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"Relation d'un Voyage au Levant" (1664)
It is a bit of a mouthful, but I will give you the complete titel of Thevenot's book:
"Relation d'un Voyage au Levant - dans laquelle il est curieusement traité des Etats sujets au Grand Seigneur, des Moeurs, Religions, Forces, Gouvernemens, Politiques, Langues, & coustumes des Habitans de ce grand Empire - et des sigularitez particulieres de l'Archipel, Constantinople, Terre Sainte, Egypte, Pyramides, Mumies, Deserts d'Arabie, la Meque Et de plusieurs autres lieux de l'Asie & de l'Afrique remarquées depuis peu, & non encore décrites iusqu'a present - Outre les choses memorables arrivées au dernier Siege de Bagdat, les Ceremonies faites aux receptions des Ambassadeurs du Mogol: Et l'entretien de l'Autheur avec celuy du Pretejan, où il est parlé des sources du Nil."
Ok, are you still there ? Then I may as well tell you that the book was published by Louis Bilaine in Paris, France, in the year of 1664. So let us move on to the relevant bits and pieces from Thevenot's book.
In his story Thevenot refers to the Greek monks on Chios as "Caloyers". I never heard that word before, so I had to look it up. According to my dictionary, "Caloyer" (or "Caloger") is the French word that is used to indicate "a Greek monk that belongs to the order of Saint Basil", a Saint of whom I have no further knowledge. I know that there is a Byzantine Emperor called "Basil the Bulgar Slayer", but, me having Bulgarian friends, he does not sound like a very saintly man to me. I haven't the slightest idea how these particular monks are called in Greece, so it is probably best that I will simply stick to Thevenot's "Caloyers".
This then is what Thevenot tells us:
"I took the road to Niamoni, which is a Monastery for Greek Caloyers, a few miles from Callimacha. It is a hard road, for all over the island you constantly have to climb and descend again. And this monastery is situated in the middle of forests and rocks. When we arrived there, we first went to the church, which is large and beautiful and dedicated to Niamoni, which in vulgar Greek simply means "The Virgin". This church had been built because an image had been miraculously found, or that is what we were told.
This whole region was once covered with dense forests, where several hermits were living. Every night these good fathers saw a light in the middle of the forest, and they went there to find out what it was, but as soon as they came very close to it, it simply disappeared. They found this very strange. This had been going on for a long time, so at last, after they had discussed the matter on several occasions, they decided to burn down the forest. All the trees burnt down, except for one where they found a branch that had the image of the Virgin on it. So they sent some people to Constantine Monomachos, the Emperor of Constantinople, to inform him about this miracle. The Emperor promised them to build a church there. But shortly after he was chased out of his Empire. He renewed his promise to build a church on the condition that God would put him back on his throne again. And indeed, after he had returned to his Empire, he ordered the church to be built, somewhere around the year of 1050."
To save some server space I will now skip the part of Thevenot's story that gives us a detailed description of the church and informs us about some of the miracles that are supposed to have happened there. Let us continue where Thevenot's report becomes interesting again:
"After we had a good look inside the church, I went to the monastery which is very large and has been built in the shape of a castle. Women never go inside. In this monastery there are usually 200 Caloyers supervised by an Abbot. There are never more than 200. When there is a new vacancy those who want to be a Caloyer pay a hundred piasters and they bring their own possessions which they can use for the rest of their life. But after their death everything belongs to the monastery. They can not let their relatives inherit, unless they too are a Caloyer and living in the same monastery, and that way nothing gets lost.
Every day the monastery gives those Caloyers dark bread, wine (which is of a rather poor quality), and some over-ripe cheese and for the rest it is up to them to look after themselves as good as they can. The rich ones are doing well, and there are even those who have fine horses which they use to go out riding whenever they want. The others have to make do with what they are given out of charity. They usually eat together in the refectory on Sundays and other festive days.
When they die, they are dressed up and carried into a church that has been dedicated to Saint Lucas and which is located outside the monastery, and they are put on an iron grill. If some of these corpses do not start corrupting the other Caloyers say that this is a sign that the deceased has been excommunicated."
At this point I will skip a page that does seem irrelevant to us.
"At the end of the island, three miles from the sea, is the village of Saint Helene, built on a rock, inhabited by 200 people. There are two churches and one chapel built into the mountain itself, right in the middle. And as the mountain is hollow there is a point of rock hanging inside from which water is dripping continually, drop by drop. They call this water "hayasma" which means holy water or blessed water."
Then there is another bit that is not terribly interesting. And then Thevenot continues:
"The people who live in this place absolutely believe that if a corpse does not corrupt in 40 days, it changes into a mischievous spirit which they call "Zorzolacas" or "Nomolacas". And the author of the manuscript from which I have learned this informs us that when he was here, in April 1637, he found a priest who told him about a corpse that he had ordered to be exhumed, and which after being buried for fifty days was still intact. The only sign of corruption was a tear that was coming from its eye. The priest told the person who made this report that this corpse, or rather its spirit, went through the village all night, knocking on doors and calling people's names. And that those who answered, died within two or three days. And that the tear that came from the corpse's eye was the work of the devil who wanted us to believe that corruption had set in."
In his book Thevenot informs us that he started out on his journey leaving Rome in 1655. After visiting Sicily, Malta, Constantinople, and a few other places, he decides to visit Chios. On 12 October 1656 he arrives there. During his stay on Chios he makes a few short trips to other islands, has to wait a little longer on Chios because the storms prevent his boat from leaving the harbour, and then, on 29 November, he leaves Chios. So it will probably be safe for us to assume that Thevenot's observations - for as far as they are his own - must have been made during the last months of 1656.
Chios is a beautiful Greek island, only a few miles from the Turkish coast. I do remember that I very much enjoyed my one week stay on the island, way back in 1993. I found that quite a few of the locals are former sailors who have worked on ships going all around the world. Consequently many of them do speak English. Which is always nice if your knowledge of Greek isn't too hot. Once those mariners have earned enough money, they usually come back to Chios and start their own little business there and live happily ever after. Apart from one rather silly and amusing incident, I found that the people of Chios were very friendly, extremely helpful, hospitable, and quite lovable. Of all the Greek islands that I have visited, this is undoubtedly the one that I like best.
Thevenot's "Niamoni" is actually called "Nea Moni".
And now a little bit of history. In 1822, there was an uprising against the Turkish rulers. The Sultan was not amused and sent an army to Chios that massacred some 30.000 people. Even the people who had taken shelter within the monasteries were relentlessly slaughtered, women and children too, as were the monks who had given them shelter. Some of the local ossuaries (see my picture above) still display the skulls and bones of the victims. I have also visited the remains of the tragic mountain village of Anavatos which has turned into an uninhabited ghost town after the atrocities of 1822. Four hundred of the inhabitants jumped off the mountain and down to their death, rather than fall into the hands of the Sultan's butchers.
Here are a few links to Chios :
As always, the first thing you should do is find Monsieur Thevenot's version of this story and compare it against mine. Hey, I am in a good mood, so I will give you a hint. Why don't you try the excellent Gallica site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They have Thevenot's text and zillions of others. They are BRILLIANT ! Go check them out ! After you have downloaded Thevenot and found the relevant passages, you could try to find additional material about Chios and its superstitions.
Sadly, not all of Thevenot's information is based on his own observations. When he talks about those Greek "spirits", he mentions a book or manuscript that he has read. Unfortunately he does not bother to give us any further particulars. Which means that we must try to find a book or manuscript that mentions Greek supernatural entities and that was published (or unpublished) before 1656. Suggestions anyone ? Me, I feel inclined to think that the book by Père Richard could be a likely candidate (see our page about Santorini). But we will first have to find ourselves a copy of that book, before we can see if this is true or not.
A personal visit to Chios might not be a bad idea. It is a nice enough place and does not (yet) feature the overdose of tourists that so many of the other Greek islands are suffering from. You could go in search of the church that is mentioned in our tale. Or harass the local people with questions about excommunicated monks. Talking about monks, you should definitely visit the island's beautiful monasteries some of which have rather interesting ossuaries where the skulls and bones of the deceased monks are on display. The Greek Orthodox Church values and holds on to its traditions. So - as far as I can tell - it is not completely unthinkable that the habit of putting monks on a grill does still exist.
And while you are at it, perhaps it would be a good idea to buy yourself some of those interesting eye-shaped amulets made of blue glass. And some of those porcelain garlic-bulbs. Both are being used as protection against "Evil". Trust me, they are not being sold for the tourists. On Chios - as on the Turkish coast just across the water - you won't find a house or a shop or a car or a donkey that goes without it. This is the real thing. Me ? Yes, of course I brought home quite a collection. Better safe than sorry.
© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed 19 November 2009 -Links last checked 02 September 2008
Photos "Ikonostase" and "Skulls of the Chios Massacre Victims" - © 1993 by Rob Brautigam