Book: Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise
The renewal that took place in the last quarter of the twentieth century can be seen in its historical context and has been succeeded by a period of spiritual and cultural maturity. Not for the first time, in a world beset by political upheaval and economic turmoil, the Mountain stands as a symbol of continuity and stability, a spiritual powerhouse offering refreshment to all who turn to it.
This is a history of Mount Athos from pagan antiquity to the present day. It tells the story of the first monks who were hermits, living in caves and simple huts, often in the most inaccessible parts of the peninsula. The first monasteries were founded in the tenth century with support from the Byzantine emperors. Both traditions survive on Athos today, the anchorites in their desert cells and the monks in the twenty ruling monasteries, coexisting more or less happily as they have always done.
The book describes the effects on the Mountain of political events in the outside world—the Latin conquest, Ottoman rule, the Greek War of Independence, two world wars, and the incorporation of Greece into the European Union—and how little the monks’ way of life was changed by them. Far more important for them were the religious movements and controversies that often divided the Mountain and demonstrated its spiritual influence over the Orthodox world.
What emerges at the end is a portrait of the Holy Mountain today that despite all the storms created by political change, economic crisis, and religious controversy (not least in the last twelve years) is still recognizable as fundamentally the same monastic preserve that welcomed the first monks and hermits more than a thousand years ago.
From Reviews of the First Edition
‘. . . the most comprehensive survey to date of the history, culture, theology and spirituality of Mount Athos . . . As a survey of Athos in all its dimensions, it could hardly be bettered . . . an excellent, sumptuously illustrated, survey which can be unhesitatingly recommended.’ Marcus Plested, Journal of Ecclesiastical History
‘Speake’s book is a triumph . . . And the pictures are wonderful . . . It is a judicious and careful work, a delight to read and look through, fully worthy of the acclaim with which it has been received.’ Andrew Louth, Journal of Hellenic Studies
‘Speake covers everything: the history, the daily life of the monks and hermits, the miracles, the persecutions, the icons, the saints. I’ve never read a more sympathetic study of the world’s oldest continuous democracy.’ The Independent on Sunday
‘Graham Speake’s Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise . . . is as close to an exhaustive survey as any writer has come in English . . . travelers and pilgrims alike, as well as those who prefer to stay at home with their well-stocked larders, will relish this tour of Athos’s history, its relics and treasures, and, in part, its consciousness.’ Matthew Spencer, Literary Review