Mt Athos

Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor’s walk through Europe in the 1930s is the subject of three books:   A Time for GiftsBetween the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road.   He wrote the first two himself (but decades after the walk that they describe), but The Broken Road was only completed after his death in 2011 by his literary editors.  It was based on a manuscript that Fermor had prepared (known as The Youthful Road), which he had written and edited but which was incomplete at the time of his death.   However, this volume also includes a diary of his time at Mt Athos, which was written on the spot, although he (and subsequently his editors)  edited it before publication.

Wikipedia tells us that there are 20 monasteries in the Mt Athos region, and although I haven’t double checked, it seems that Fermor visited almost all of them.   At that time, the only way of getting around the area was on foot (or by boat), with some of the tracks being hard to follow.   Fermor got lost on at least one occasion.  The Mt Athos monasteries come under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, from whom Fermor had a letter of introduction.    Even today, visits have to be properly arranged, although things are  much more structured!

img_8792But back to Fermor’s diary about Mt Athos.   He gives us a great picture of the monasteries and life on Mt Athos at the time (January-February 1935), and there are numerous accounts of his discussions with particular monks and descriptions of the monastic life.  He describes the tracks between the monasteries, which were often very basic with no signposts (a look at Google Earth suggests that even today many of the tracks are fairly basic).    Fermor’s descriptions and insights are fascinating in many respects, but not everything is explained.  I couldn’t quite follow why he visited the monasteries in the sequence that he did;  presumably  because of geography.   How he came into possession of a letter of introduction from the Patriarch isn’t clear, either.

I think his time at Mt Athos was the first time he had spent much time in Greece, so his Greek language skills at that stage were apparently rudimentary.  His communications with the those he met were often facilitated by the fact that he spoke French and Bulgarian, which were also spoken by a few of those he met.   His Greek skills improved during his time at Mt Athos (he had a great ability to pick up languages) and subsequently were in fact a reason for him being chosen for the “special operations executive” that captured German general Heinrich Kreipe on Crete during World War 2 (as depicted in the movie Ill Met by Moonlight).

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One thought on “Mt Athos

  1. Pingback: The Broken Road – Musings and Mutterings

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