Women are banned from the Greek Island of Mount Athos. Find out why
Mount Athos in Greece is a beautiful island, home to Russian Orthodox monks who have existed there for the past thousand years. As an island peninsula just 335 sq km wide, it is dominated by a religious presence visited frequently by pilgrims from around the world, there’s only one big hitch. Women are banned from Mt Athos.
This year, the Russian Orthodox monks will be celebrating their thousand year anniversary on Mount Athos. The occasion will be attended by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, no female will be allowed as women and female animals are banned from entering Mount Athos. Weird or practical? Find out why?
1 Rule Implemented By a 10th Century Charter
Women to be banned from entering Mount Athos existed as a rule for over a thousand years. This was due to a 10th century Charter, which passed the diktat. Although, the charter mentioned female animals, the ban was extended to women as the simplest and practical ways of implementing complete celibacy for the monks. It was also well-known that women were never allowed to enter monasteries run by men. Mount Athos is considered a huge monastery.
The entire peninsula is run by Russian monks belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church,whose Byzantine Period Monastery is spread over the entire island. No woman is allowed within 500meters of Mount Athos coastline. Should any women endeavour to do so, the penalty is a fine and a 12 year jail term.
2 The Garden of the Mother of God
According to popular belief and tradition, it was believed that the Virgin Mary was on her way to Cyprus and her boat ran off course to Mount Athos instead. She was so taken up with the beauty of the island that she prayed to her son to grant her wish. Since then Mount Athos is also known as “The garden of the mother of God”. As a result, she is the sole representative of females on Mount Athos.
The ban on Mount Athos applies to all humans and animals, but strangely enough, allows female cats for which the monks have a reason. The cats keep mice at bay. Wild animals are also exempt from the ban as it would not be possible to keep a track of them.
3 Unaccompanied Young Boys Are Also Prohibited
Strange as it seems, even young boys weren’t allowed on Mount Athos, although the rule has gained a bit of flexibility over the years. The rules of Mount Athos state that only those males capable of growing a beard should be allowed in the monastery. The rule adopted in the Byzantine Period barred young boys and eunuchs form entering Mount Athos. The main reason for such a rule was the possibility of females disguising themselves as young boys to enter the island.
Today, however, young boys accompanied by their Fathers or a male relative are allowed entry. But does this mean women have never seen Mount Athos? Yes some women have.
4 Women Trespassing On Mount Athos Can Be Jailed For a Year
In the years between 1946 and 1949, during the Greek Civil War, many peasant flocks were allowed sanctuary on Mount Athos. This resulted in females and women who regularly came in groups searching for the animals.
However, one woman managed to fool authorities in 1953. Maria Poimenidou, disguised as a man and spent three days on Mount Athos but was soon discovered. This prompted the Greek government to enact the law of banning women under the penalty of imprisonment of up to 12 years. In 2008, four Moldavian women were forgiven by monks for entering Mount Athos as it wasn’t their fault. They were abandoned there by Ukrainian smugglers.
5 Men Require a Monastery Permit to Enter Mount Athos
Due to the strange law of banning female animals, no dairy products are produced in the monastery. All items like milk and eggs are sourced from outside. Hens’ eggs are imported from the mainland during Easter and it is a rule that they have to be painted red.
Men wanting to enter Mount Athos have to go through certain formalities before they can do so. A copy of your passport is required by the pilgrim’s bureau at Mount Athos and permission granted before entry. Orthodox pilgrims are granted preference where 100 can enter every day; non-orthodox pilgrims are given entry to the tune of 10 every day.
As for women??? The rules at Mount Athos make it impossible for them to be given a permit which will never be considered. They have to stay behind and watch their male friends board the ferry and wait on the mainland till they return.