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Stairs to the Refectory

Stairs leading to the eleventh century τράπεζα (trapeza), the monastery refectory.

John Lloyd Stephens, from New York, visited the monastery in 1836. He gives us a glimpse of what the refectory was like at that time:

The next day was Sunday, and early in the morning the superior sent for me to come down and take my meal with the holy brotherhood. The monks were all at table, and it was the first time I had had so good an opportunity of seeing them together. They were about thirty in number, mostly old men with long white beards, all Greeks, and some with faces as noble as Grecian chisel ever traced.

The table was a long naked board; the vessels were all of metal, and before each man were a wooden spoon, and a drinking cup in the form of a porringer. It was Lent, the season of forty or fifty days’ fasting, during which even fish, eggs, and oil are prohibited.

The room in which we ate was perhaps sixty feet long, having at one end a chapel and altar, and a reading desk close by, in which, during the whole of the meal, a monk was reading aloud from the lives of the saints. After this we walked out on the terrace, under the shade of some venerable grape vines, and, sitting down along the wall, took coffee. The reading desk was brought out, and the same monk continued reading for more than two hours.

I had noticed that monk before; for he was the same who had conducted me through the church, had visited me in my room, and I had seen him in his cell. His face was thin, pale, and emaciated; the excitement of reading gave it a hectic flush, and he looked like a man who, almost before the springtime of life was over, had drained the cup of bitterness to its dregs. He was from the Island of Tinos, but spoke Italian, and I had talked with him of the islands of Greece, and the ports in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, with many of which he seemed familiar.

One of the other monks told me that it was about the time when the last of the pirates were swept from the Mediterranean that the young islander had buried himself in the walls of the convent. They told me, too, that he was rich, and would give all he had to the fraternity. Poor fellow! they will soon come into possession.

From Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, by John Lloyd Stephens, 1837

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