company&rsquos sake (smiling).

He was supposed to baptize me in childhood, but it didn&rsquot work out. My grandmother died early, in Bright Week, and I grew up unbaptized. But I really feel Fr. Paul&rsquos care for me in my life. Grandma&rsquos prayers and care are also present.

(As I was listening to Olga I felt my heart stop: a spiritual connection with holy people&mdashis this not what called me across the ocean?)

Olga: Before her death my grandmother was lying in the hospital and my mom was in the bed next to her, to take care of her. Not long before she died Fr. Paul sent two oranges to her as a gift. Grandma couldn&rsquot eat by this point, and mom didn&rsquot want them, so they sat on the shelf for a long time. Mama would reminisce about how strange it was to see these bright orange oranges in a white hospital room. For a village hospital at that time fruit was unusual, an overseas thing.

When we moved here and began to plant orange trees, I remembered those very oranges. I want to believe that it was Fr. Paul&rsquos prediction about the future&hellip You know: &ldquoEvents are the language by which the Lord God speaks to us&rdquo&hellip

&mdashYou plant orange trees?

Michael: Yes, we have a big garden here&hellip We planted them, they grew&hellip This year was the first harvest. There are so many oranges! Arizona is like the orange state. You know, the most delicious and sweetest citrus grows in the desert.

Olga: There was a second sign that Fr. Paul gave us, that we wouldn&rsquot be here without his prayers. A few pilgrims from Russia came to the monastery. One of them came to our house, saw the portraits of the elders and asked: &ldquoHow did a portrait of Fr. Paul wind up here in Arizona?&rdquo It turns out she had been to see him, and considers him her spiritual father who greatly helped her to find the right way in life. &ldquoI,&rdquo she said, &ldquoasked his blessing to continue studying after institute, but he answered: &lsquoNo. It&rsquos not necessary. You will have a house, with cows walking and mooing around you.&rsquo And, you know, his prophecy came completely true! She lives in her own house with cows all around! Although, they&rsquore not her cows&hellip&rdquo

Michael: There&rsquos a few details to add: these cows walk through Swiss meadows&mdashher husband is very rich and they live in Switzerland. And when Fr. Paul said this to her, she thought: &ldquoWhat cows?!&rdquo Such, you know, an educated woman&hellip

Olga: We asked Fr. Paul to direct us in life, and he guides us, tells us the news&hellip We lived in California for twelve years. At one point we really wanted to return to Russia, to the city of Rybinsk, where my parents live now. We started looking for a house there and were about to buy one. We had just enough money for a house. At the same time we started coming here, to St. Anthony&rsquos. We liked the monastery but also wanted our homeland. On the day we were supposed to pay for our house in Rybinsk either the crisis happened in Russia, or our stock crashed&hellip I already forgot&hellip

Michael: The developers there stopped building and didn&rsquot even want to return the money we&rsquod already sent&hellip

Olga: It was clearly the intervention of God&rsquos providence. But when we were planning to come here, by the monastery, everything with buying the house went smoothly.

&mdashIn such a deserted place, where almost no one lives?

Michael: People live here&mdashthey just have big tracts of land&hellip We have ten acres, and our neighbor has a hundred acres. Land here is sold in such chunks&mdashit&rsquos cheap. It&rsquos desert here.

&mdashBut why so much land?

Michael (smiling): All the Russians ask this. If you pour the water from the well, everything will grow here: citruses, dates, figs, apples.

&mdashAnd you like living here?

Michael: Of course! You know, it&rsquos like living near Optina. It&rsquos not for nothing that you live by Optina, right? Apparently something pulled you there? Maybe you felt some special grace? We&rsquore the same. We&rsquore nurtured here by the abbot Fr. Paisios.

&mdashMaybe you can say something about your spiritual father and some of his teachings?

Olga: Fr. Paisios guides us by example. In the lives of the saints there&rsquos a story of one elder-abbot. They asked him: &ldquoFather, why do you stand the whole time in church? You never even sit in your abbot&rsquos chair?&rdquo The elder answered: &ldquoIf I sit, my monks will lie down.&rdquo That&rsquos how Fr. Paisios is: he shows us everything by his example. He labors alongside not just the older brethren, but even with the novices, not shunning any work. He speaks little but does much. He is very humble and tries to remain in the shadow of Elder Ephraim. He also helps the elder hear the pilgrims&rsquo confessions. Usually Fr. Paisios receives Americans and Russians.

Michael: He is an ascetic. He doesn&rsquot give particular instructions, but prays for his children, and we feel his prayer.

&mdashCould you say a little about Elder Ephraim?

Michael: We haven&rsquot been able to speak with Elder Ephraim very much&mdashElder Paisios is our spiritual father.

Olga: We have a Greek teacher now, who is a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim.

Michael: You know, when you go to Optina, you feel the spirit of the Optina elders there, even though the elders were there a century ago&hellip and the Optina new martyrs&mdashyou feel their protection. St. Anthony&rsquos Monastery is young, founded in 1995, but the continuity of eldership is here. Elder Joseph the Hesychast protects this monastery. The spirit of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and the Greek ascetics is here. And the rule here totally coincides with that of the Athonite monasteries where spiritual children of Elder Joseph became the abbots. So this rule has been verified by the experience of Athonite monasteries.

Olga: A priest from Greece, Fr. Stephen Anagnostopulous, came to the monastery not too long ago. He&rsquos been a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim for many years and has written many books, one of which, Revelations During the Divine Liturgy, I strongly recommend you to read, although it&rsquos only been published in Greek and English. He&rsquos a Spirit-bearing father. The elder blessed him to have a conversation with the laypeople, and during this conversation he told us a little about the elder: &ldquoOnce, many years ago, when the Elder was visiting me in Greece, many people gathered to listen to him, take his blessing, and ask him some questions. My wife set the table, but it so happened that we only had one loaf of bread, and we worried that it wouldn&rsquot be enough for all our guests. Then the elder took the bread in his hands and began to break pieces off and give them to the guests. He kept doing it, and the loaf never ran out, until he had given everyone a piece. It was clearly a miracle that my family and I witnessed.&rdquo

Fr. Stephen then told us: &ldquoThere are among you those who very much would like to see the living Christ, even with one eye to see Him as He walked with His Most Pure Feet on earth. I tell such people: go and look at Elder Ephraim, because to see the elder is the same as to see Christ, because Elder Ephraim has Christ in his heart.&rdquo

On Sundays after the service I go to talks for women led by one woman, Alexandra, who is also the elder&rsquos spiritual child, with his blessing. Once, when the end of the conversation turned to the current lamentable state of the world, she said: &ldquoThe elders (having in mind our elder, and also St. Paisios the Athonite who she had gone to see a few times) say that in our modern times it&rsquos easy for the educated to be saved. The explanation is that the Lord always send His grace into the world. There used to be many ascetics who labored much to acquire grace. Now the number of those being saved has become quite small, and the quantity of grace, if I can say so, has remained the same. People willingly refuse the gifts of God, but grace doesn&rsquot return back to the Lord. It&rsquos like a bee looking for a flower in the meadow, and this excess of grace seeks a soul which prays and asks the Lord for some spiritual gifts. So, the elders say, today&rsquos Christians, laboring a bit, can receive so much grace, and such gifts, for the sake of which the ancient ascetics had to labor for years.&rdquo

&mdashThank you very much for the conversation!

Olga: In parting, I will tell you a parable of Elder Ephraim, which one Greek, Maria, his spiritual child, told us after the Saturday service. Elder Ephraim has a very vivid tongue. This is the story.

Elder Ephraim's story

Once there lived an ascetic monk (the elder did not say this story was about himself, but monks often speak about themselves in the third person). And once this ascetic, having many spiritual children, knocked for the Lord. The Lord opened to door for him, and the monk said:

&ldquoMy Christ, I labor here with all my strength, I pray&mdashcan I ask of You one thing?&rdquo

&ldquoI have spiritual children, people with whom I&rsquom connected. In the past, to enter the Heavenly Kingdom you had to score ten points. Ten out of ten. You had to labor quite hard. But times are so hard now that there&rsquos no one around who can labor this way, to get ten out of ten&hellip Can You make it so that those who get eight points would also be able to enter the Heavenly Kingdom?&rdquo

&ldquoVery well, for your sake, for the sake of your love for Me, so be it.&rdquo

&ldquoMy Christ, can I ask you another favor?&rdquo

&ldquoAsk,&rdquo the Lord answered again.

&ldquoYou know, My Christ, even eight points is very hard to get. But people try. They try to obey, to pray. And what if only a few of them can score eight points? Make it, please, that those who get six points would also be able to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. After all, it would be a shame if a man tried all his life&hellip But they&rsquore so weak now&hellip There are so many temptations in this world now and spiritual life is so low&hellip Those who score six points&mdashtake them to Yourself as well!&rdquo

&ldquoVery well,&rdquo the Lord answered. &ldquoFor the sake of your podvigs and love for Me, so be it.&rdquo

After a while the ascetic knocked a third time:

&ldquoLord, and if they only score a four? Please, My Christ, I will labor for them, will keep vigil and labor even to the point of blood! Please, allow them also to see the Heavenly Kingdom!

&ldquoSo be it,&rdquo uttered the Lord.

The monk looked around at the people, looked at all his spiritual children, thought, and again meekly approached the door. But when he was about to knock again, the Lord Himself opened the door and said to the ascetic:

&ldquoYou know, all the same, they themselves have to try and make some effort!

Middle Ages: A Shift In Rules

So when did these dress codes start to become more lax? According to Seale, while formal dress codes took a while to fall off the books, informal ones upheld by society took even longer. "Think of all the ways a 'good girl' doesn’t dress even now," she points out.

The changes finally occurred in part when more women began to learn how to read and write, and because of it, were able to claim more space in the public sphere. One example was Nicolosa Castellani Sanuti, a woman from 15th-century Bologna who challenged a dress code law issued by a Cardinal by writing a lengthy essay in defense of women’s fashion. "She said that since women couldn’t hold public office or be visible in public in the same way that men could, or receive the 'triumphs and spoils of war,' then clothing was one of the few ways for a woman to make a statement about who she was," said Seale. "Of course, the very fact that Nicolosa had the scope to publish such a treatise tells us that things were changing!"

Iconographer Father Kallinkos of Cyprus Revived Byzantine Traditions

Iconographer Father Kallinkos was himself considered an icon for his role in restoring Byzantine art techniques during his 91 years. Yet when I met the monk shortly before his death, he was a humble and gracious host.

I met Father Kallinko at Stavrovouni Monastery, which he first entered as a novice monk when he was 21 years old. The Monastery sits atop a steep mountain that resembles a pyramid, overlooking Larnaca Bay. The syllables “stavro” at the beginning of a church’s name means that it possesses a piece of the “true cross,” on which Jesus was crucified. It is believed that this monastery was founded in 327 by St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, who stopped in Cyprus on her return from the Holy Land.

Ironically, women are not allowed to enter the main part of the monastery, but can visit the adjacent chapel. This rule is called avato and emulates a similar code at Mount Athos, is designed to keep the monks isolated from temptation. Happily, a hand-painted sign outside Father Kallinkos’ studio affirmed “Entrance Allowed for Women”.

Read: Want to know more about the importance of art in other cultures? Check out this article on Vijay Shyam, a Gond Art artist from India!

90-Year Old Iconographer Father Kallinkos Is An Icon Himself

I was eager to meet Father Kallinkos, who had come to the monastery in 1940 when he was 20 and at 22 had started doing wall paintings at Stavrovouni. In 1946, he went to Mount Athos where he took courses in icon painting. He took part in Cyprus’ liberation struggle from 1955 – 1959 and was arrested by the English, tortured and imprisoned. After being released from prison he moved to Athens and took courses from another great icon painter, Fotis Kontoglou. He studied techniques at various places such as Mystras, Meteora, Berroia, Thessaloniki and Mount Sinai. When I met him, Father Kallinkons was 90 years old, and he said the years of wall painting standing on scaffolding had affected his knees.

In a small outbuilding apart from the monastery, I found Father Kallinikos with company and a twinkle in his eye. In his small and cluttered studio, the monk was in animated conversation with Vassos Christophides of Nicosia, who had been the head of a handicraft organization and has known Father Kallinkos for 30 years. The monk’s niece, Stamatia Zannikon of Athens, had come for the summer to study icon painting with him, something she has done for the past eight years. Her mother, the priest’s sister, painted too.

Read: Learn about another one of Cyprus’ icon painters that honors Byzantine traditions.

Icons are Immortal

Father Kallinikos held up an icon painting and spoke in Greek. Vassos acted as the monk’s translator.

“He is saying the icon is immortal.”

“He is 90 in body but in his mind he is a young man, still searching for lost techniques,” Vassos said. “He has visited many of the ancient sites where Byzantine icons have been preserved, including the Holy Monastery of Saint Katherine on Mount Sinai in Egypt. Classical writers observed that the Egyptians painted with molten wax, using special tools. The Greeks and Romans wanted to paint pictures of their dead rather than create mummies. These portraits, created in the first century on wood and cloth, were the early prototypes for icons, which Christians adopted.”

Father Kallinikos was impressed with the process employed at Saint Katherine’s and practices it today. Called the encaustic technique, it involves liquefying bee’s wax with ammonia, resulting in a soluble substance like watercolor but one that can last thousands of years without the hues losing their vividness. The icons can be polished and burnished and their light will continue to shine.

The Back Story of Greek Orthodox Iconography in Cyprus

The styles of iconography that can be witnessed across Cyprus reflect the island’s history as a cultural crossroads.

The occupation of Cyprus by Richard the Lionhearted in 1191 and the establishment of the French Kingdom of Cyprus in 1192 brought Roman Catholicism to the country. The conquerors confiscated the property of the Greek Orthodox Church and gradually alienated the country from the direct influences of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine world. We have therefore a peculiar trend in icon painting in the thirteenth century. Painters go back to earlier sources and eastern elements take a hand, lineal lines prevail, the paintings are strictly “en face” and flat.

The 15th and 16th centuries are considered the most creative periods of icon painting in Cyprus. As a result of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many icon painters came to Cyprus, creating a school of painting on the island that parallels the Cretan school. The decay of Byzantine painting after 1571 came as a result of the Turkish occupation, with many of the well-known painters leaving for Venice.

Read: Intrigued by Cyprus? Check out this Cyprus cultural itinerary on Best Cultural Destinations!

Iconographer Considers Each Painting a Prayer

Vassos said that the monk strictly adheres to the traditions of the Byzantine Macedonian school of icon painting and yet each piece is unique. Father Kallinikos puts his innermost thoughts in each icon he paints in the hopes that when people look at it, they will get the message. He considers icon painting to be a prayer, a way that he worships.

“All icon painters are taught that if they are not spiritual, they will fail,” Vassos translated. “You have to feel the philosophy. Someone can copy like a photograph, but not put anything of himself in it.”

“An icon is not just an object,” explained Vassos. “We don’t pray to them like idols, it is a reminder, you honor the person. The icons are revered not worshiped. The simple people in the past worshiped them. When the serfs were sick, they would scratch a painting and put a paint chip in water and drink to get well.”

Father Kallinkos’ First Icon Painting

The first icon Father Kallinkos painted hangs over the refrigerator in his studio. He had given it to his mother and reclaimed it when she died. His work is now in Russia, Germany, France, Switzerland—he has had 10 exhibits in London. The monk’s calling has enabled him to purchase his father’s house, where his sister now lives, as well as build a church in Athienou, the village from which he hails, and establish two homes for the community’s elderly.

His legacy also includes passing on his knowledge, some of which he was taught by another famous icon painter, Father Meletios. Father Kallinikos said that he couldn’t produce a son to “carry the line” but he had a pupil he instructed in the techniques for ten years. Now that student is an iconographer, as is his son.

From Venus to Katie Price: A brief history of the breast

N ow you see them, now you don’t. The Sun, with a wink at its readers and a jeer at its critics, indulged last week in a bit of traditional British seaside postcard humour when it appeared to stop featuring topless women on Page 3, before bringing them back on Thursday. “Further to reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth,” the caption read.

The purpose of these editorial antics seems to have been to underline the newspaper’s daily right to make its own decisions. Yet, whether or not the Sun’s editors wanted to raise the issue, a question had been asked: what do those naked breasts say about the way we see women now?

Down the ages, western culture has laid a strong claim on the female form, repeatedly suggesting that a woman’s body is an eternal ideal of beauty. This was not always the case, however. The classicist Mary Beard points out that, in statuary at least, the most significant parts were once male.

“In sculpture in the ancient world,” Beard said this weekend, “as opposed to painting, where the trajectory is a bit different, male nudity was a symbol of bodily excellence and power, and this goes back to the beginning of Greek sculpture, say in the early 7th century BC.”

Aphrodite of Knidos. Photograph: Alamy

There were no sculpted female nudes, she adds, until the 4th century BC and the reason for their sudden appearance remains much debated. The Greek statue known as Aphrodite of Knidos, popularly known as Venus Pudica, is thought to be the earliest, and is typical in its attempt to conceal the genitalia with the artful placing of the model’s hand. The ancient Greek figure of the single-breasted Amazon was, in contrast, deliberately contrived to be threatening. With a name derived from the words “a” (without) and “mazos” (breast), these were legendary warrior women who had cut off one breast so they could draw a bow. The remaining breast nursed only female children: male infants were discarded.

Since then, there have been good breasts and bad breasts, maternal breasts and martial breasts, but in western art they are rarely incidental. During the Renaissance, motherly depictions dominated. Images of the nursing Madonna, Maria lactans, abounded: she gave suck to baby Jesus and, by implication, to the needy souls of all Christians. Soon, laden with suggestions of religious sacrifice, the breastfeeding Madonna stood in visual parallel with the final act of Christ, who had given his blood on the cross.

Intermittently the bared breast has become the symbol of excess and aggressive lechery in society. From Hogarth’s prostitutes to Playboy’s Anna Nicole Smith, the voluptuous bosom often spells trouble. In Marilyn Yalom’s 1998 A History of the Breast, she notes that at different points in history, for political and economic reasons, “a specific conception of the breast took hold of the western imagination, and changed the way it was seen and represented”. Meanwhile, in cultures where the breast is not so sexualised, such as in Africa or the South Pacific, women have gone bare-breasted in art as in real life, to the indifference of onlookers.

Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping, 1969. Photograph: ITV / Rex Features

In British history, the imposition of modest dress for women has been closely associated with proof of chastity and with showing deference to fathers and husbands as owners of property. In England, King Henry VI (1421-1471), complained about the courtly fashion of “baring the breasts” as disrespectful. Later Anne Boleyn, beloved of Henry VIII, was noted to be small breasted – although her “pretty duckies” scarcely held her back. Under the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I, androgyny became more fashionable, at least when it came to the chest, and this is thought to have been designed to show respect for a Queen who was doing a man’s job.

The French also have a fine tradition of freighting the breast with meaning. Two great French icons, the soldierly Joan of Arc and Marianne, the revolutionary figurehead, are both recognised by their chests, one covered with a military breastplate and the other exposed in battle. They are unusually powerful and subversive female figures, although the fact that in 1969 the child-like Brigitte Bardot modelled for a bust of Marianne has perhaps undermined her radical potency. Breasts in France are also indirectly celebrated in many a champagne toast for, although Marie Antoinette was born a century before the coupe champagne glass was designed, its shape is widely held to have been modelled on one of her breasts (a trick repeated for real last year by Kate Moss courtesy of a London restaurant).

Outside the worlds of art and photography, the main point of the breast is milk production, of course, but if you search the web for information on the breast you are first directed to many more sites offering pornography or information on cancer. Nigel Farage, who wants nursing mothers to be discreet, will be relieved to learn that the basic human act of breastfeeding is still rather covert in the west.

A couple of decades ago Brits who bared their breasts were being applauded for their enterprise. The path followed by Page 3 stars Linda Lusardi, Samantha Fox, Melinda Messenger and Katie Price was almost a publicly ratified way to better yourself without getting a degree – a bit like boxing for a working-class boy. Now, though, according to Aaron Tinney, the editor of Loaded magazine, a career in topless modelling leads nowhere. “I don’t want to include pinups in our magazine. It is a question of, ‘what have these models done to deserve that platform?’ Is that really a career for a woman these days? These kind of photographs look outdated because they have been outdated by the internet.”

Tinney, who used to work for the Sun, has taken Loaded back to the early days of its existence, he says, when there was little or no nudity: “After a few years Loaded went down the lad mags route for commercial reasons. They were straying into soft porn territory, but it doesn’t work commercially any more.”

It was, he believes, part of the lad culture of the late Thatcher years in which young people thumbed their noses at propriety. “Strong women bought into that image too, ladettes like Sara Cox, but humour has changed. All that sort of cheeky nonsense is available online now.”

Keira Knightley at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. Photograph: George Pimentel/WireImage.com

Tinney argues there are bigger problems for feminists to tackle than Page 3 and its like. But the writer Natasha Walter has heard this one before. “As if feminists haven’t also been campaigning against female genital mutilation and hardcore porn for some time,” she says. “The longer I look at this, the more I see these things are interconnected. Of course, as an individual campaigner you can choose where you want to put your energies, but even the apparently smaller, trivial issues like Page 3 all lead into each other.”

Walter, whose book Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism is reissued in March for National Women’s Day, claims opposition to Page 3 is not censorship or prudery, but an objection to having breasts on a news page in a newspaper.

“The campaign is not asking for a ban, and breasts are always going to be all around us in art and museums and in life, and that is as it should be. But having topless models there says, ‘this is the way we want to value you’. And any other woman written about inside that newspaper looks odd in comparison to a half-naked, young, attractive, biddable woman. They either look under-sexed or too active.”

From Nell Gwyn to Dita Von Teese, via Jayne Mansfield, Barbara Windsor and Pamela Anderson, many women have wholly or partially revealed their large breasts to seduce the general public, but few have kept control of their image (perhaps Dolly Parton, Madonna and Christina Hendricks are notable exceptions). Size has unfairly denoted a lack of control, a vulnerable abundance that is the opposite of poise and dignity. Smaller breasts are often a badge of class. So Victoria Beckham was dubbed the poshest of the Spice Girls, while Keira Knightley kept her sleek cachet by objecting to the airbrushed enlargement of her bust in the poster for her 2004 film King Arthur.

Yet more than 300,000 women a year have cosmetic breast surgery in the hope of matching an imagined template. Since the first silicone implant was performed in 1962, the procedure has been popular, initially mainly with go-go dancers and topless models and then with Hollywood.

Are women encouraged to go under the knife by the breasts they see in newspapers and on television? Well, even if Page 3 did disappear, a show such as Game of Thrones provides a stream of naked comparators. It has been estimated there are 5.6 bare breasts per episode (prompting an online controversy about what might count as .6 of a breast and thereby making the feminists’ point about the commodification of the female body).

The Sun would be alone, it seems, if it had found a way to present the bare breast as pure “innocent fun”. Some feminists might argue Page 3 is an unconscious attempt to belittle women by placing their sexuality in a ridiculous context others would argue it is old-fashioned but, as Walter points out: “The fact that it is still there is definitely saying something.”


Traditional mosaics are made of cut small cubes of roughly square pieces of stone or hand-made glass enamel of different colors, known as tesserae. Some of the earliest mosaics were made of natural pebbles, originally used to reinforce floors. [2]

Mosaic skinning (covering objects with mosaic glass) is done with thin enameled glass and opaque stained glass. Modern mosaic art is made from any material in any size ranging from carved stone, bottle caps, and found objects.

The earliest known examples of mosaics made of different materials were found at a temple building in Abra, Mesopotamia, and are dated to the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. They consist of pieces of colored stones, shells, and ivory. Excavations at Susa and Chogha Zanbil show evidence of the first glazed tiles, dating from around 1500 BC. [3] However, mosaic patterns were not used until the times of Sassanid Empire and Roman influence.

Greek and Roman Edit

Bronze Age pebble mosaics have been found at Tiryns [4] mosaics of the 4th century BC are found in the Macedonian palace-city of Aegae, and the 4th-century BC mosaic of The Beauty of Durrës discovered in Durrës, Albania in 1916, is an early figural example the Greek figural style was mostly formed in the 3rd century BC. Mythological subjects, or scenes of hunting or other pursuits of the wealthy, were popular as the centrepieces of a larger geometric design, with strongly emphasized borders. [5] Pliny the Elder mentions the artist Sosus of Pergamon by name, describing his mosaics of the food left on a floor after a feast and of a group of doves drinking from a bowl. [6] Both of these themes were widely copied. [7]

Greek figural mosaics could have been copied or adapted paintings, a far more prestigious artform, and the style was enthusiastically adopted by the Romans so that large floor mosaics enriched the floors of Hellenistic villas and Roman dwellings from Britain to Dura-Europos.

Most recorded names of Roman mosaic workers are Greek, suggesting they dominated high quality work across the empire no doubt most ordinary craftsmen were slaves. Splendid mosaic floors are found in Roman villas across North Africa, in places such as Carthage, and can still be seen in the extensive collection in Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia.

There were two main techniques in Greco-Roman mosaic: opus vermiculatum used tiny tesserae, typically cubes of 4 millimeters or less, and was produced in workshops in relatively small panels which were transported to the site glued to some temporary support. The tiny tesserae allowed very fine detail, and an approach to the illusionism of painting. Often small panels called emblemata were inserted into walls or as the highlights of larger floor-mosaics in coarser work. The normal technique was opus tessellatum, using larger tesserae, which was laid on site. [8] There was a distinct native Italian style using black on a white background, which was no doubt cheaper than fully coloured work. [9]

In Rome, Nero and his architects used mosaics to cover some surfaces of walls and ceilings in the Domus Aurea, built 64 AD, and wall mosaics are also found at Pompeii and neighbouring sites. However it seems that it was not until the Christian era that figural wall mosaics became a major form of artistic expression. The Roman church of Santa Costanza, which served as a mausoleum for one or more of the Imperial family, has both religious mosaic and decorative secular ceiling mosaics on a round vault, which probably represent the style of contemporary palace decoration.

The mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina in Sicily are the largest collection of late Roman mosaics in situ in the world, and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large villa rustica, which was probably owned by Emperor Maximian, was built largely in the early 4th century. The mosaics were covered and protected for 700 years by a landslide that occurred in the 12th Century. The most important pieces are the Circus Scene, the 64m long Great Hunting Scene, the Little Hunt, the Labours of Hercules and the famous Bikini Girls, showing women undertaking a range of sporting activities in garments that resemble 20th Century bikinis. The peristyle, the imperial apartments and the thermae were also decorated with ornamental and mythological mosaics. [10] Other important examples of Roman mosaic art in Sicily were unearthed on the Piazza Vittoria in Palermo where two houses were discovered. The most important scenes there depicted are an Orpheus mosaic, Alexander the Great's Hunt and the Four Seasons.

In 1913 the Zliten mosaic, a Roman mosaic famous for its many scenes from gladiatorial contests, hunting and everyday life, was discovered in the Libyan town of Zliten. In 2000 archaeologists working in Leptis Magna, Libya, uncovered a 30 ft length of five colorful mosaics created during the 1st or 2nd century AD. The mosaics show a warrior in combat with a deer, four young men wrestling a wild bull to the ground, and a gladiator resting in a state of fatigue, staring at his slain opponent. The mosaics decorated the walls of a cold plunge pool in a bath house within a Roman villa. The gladiator mosaic is noted by scholars as one of the finest examples of mosaic art ever seen — a "masterpiece comparable in quality with the Alexander Mosaic in Pompeii."

A specific genre of Roman mosaic was called asaroton (Greek for "unswept floor"). It depicted in trompe-l'œil style the feast leftovers on the floors of wealthy houses. [11]


D uring its long life, the convent has undergone constant alteration, but the dominant style of architecture belongs to the end of the Ottoman period and the early twentieth century. Three sections of the convent, however, belong to the medieval period: the Shaghoura, or church of the Virgin, which houses the ancient icon the lower floor, including the kitchen and cellars and the vaulted room below the nuns&rsquo cells. These were all built directly upon the bed-rock, which is visible in the passage leading to the Shaghoura.

1. The Shaghoura sanctuary

T he winding road leading to the convent terminates at the base of the cliff. Two modern symmetrical staircases zigzag upward, forming a pattern of three ascending lozenges. At the top of the staircases stands the convent wall, whose entrance door is only one meter high. This leads into a winding rock-passage reinforced in places with masonry walls. Here a contemporary mosaic pictures Justinian and Theodora offering the model of the convent to the Virgin and Child.

T he passage gradually ascends towards the small interior courtyard of the convent, from which a small arched door leads through a vestibule towards the Shaghoura. The visitor must remove his shoes in the vestibule. The Shaghoura chapel is plunged in semi-darkness. It is a small room with a low, vaulted ceiling and walls covered with icons, most of them blackened by the smoke of candles. Gold and silver-plated lamps are suspended from the ceiling. The ancient icons are mostly revetted in silver, with carved frames of gilded wood. Dozens of candles, the only source of light, flicker on a table and in the chandeliers.

A white curtain screens a little niche closed by a silver grill hung with gold and silver chains, bracelets and necklaces, and many crosses &ndash all gifts offered from the most ancient of times. Behind this grill is the famous miraculous icon of the Virgin, reputed to be the work of St Luke the evangelist. In Syriac, Shaghoura means &lsquothe renowned&rsquo or &lsquothe illustrious&rsquo. It can also mean &lsquothe source&rsquo, a fitting attribute of the Mother of God since the Christian religion was transmitted to mankind through her.

2. The Convent Church

T he present church is a modern construction, restored by Patriarch Hierotheos (1851-85) after its destruction during the 1860 massacres. Almost nothing remains of the ancient church, the one known by Crusader pilgrims. The earliest descriptions, dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, describe the church as a basilica of three naves with two arcades of six arches on each side, a vaulted ceiling, and a mosaic pavement floor. The iconostasis at the east end of the nave was covered with icons, and the walls of the apse were decorated with beautiful images. Although the stone vaults were certainly of medieval origin, the mosaic pavement indicates that the church was initially built during the Byzantine period, between the fourth and sixth centuries, which corroborates the legend of its foundation.

T he Russian traveler Barsky, who visited Saydnaya in 1728, describes a five-nave basilica. The ceiling was vaulted and the floor covered with well-dressed flagstones: only the sanctuary still preserved the Byzantine mosaic floor. Barsky declares that the church of Saydnaya was the most beautiful he had visited in the East.

T he earthquake of 1759 demolished a large part of the church and the entire ceiling collapsed. It was rebuilt in 1762 and underwent further alterations in 1810. A final and complete restoration was made after the destruction of 1860.

O nly the north wall of the church, facing the convent courtyard, is visible from outside. Built of white limestone with small windows, its aspect is simple and modest. The interior is a large cubic space, crowned by a dome supported by massive pylons. The plan is basilical, divided into three naves. The central, barrel-vaulted nave is wider and higher than the side naves. Narrow arched windows open in the north and south walls on two levels, but the dome is opaque. The interior is mostly lit by the beautiful crystal hanging lamps and flickering candles.

T he spacious and airy interior is perfectly proportioned. The floor is covered with marble flagstones decorated with polychrome marquetry. The upper walls and the vaults are covered with blue plaster. A simple moulding runs around the church at the base of the vaults, and a radiant sun is painted on the sanctuary vault.

T he interior is filled with candles, pulpits, benches, and icons recessed in marble frames or installed beneath canopies. A staircase ascends to the octagonal platform, whose sides are adorned with icons representing the four evangelists and Christ enthroned. Above Christ is the sculpture of a double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Byzantine Empire and Orthodoxy. A large iconostasis of finely carved wood runs across the width of the three naves. Of majestic beauty, its icons date mostly from the 19 th century.

3. Other buildings

F rom the interior courtyard, a staircase leads up to the private apartments of the superior, where a small esplanade faces the reception rooms and offices. The convent museum lies on the site of the old church of St Demetrios, to the right of the church behind a large black grill. Several rooms have been refurbished in recent years in order to display the convent&rsquos rich collection of icons and other religious objects, which are mostly donations from pilgrims and other faithful dating from the seventeenth century. Two glass cabinets display sumptuous episcopal vestments of embroidered cloth of gold. Other cabinets contain religious objects of gold or silver, including crosses, thuribles, chalices, chandeliers, and reliquaries. One room contains precious ancient manuscripts and sacred liturgical objects transferred by Antiochian patriarchs during the twentieth century.

A mong the most interesting objects is the Epitaphion (coffin) of Christ, which is used once a year on Good Friday. It is lavishly decorated with cloth flowers and pearl necklaces. The wooden cover features an icon representing the face of Christ in the tomb, with his Mother and St John lamenting on either side.

O ne of the three oldest parts of the convent includes the kitchen, refectory, and living room, all barrel-vaulted at differing levels and connected by steps. Their outer walls are very thick with small openings. Below, down a steep flight of stairs, are the large cellars divided into three parts. One of these contains great oiljars buried in the floor and large masonry tanks filled with grain and dry vegetables.

T he nuns&rsquo cells are located on the right of the courtyard behind the sanctuaries, overlooking a hill and valley with a splendid view. From a small rear court, a door leads into a long barrel-vaulted room whose walls are more than a metre in thickness and pierced with narrow windows. The walls are built of alternating stones and brick, a method used to minimize earthquake damage. This is the visitors&rsquo reception room and is probably the oldest part of the monastery. Above is a building of four floors, the first containing a sewing workshop and laundry room, and the others reserved for the nuns&rsquo cells.

Icons in the Shaghoura sanctuary

T he Shaghoura icon is never shown to visitors. However, a number of descriptions by medieval visitors have survived. The first was left by a pilgrim named Giraud in 1175: &lsquoIn this church, I saw an image painted on wood, an ell in length and half an ell in width, in a window of the sanctuary and strongly guarded by an iron grill. It was an image of the Blessed Virgin. But now, wonderful to tell, the painting is incarnate upon the wood, and oil more fragrant than balm streams from it without cease. A multitude of Christians, Saracens, and Jews have been cured of various illnesses by this oil. And note that this oil never diminishes, no matter how much is taken. No one dares to touch this painting, but all can see it. The oil is religiously conserved, and when one takes it with devotion and faith, in honor of the Holy Virgin and with due reverence, one obtains unfailingly whatever one asks for. On the days of her Assumption and her Glorious Nativity, all the Saracens of the surrounding areas throng to this place in order to pray there with the Christians and to offer their gifts in devotion.&rsquo

W e have few other details about the icon. Western witnesses give varying dimensions (1 x 1.5 cubits, 1x 1.5 feet, or 3 x 4 feet), and the German traveler Lehmann (1472-80) says that it represented the Virgin feeding the Child.[11] A pilgrim of 1336 described the icon as nothing but a dark red image covered with humidity.[12] According to the Arab visitor Ibn Massoud, the icon was a dark-red plank of wood two fingers in thickness and four hands wide. The image was no longer visible to him.[13]

O ther icons on the walls of the Shaghoura sanctuary are covered with a thick layer of soot from the candles that have been constantly lighted for centuries. Almost the only one still visible is an image of the Virgin with a man kneeling beside her, wearing a green fur mantle and a turban. Local tradition identifies him as either the Mamluk sultan Baybars or the Ayyubid Sultan al-&lsquoAdil, the brother of Saladin. None of the medieval travellers mentioned it, however, and its post-Byzantine style suggests that the icon is a late representation of a medieval legend.[14]

Other icons

T he church and convent house a large number of icons and precious objects, which were donated for the most part by pilgrims. The icons fill the iconostasis and the walls of the main church of Our Lady. Most of them belong to the Jerusalem school, which flourished after 1860, the year of the dramatic events in Damascus and Mount Lebanon when many Christians perished and churches were destroyed. Once peace was restored, the region witnessed a great revival of Christianity and an intense building of new churches, which all required decoration with icons. From that time, there began a great activity of icon production and original icon-painters appeared at Jerusalem. They included Youhanna Salibi al-Qudsi, Mikhail Mehanna al-Qudsi, N&rsquoqula Tadros al-Qudsi, and Ishaq N&rsquoqula al-Qudsi, who all worked extensively in Lebanon and Syria. They cannot be described as artists of great refinement, but their icons form a coherent group, so that these artists may be said to have introduced a particular style and school of painting. The style does not resemble the Aleppine, but is closer to Russian religious painting, which flourished in the later nineteenth century. At that time, the Russian presence in Palestine was marked. Russian artists worked in the Holy Land and left paintings, and Russian pilgrims brought icons with them. During the later nineteenth century, Russian iconography departed greatly from ancient Russian tradition. Instead, it turned towards Western religious oil-painting with its very different visual methods, such as the use of the third dimension, the play of light and shadow, narrative painting, and genre painting. In this kind of icon-painting, the spiritual presence that must be carried by the icon is relegated to second place. Thus, the icons of the Jerusalem school are characterized by a decorative aspect with natural colors, in which the gilded background of Byzantine icons, symbolizing divine light, gives way to countrysides with blue skies and clouds. The compositions are full of details and previously non-existent elements. Moreover, as in Russian icons of the period, a shade of sentimentality is present on all the faces of the personages.

A sumptuous iconostasis separates the nave from the sanctuary. Of large dimensions, it houses many icons of different origins, but especially of the nineteenth-century Palestinian school. However, the two royal icons of Christ and the Virgin belong to an earlier period. To the left of the Royal Door is the beautiful icon of Christ King of Kings and Great Archbishop. Christ is seated on a finely embroidered red cushion placed on a sumptuous throne. He wears the royal crown and the vestments of an archbishop. The white tunic is decorated with a pattern of red flowers, green stripes, and yellow crosses. The mantle is decorated with a gilded motif upon a dark blue background, and the cloak is red with a blue floral pattern. Angels are shown kneeling on either side, and the borders of the icon are occupied by apostles and prophets. The face of Christ, with its fine features, short beard, and long moustache, identifies this as the work of Michael Polychronis the Cretan, who worked in Lebanon and Syria in the early nineteenth century. His art is influenced by Western ornamentation, such as the baroque décor of the clothing and throne.

T o the right of the Royal Door is the icon of the Virgin and Child. This icon is dated 1812, and the style, with oval faces and delicately minuscule features, again indicates the work of Michael Polychronis the Cretan. The Virgin is designated with Greek insignia. She wears a blue cloak and red mantle decorated with three stars. Her halo bears a gilded ex-voto. Angels float upon clouds on either side of the enthroned Virgin. The Child holds the closed Bible in his left hand and blesses with his right. The haloes bear votive inscriptions, and the edges of the icon are occupied by the apostles and prophets.

O n either side of the two royal icons are images showing scenes from the life of Christ. To the left is the icon of the Annunciation, which includes scenes of the Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the Nativity, and the Flight to Egypt, all portrayed in squares on the lower edge. This icon is signed by Youhanna Saliba al-Urashalimi and dated 1873. The scene is influenced by Western tradition. The Virgin contemplates the prophecy of Isaiah as the Archangel Gabriel comes to bring the divine message. The winged angel points towards heaven to indicate the origin of his message. In his right hand, he carries three lilies, the symbol of virginity and purity. The Virgin is seated opposite under a richly decorated canopy, hands folded and head inclined. Above, heaven is represented by two groups of clouds, through which the Holy Spirit descends as a dove, with rays emanating towards the Virgin.

T he style is typical of Youhanna al-Urashalimi, also known as Youhanna al-Qudsi, with its lively colors and rounded faces. The clothing folds are ample and conceal the movements of the body. The décor respects Byzantine two-dimensional conventions, but the interior is filled with ornament &ndash baroque lines, curves, and a variety of motifs &ndash that reveal Western influence.

In the lower register are three scenes following the Annunciation in chronological order. The first shows Elizabeth embracing the Virgin. The Nativity scene shows Mary and Joseph adoring the baby Jesus, kneeling according to Western tradition. The Flight into Egypt shows the Virgin carrying Jesus on a donkey, while Joseph guides them on foot.

T o the right of the Royal Door, beside the icon of the Virgin, is an icon with two levels, the upper representing the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple and the lower the Nativity of the Virgin.

I n the Nativity scene, Anne lies on her bed, her left hand on her cheek in a gesture of tiredness, while her right is extended towards the four servants and Joachim. Crowned with a halo, she is clothed in a blue tunic and bright-red mantle, and the servants are turbaned in Oriental style. Various dishes are laid upon a table. In place of the traditional bath scene, the Virgin is shown in a cot being watched over by a servant.

T he Presentation of the Virgin in the upper level is shown in a series of layered scenes typical of Byzantine iconography. Mary, aged three, is accompanied by Joachim, Anne, and the Virgins, richly dressed and turbaned. The aged priest Zacharias extends his hands to her in welcome and she responds in turn. Stairs lead to an upper floor, where the Virgin sits under a cupola in the Holy of Holies and receives celestial food brought by an angel. Following tradition, she is portrayed here upon a cloud. The background is filled by the Temple buildings, shown flat in accordance with the two-dimensional requirement of Byzantine iconography. The small, stereotyped faces and prominent Western or Byzantine elements in the architecture and table-dishes, relate this icon to the school of Michael Polychronis.

O n the left side of the iconostasis is an icon representing the Prophet Elias and the Raven. Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, had promised the coming of the Savior and His Resurrection. The miracle of his feeding in the desert by ravens prefigures the Eucharist. In the New Testament, Elias is identified with St John the Baptist as forerunner of the Messiah and prophet of the Incarnation. The style of this icon, which has a dedicatory inscription below, is similar to that of the two icons of the Virgin and Christ flanking the north side door.

T he iconostasis in the church of Our Lady displays a second pair of royal icons belonging to the Jerusalem school. The icon of Christ Pantocrator displays a dedication, partly effaced, with the name of Youhanna Saliba al-Qudsi. Christ is designated by his name in Arabic and his attributes in Greek. The face is almost round and the design is naïve and devoid of expression. Christ&rsquos halo bears the Greek letters omicron-omega-nu, &lsquoHe Who Is&rsquo. He blesses with his right hand in his left, he holds a book inscribed with the parable of the Good Shepherd. He wears an orange cloak and blue-green tunic whose folds are painted in great touches of flowing yellow. The execution of the face and hands is typical of Youhanna Saliba al-Qudsi.

I ts counterpart, the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, is probably also the work of Youhanna Saliba al-Qudsi. The Virgin carries the Child on her left arm and indicates him with her right hand. Her mantle is adorned with three stars, indicating her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ. The Child holds the celestial globe decorated with the sun, moon, and stars, symbolizing Christ&rsquos lordship over the universe. His halo is adorned with the title in Greek letters signifying &lsquoHe Who Is&rsquo. The drapery and facial features are finely drawn. The faces, slightly shadowed, express a contemplative joy.

A nother work of the Jerusalem school is the image of the Archangel Michael. This icon was painted by Youhanna Saliba al-Qudsi, or al-Urashalimi. The Archangel is shown with wings outstretched and clothed in bright military garb. He carries a shining bundle of rods, and his winged helmet is adorned with a votive inscription. The lively colors and dynamic stance of the Archangel accentuate his importance. Western influence is visible in the decoration and clothing.

O n either side of the south side-door are the two icons of Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin Hodegetria. The Mother of God is designated by Greek and Arabic inscriptions, and the dedicatory text gives the date 1842. She wears a blue cloak and a red mantle decorated with three stars and clasped at the neck with a brooch in Italian style. The Christ Child is seated on Mary&rsquos left hand holds the closed Bible and blesses with his right hand. He wears a dark red cloak and a blue tunic. Two angels are shown in the corners. The icon of Christ Pantocrator is also dated 1842. Christ wears a red cloak with a clasp and a blue tunic. His hair falls upon his shoulders, and he has a short beard and long moustache. He gives his blessing with his right hand and in his left he holds an open book revealing a long Arabic inscription.

T he two icons were executed by the same hand. The overly refined facial features and hands, the curved lines, volutes, and waves, all give a mannerist allure to the personages. The large and opulent bodies are somewhat disproportionate to the small faces, which are drawn naively and without shadow.

O n the upper level of the iconostasis, the Apostles are shown on either side of a Deisis. This marks the center of the entire composition, for it establishes the link between the Eucharistic Christ and mankind, represented in the icons but also present in the nave.

A sumptuous wooden canopy shelters a beautiful icon of The Nativity of the Virgin with St Mark represented in a kind of niche below. The icon was painted in 1866 and is entitled and signed by Nicholas Theodoros al-Qudsi. The upper level shows the Nativity of the Virgin, and the lower the evangelist Mark, clothed in gold and holding the Gospel.

T he Nativity scene is represented traditionally. Anne lies on her bed, her haloed head resting on a cushion. Joachim is seated beside, regarding the traditional bathing scene. A servant draws the infant Virgin from the bath as a second pours more water and a third tests the temperature. The domestic scene is animated by the servants&rsquo movements the one pouring the water is shown in profile, untypical of Byzantine iconography. As the name al-Qudsi indicates, the painter belongs to the Jerusalem school, which looked to Byzantine tradition but was also influenced by Western art. Despite its great simplicity, there is a tendency to ornament in the details of the background.

A nother icon of the Nativity is shown on the north wall. It bears Arabic inscriptions and the dedication below gives the date 1884. In the center of the composition is the cave where Mary and Joseph adore the Infant Jesus in his crib. Behind and above, the shepherds receive the angels&rsquo message. At top, the angels adore the newborn infant. They are surrounded by clouds representing the heavenly vault, from which a star descends towards Jesus&rsquo cradle. The left part of the icon represents six scenes, including the Magi before Herod, Joseph and Mary fleeing Herod&rsquos persecution, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

T he entire composition, particularly the wide, sentimental face, reveals the style of the Jerusalem school. Western influence is apparent in the kneeling positions of Mary and Joseph. The faces are finely drawn, without shadow, and the clothing subtly moulds the forms of the bodies.

A fine icon of the Virgin Hodegetria is signed by in Arabic and Greek by Mikhail and Youhanna al-Qudsi and dated 1856. The Virgin carries the Child on her left arm and indicates him with her right hand. She wears a blue cloak and red mantle with gilded edges. The stars with which the mantle is traditionally adorned are not visible. The folds of these two garments are painted in gold. Christ wears a grey cloak and gold tunic. He holds the Bible in his left hand and blesses with his right. The faces are round and fine, and their expressions serene, indicating a tendency to return to Byzantine tradition. The four corners are occupied by the Nativity of the Virgin, her Presentation in the Temple, the Annunciation, and the Dormition: all these scenes are framed in medallions shown with baroque motifs.

T he faces are delicate and the expressions serene, indicating an adherence to Byzantine tradition.

A great composition of the Last Judgementis shown on the church wall. The theme of the Second Coming of Christ, much favoured in Antiochian iconography, was announced by the Old Testament prophets and the evangelists, especially in the Apocalypse of John. The scenes are commented by Arabic inscriptions.

I n accordance with iconographic tradition, the composition includes many elements. In the center, Christ in shimmering raiment is seated on a celestial throne with his feet resting on the clouds. He is surrounded by the assembled angels. The apostles are seated on either side holding their books, Peter and Paul closest. The Virgin and St John present the requests of the faithful and implore the Lord&rsquos clemency for the sins of mankind.

B elow Christ is a throne bearing the Holy Book, the cross, and the instruments of the Passion. On either side, angels sound trumpets to call the elect. Below again are a man and woman, each prostrate upon a cloud &ndash perhaps Adam and Eve, symbolizing mankind redeemed.

T he lower level displays elements of the Judgement. In the center are the scales holding a naked person, the soul whose deeds are weighed in the balance. The good stand at Christ&rsquos right (the viewer&rsquos left). They form a procession before the heavenly gate, guarded by a cherub. The Apostle Peter opens the gate, while St Paul urges them to enter. Paradise is a luminous garden protected by a great wall bordered with stylized shrubs. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are seated, and the Mother of God is enthroned, venerated by the angels.

A fter the weighing of souls, the wicked, at Christ's left, are thrown into the lake of fire, signifying the second death. The bottom of the composition shows the damned suffering eternal tortures, severally according to their sins.

T he didactic and theological elements are superbly illustrated. The highly narrative style, abundance of detail, and encumbering of figures and scenes, are all typical of the Jerusalem school.

O n a church pillar is an icon representing the Virgin of the Rosary and the Tree of Jesse, with scenes from the Akathistos Hymn. The icon is signed in Greek and dated 1874. It was painted by Youhanna Theodoros of Jerusalem. It reveals Western influence in the manner of securing the Virgin&rsquos mantle with a brooch. The center is occupied by the Virgin holding the Child on her left arm. Jesus is crowned with the episcopal tiara he carries the terrestrial globe in his right hand and a scepter in his left. The archangels Michael and Gabriel crown the Mother of God, and the Holy Trinity is represented above. The borders of the icon are occupied by Old Testament prophets displaying their prophecies of Christ&rsquos coming:

T he ensemble is surrounded by twenty-four small scenes illustrating the Akathistos hymn, a liturgical poem dedicated to the Virgin. Byzantine tradition ascribes this hymn to the fifth-century Romanos the Melodios, originally from Emesa (Homs), and its recitation in the Basilica of Aghia Sophia is said to have miraculously delivered Constantinople during the Persian siege of 626.

T he icon of the Dormition of the Virginfollows the apocryphal description of this event, which is read during the Feast of the Dormition in the Greek Church. The Western theme of the Assumption does not play a part in Eastern tradition. The title of the scene is written in Greek. According to Byzantine tradition, the event took place in the room of the Last Supper.

T he Mother of God is shown asleep, hands folded, surrounded by apostles, bishops, widows, and angels. St Peter, shown as an old man at the head of the bed, swings a thurible. St Paul, bald and dark-bearded, stands at the foot of the bed. St John, an old man with a white beard, stretches his hands towards the Virgin in sadness. Below, St Gabriel severs the hands of the Jew Jephonias, who intended to overturn the Virgin&rsquos body on the way to the tomb. As St Peter intones a hymn, Jesus receives his Mother&rsquos soul in the form of a small haloed embalmed soul covered with a cloak. Above, two angels bear the Virgin to heaven, and two others open the gate for her. The iconographic style follows the Greek tradition. The faces are elongated with delicate traits and sad expressions.

I n the church of Our Lady Saydnaya is a proskynetarion attached to a wooden plank. This kind of icon appeared in the nineteenth century in the form of a large picture postcard showing the sacred spots of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The icon is a painted cloth, representing a map of Jerusalem surrounded by Passion scenes and Palestinian hagiography arranged in a decorative manner.

J erusalem stands in the center. Inside its walls are shown the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Mount of Calvary, the Crucifixion, Lamentation, and Resurrection. They are followed by the Elevation of the Cross, which is accompanied by St Constantine and St Helena. Outside the walls are scenes of Christ surrounded by the apostles, the Baptism, the Virgin Hodegetria, the Annunciation, the Dormition, the heavenly Father, and lastly, the martyrdom of Isaiah.

B elow are shown St George slaying the dragon and scenes of his martyrdom St Demetrios and St Elias receiving food from the raven. The lower level shows the port of Jaffa and Solomon overseeing the building of the Temple of Jerusalem.

I n the iconostasis of the old church of St Demetrios, now converted into the convent museum, is the icon of the Forty Martyrs. In 320, forty guards of the emperor Licinius were frozen to death in an icy lake for professing the Christian faith. The martyrs are shown standing naked in the lake. Unable to bear the cold, one of them flees into a bath-house, where, the legend recounts, his body immediately decomposed. But the guardian of the bath-house, Aglaios, it is said, converted and went to take his place in the lake. Above, Christ appears in the heavenly vault and blesses the martyrs. Two angels fly above the clouds, carrying a banner inscribed in Greek.

T he colors are lively, the faces and gestures expressive. Among the group of martyrs, an old man raises his head up towards Christ. This icon is typical of the style that flourished in the early nineteenth century.

B esides the numerous icons on the walls of the church of Our Lady, there are also some beautiful epitaphioses, which form part of the convent&rsquos liturgical treasure. The epitaphios is a liturgical cloth whose origin goes back to early Christian times, when it served as the symbolic veil for the Christian Temple. At first, it was utilized to cover the sacred chalice and paten during the Eucharistic office.

O ne framed epitaphios representing the Dormition is embroidered with gold thread on a velvet tapestry. Its composition is entirely traditional. Mary lies hands folded, surrounded by bishops and haloed apostles. St John appears leaning towards the Virgin, and Christ in the middle bears His Mother&rsquos soul in the shape of a small embalmed soul. The corners are occupied by the four evangelists. The edge is decorated with volute motifs, and Greek inscriptions appear above and below. The personages embroidered in gold thread stand out from the background colors. The Virgin is dressed in white, and her bed is white and gold.

A nother epitaphios reproducing the Placing in the Tomb is embroidered on a tapestry. The inscription is in Russian. The style is rich and symbolic, with the personages in gilded clothing standing out from the ochre background. At the center of the composition is Christ, laid out upon his white shroud. The eyes are closed and hands folded. A radiant halo shines above his head. He is surrounded by women: Mary Magdalene. Mary, mother of James and Joseph, the mother of Zebedee&rsquos sons, and the Virgin, recognizable by the stars adorning her gold mantle, which covers her head. Of the four women, the Virgin Mary is the only one with opened eyes. Two white-clothed angels in the corners observe the scene. Two men with closed eyes stand by, probably St John the Evangelist and Joseph of Arimathea. This is one of the most precious liturgical objects in the convent, and it is specially used after the office of Good Friday.

[2] Peeters, Paul, &lsquoLa légende de Saidnaia&rsquo, Analecta Bollandiana 85.2 (1926), p.138.

Watch the video: Top 10 Facts The Mormon Church Doesnt Want Its Members To Know