Macedonia (South Serbia)
SVETI NAUM lies an hour's drive from Ochrid, at the opposite end of the lake. On clear days you may see it across the waters, shining white on a small Gibraltar of dark rock. The road runs to it along the lakeside, over mountains covered with sweet-scented scrub and golden broom, and down to a fishing village with its bronze nets drying on high poles by the shore. When we passed, the young people were sitting about in the late afternoon glow, in particularly exotic peasant costumes which took the mind to Persia, with an air of being very pleasant with one another; and Dragutin said that the village was noted not only for its violent political life but for the tender consideration the men showed towards the women. "Some of the people have been to America," he explained, "and they come back like that." Then the mountains become fierce again, and as Biblical as the plains round Debar. A naked range as black as night, its high ridge starred with snow, lay to the left, and on the right, across the lapis-blue lake, the Albanian mountains were a darker blue veiled with white clouds, all in forms stern as justice. Then the road dropped to the mercy of the flatlands round Sveti Naum, and the traveller must be conscious thereafter that he has come to a place which is remarkable in a much simpler, more fundamental way than we are accustomed to note in the modern world.
The road to the monastery runs between steep meadows and becomes an avenue of tall poplars on the landward side and stout willows on the lakeward side, growing from smooth and springy turf. There is water on both sides of this avenue. The lake is always near at hand on the right, shining between the trees, and at the end of the avenue we crossed a bridge over a river which flows from a lake on the left, a small and more light-minded lake, prettily reflecting an island hung with willows. When one first comes to Sveti Naum one simply thinks, "Why, there is water everywhere." But the situation is more unusual than that, for in many parts of the world dry land is only a figure of speech. Here one finds oneself saying, "But the trees and the flowers and the grass in this place have never been thirsty, and the air has never been dusty," and there is a eupeptic air about the scene, as if the earth had here attained a physiological balance in this matter of moisture rarely to be found elsewhere. And this is no illusion. Beyond the range of black rock on the left lies the Lake of Prespa, which covers about a hundred and twenty square miles, lies five hundred feet higher than Lake Ochrid, and has no visible outlet. Its waters percolate through the base of this range and arrive at these flatlands in a spread net ork that forms a perfect natural irrigation system, so that it emits refreshment to the eye, the nostril, the skin.
Crouching on the massive black rock, of which one face drops down to the great lake, the monastery is curiously deformed by a concrete tower livid in colour and vile in design. It was put-up to commemorate the thousandth year of the foundation. It was Bishop Nikolai who let it be built thus, and he has been bitterly criticized for it. His defence is that the monks and the congregation wanted it to be so, and that it was no business of his to earn the approval of the museums. A pier runs out into the lake, and the road turns away and mounts a steep stone causeway, and under an arch enters the paddock that nearly always surrounds a monastery. This is larger than most, for it covers five or six acres of grassy hillside. Round it are some extremely beautiful farm buildings, probably some hundred years old, with wide tiled roofs propped up by wooden pillars, and loggias undercut by arches, which have about them a distant memory of Greek architecture. Swine, and some horses, an imperial and poppy-wattled turkey, and two peacocks crop the grass, and there are some tall and spreading trees. This paddock has its history. Under the Turks fairs were held here, and the Christian merchants and peasants from different parts of the country would meet, the worn threads of Byzantine culture held a little longer, and sometimes insurrection was plotted.
We passed under an arch and were in the small square formed by the monastery buildings. They are a mixed lot, put up at various times since the fourteenth century, which are painted different colours, some white, some grey, some red, for no other reason than that the monks happened to be given these paints. At one point there are no buildings, and a terrace looks down on the wide face of the lake. The air up here is cooled by the breath of the water. In the centre of this square is the tenth-century Church of Sveti Naum. It is dark and low, its stone walls are brown save where they are plastered white, and its two cupolas, one of which is taller than the other, are of red and white brick, very old, very dim in colour; and it is roofed with red-brown tiles. In shape it is like a locomotive. It stands above the cobbles of the square on a platform of earth, walled up with stone. On one side of the church there grows a lilac tree, which bears very large purple flowers, on the other a fig tree. By the fig tree are some poles on which they dry the monastery fishing-nets.
There was nobody about when me arrived but one of the more mystical monks, an old man like a long white-pointed flame, to whom we were nothing, who was probably not sure whether we were among the living or the dead. So we went straight into the church, which is the supreme example of the Serbo-Byzantine architecture that burrows to find its God. It is small, it might be the lair of a few great beasts. There are a few narrow windows and most of them are slits in the cupolas. If it were not for the candles burning in front of the icons the dark outer church and the darker inner church would be hardly more distinguishable than the walls of dungeons. The gilded iconostasis here shines only with a dim coppery gleam. There is a curious smell here, strong yet clean; the two squat columns which divide the churches are based on the living rocks. A low door leads from this darkness to a small darker place, where there is the tomb of Sveti Naum. A tin lamp with red and blue glass shows the great marble box, its top covered by a piece of striped white and gold cloth, poorish in quality, and greasy where too many of the faithful have rested their heads; the Scriptures lie on it too, a pair of thick volumes in artless silver bindings, and a common wooden cross, and a collection-box sealed with pink wax; propped against the wall are four icons, all veiled with machine-made lace and one festooned with cotton roses; there are several bundles of clothes, gifts to the monastery which are laid up for a time and then sold; and cast face down among this precious rubbish, in an attitude of despair, was a man in the cap and apron of a scullion.
On a fresco above the tomb was a portrait of Sveti Naum, almost certainly painted by someone who knew him. He was the successor to Sveti Kliment, the first Christian missionary to be sent by Cyril and Methodius into these parts, and he had to bring not peace but a sword, since none of the persons involved had yet heard of peace. He looks a warrior. Throughout these thousand years nobody has ever dared to touch the stern eyes of his portrait, and this means much; for it is near the ground, and it was the unpious habit of Turks to shoot out the eyes of Christian saints in frescoes, and. the pious habit of peasants to scratch them out and soak the plaster to make a lotion for failing sight. His sternness, and the black strength of the church, have been claimed as a refuge by the Macedonian peasant from his ultimate terror; and it illuminates the horror of history in these parts that this is not failure of courage but loss of sanity. Travellers who visited the country in the old days were astonished at the amount of madness, often directly traceable to some act of war such as the burning of a village, and sometimes to the severity of peasant life. This monastery is a hospital for the miraculous treatment of such cases. They are brought here and fed and housed and prayed over by this tomb for forty days. No doubt this scullion was one of the melancholies.
We left the monastery and went down the hill to the bridge over the river between the two lakes, for I wanted my husband to see the wonder of it. This river, the Drin, is clear like no other river, it is visible only to the point that it can give pleasure to the eye. It is, in fact, the same river that we had seen at Struga. It has its source in certain springs that flow unmixed into the lesser, willow-hung lake, which is mere water like any other lake; it declares its peculiar shining rapture as it runs under the bridge; it dives into Lake Ochrid like a person, and like a person is not confused with that in which it swims; and twenty miles away it leaves the lake still itself, to be clearly identified, absolutely unlike any other river. As the sun set behind the range of black rock the air became as remarkable as this water in its transparence, its cleanliness, its fluidity. We put our elbows on the parapet and looked out towards the lake, and found our knees were touching something sculptured. It was a slab carved with a ram and a ewe copulating, obviously the relic of some fertility cult. When the first Christian Slavs built their churches they often incorporated into the buildings such remnants of the pagan faiths that had been cultivated on the sites. This was remarkable for its prosaic quality: the ram looked like a rate-payer, the ewe had an air of routine modesty. A fertility cult, in the hands of dull people, must have been duller than any modern form of religion. We heard from the palely glowing land the baaing of sheep, the sweet cracked beat of their bells, and, finally, the sound of a voice, darkened by a saintly shadow, of invitation calling a name again and again. In an orchard that itself looked spectral in the twilight by reason of the whitewash on the tree-trunks, there walked the delicate old Abbot, his red sash as strange as a bright colour worn by a phantom; and presently his call was heard and there ran to him a peasant in a sheepskin coat. The Abbot pointed up to the branches of a tree, and the peasant registered surprise and distress. Then a handsome boy galloped by on a pony, saddled with wood and bridled with rope, and they cried out that he must stop. He rode to them among the fruit trees, and they pointed out to him whatever it was that had distressed them in the tree-top. He stared up, blurted out an answer that apparently proved their distress to be the result of a comical mistake, and they all broke into laughter. The pale glow over the land grew golden.
On our return to the monastery courtyard we found a monk whom I had met on my previous visit, sitting with two of the lunatics and singing them airs from madame Butterfly. This monk is a Serb from Novi Sad, who is called the Doctor because he had been a medical student for two or three years before he took his vows. It is said that he took them because he himself was cured of a mental disorder by Sveti Naum. He is a charming person, with a face that is at once extremely animal, as if he could find his way by scent, and extremely mild, as if he were purged of aggressiveness and all the baser instincts, and he has a beautiful baritone voice, rich with detached sensuousness. It is delightful to be with him, though it is not easy to get in touch with him, for the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not, as is often falsely alleged, open the Western world to its peoples by teaching them German; Novi Sad was in Hungary and its children were taught not German but Hungarian. He works very hard, for he sings at most of the services; he alone receives all guests who visit the monastery, and he takes his share of looking after the lunatics, but he has a skin as smooth as a child's and the charm of an indolent man.
The lunatics bore testimony to his power in dealing with them by sinking back into their woe as soon as he turned his attention from them. They kept on staring at the church where all their hopes were centred. This was the antithesis of the Byzantine practice of blinding people by making them look at a bright light; they were trying to get back their inner sight by keeping their eyes on the darkness. Both of them were so mad that nobody could have seen them without noticing their condition. One, a young girl in a cheap cloth coat with a goat-skin collar, was perhaps a shop-assistant from some small town; she was wearing bedroom slippers, and a hole in her stocking showed her bare heel. The other was a superbly handsome man in his thirties, with the long hair and the beard of a priest, who was dressed, like his companion, in Western clothes, but with an extreme carelessness; his socks were bright yellow, and he wore curious strap-shoes like a child's. They were very different. Of the girl one could say quite simply, "She would not be mad if someone had not been so cruel to her," as simply as one might say, "That face would not be bruised if someone had not struck it." But in the man there worked an elemental distress, peculiar to himself, which might have vexed him had he never known any but himself, or only the loving. He was in the predicament of the two-headed calf, part of his soul was spitting out nourishment it needed.
There was something shocking to a Western mind in the disorder of their dress. But when I looked back to the time of my life when I was gapst miserable I realized that it would have been a great relief to have let everything about me, including my clothes, express that misery; and it indicated no callousness on the part of their guardians, for some of the monks are so rapt in ecstasy that they notice nothing material, and the others had been brought up in Turkish Macedonia, where a ragged garment was more normal than a whole one in many Christian homes. It was not at all terrible to be with these people; and indeed their condition seemed far from being the worst that can be feared, when we were joined by a young man who was staying in the monastery, not as a lunatic but as a tourist. Small and whippy, wearing curious knickerbockers of Central European pattern, he sat whistling and trimming his nails with a penknife, and was none the more acceptable for having his wits about him. He seemed to find the time pass slowly, as indeed it must in an Orthodox monastery if one is not interested in Orthodox monasteries, and from his lack of response to the conversation it appeared that he was not.
When it drew near the dinner hour the Doctor sent the two lunatics into their refectory, asked the four of us to come with him into the guest-house, and said good-night to the young man, who gave him a nod which was affable in an exceedingly unsuitable way, which would have looked more appropriate over the rim of a glass of beer. The Doctor answered with a smile that was not without reserves. The rest of us went with him up the stairs that led to the gallery, here walled in though it is open in most monasteries, where the visitors are given slatko, the ceremonial offering of sugar or jam and glasses of cold water, and where the guests who stay overnight are given their meals. We were given plum brandy, and then shown into our bare little rooms, with the narrow beds and the tin basins. The windows looked out on the lake, which was now silver under a horizon of black clouds. Over the black range on our right a Niagara of radiant white mist was pouring, and some light, of unimaginable provenance, crept low along the ground and turned the trees to a hard emerald green. On the left the Albanian mountains were a deep violet, and below them the lights of villages shone on the water's edge. "Those lights that are quite near, that are almost at our feet," said the Doctor, "that too is an Albanian village. We are right on the frontier here. Indeed we were once actually in Albania, as a result of the first peace settlement. But this was a pilgrimage place for so many who lived in Yugoslavia that the frontier had to be corrected. Still, it will go hard with us if Italy ever strikes at Yugoslavia through Albania."
At dinner the Doctor sang a long grace in his beautiful and untroubled voice, and sat down to eat with us. We had little appetite, though the food was grown on the rich farmlands of the monastery and was well cooked by a lunatic who had been only uncertainly cured by Sveti Naum and had begged to be allowed to stay near the shrine so that he could resort to it at need; it was our fifth meal that day. But the Doctor ate well, for the day of an Orthodox monk is long and trying. The brothers rise between three and four and breakfast at eight, after the long service, and they have a midday meal at half-past twelve; but they do not have their supper until eight or later, though some of them have had another long service in the afternoon. As the Doctor sat drowsily over his coffee, Constantine said to him, "Who was the little one in knickerbockers who was sitting down in the courtyard with the lunatics?" The Doctor answered, "We do not know, but he comes here now and then." Constantine asked, "Does he say why he comes?" "He says he likes the monastery," said the Doctor, with no great conviction. "What does he say he is?" asked Constantine. "He has a Yugoslav passport," said the Doctor. "But I think he talks a little like a Saxon, a Saxon perhaps not of Saxony, but of Transylvania," said Constantine.
A pause fell, and we all drank more wine. "I am sad," said the Doctor, "because I am very happy here, and I may have to leave. I could not be happier, for I like showing guests the monastery, since in a way it is the most wonderful place in the world, and I like working with the lunatics, for many of them are made sound. That is a great joy to me, for my only sorrow on becoming a monk was that I could not be a doctor, and here I find myself helping with cures such as no doctor could ever work. But Bishop Nikolai says that perhaps he will move me to Zhitcha." Zhitcha is the seat of Bishop Nikolai's other diocese, it is the rose-red monastery where all the Serb kings are crowned, not a hundred miles south of Belgrade. "Why so?" asked Constantine. "He says," replied the Doctor, "that in Zhitcha, which is an administrative centre, he has need of a modern man, as I am, but that here in Sveti Naum there is a living tradition which can safely be taken care of by the traditionalists. Besides he is making it a rule to have none but Macedonian monks in Macedonian monasteries, and there is no reason why I should be an exception." He sighed deeply, but added, "It is a wise rule, for many reasons, even for the sake of Sveti Naum itself. There might come those who did not understand the place and the peasants."
There was much in what he said, though the rule was probably first conceived as a sop to the Macedonian patriots. The Doctor was a unique personality, who moved in a world of essences and remarked little of the material except its simpler pleasantnesses, such as the feeling of cleanliness. But most men who had been brought up within the orbit of Belgrade and Zagreb would be infected with Western ideas regarding the importance of material possessions and a written culture. When the Abbot and the peasant and the boy had been talking in the orchard that evening they had been divided by differences of age and function, which summed up to considerable differences in authority; but there could be no idea of a fundamental inequality declared at birth, because the Abbot had probably come from a peasant home. There could be nothing more horrible than the idea of a priest coming to this place to treat lunatics and giving them, even if inadvertently, their first knowledge of a class system, thus betraying to them that they were at a disadvantage of which they were previously unaware. Its horror makes one realize that, however inevitable a class system may be in a complicated capitalist state, it must be a cruel burden on the human mind. It would also be horrible if, in a country where a certain proportion of the people must needs be ragged and dirty, those in mental distress should have to go for comfort to a priest who associated the idea of worth with whole and clean garments. There is a like therapeutic threat in the Western incapacity for appreciating a culture which is not dominated by literature, which makes Serb and Croat residents in Macedonia who have graduated in the universities of Berlin, Vienna, and Paris completely blind to the beauty of the peasants' costumes and dances and rituals and certain that they are barbaric. This blindness is indeed a more serious therapeutic threat than the other. There was published some years ago a book by an English doctor about his life as a superintendent in a lunatic asylum for African natives, in which he described how his work had been profitless until he had laid hold on their culture, and had mastered their myths and basic ideas. If this were true in the case of a primitive race, it must be even more so in the case of a people governed by the phantom of a complex culture.
It might be thought that none of these considerations could apply to a shrine, where the cure offered is miraculous, and therefore ought to be conceived to be as simple as a poultice, cold and in reverse action, the patient being clapped on a marble tomb and the supernatural left to take its course. But the cure is in fact far more complicated. It depends on bringing the patients, in as receptive a state of mind as possible, under the influence of Sveti Naum himself, that is to say under the influence of a personality which has been perpetuated by word-of-mouth tradition and by the style of a building. And here too Western influence might be disastrous, for that personality has an exquisite appropriateness to Macedonia as well as to sanity. A grim man, Sveti Naum was not vanquished when he fought among these rocks with the wild men who would be heathen; he passed thereby a Macedonian test. He knew that nothing was too abominable to happen on this earth, but that probably all could be borne if one fought a soldierly campaign, numbering the enemy and recognizing their kind, and drawing on all available forces, of which the mightiest was magical. It would have been a pity if the perpetuation of this message had been left to a Western sentimentalist, who would have represented Sveti Naum as a kind man who kissed the place and made it well, or a Western euphorist who would falsely claim that events were never horrible if properly regarded.
The character of Sveti Naum, or of the tradition that has formed round his name, is so definite that each time I have slept in the monastery it has affected my dreams, making them bleak yet not at all distressful presentations of what was not to be altered for the better in my life, from which I woke refreshed. But the next day my wakening was late. I heard the clanging of the great bell, which announced the last phase of the long morning service, washed in cold water, looking across the lake at a shining world, dressed, ran across the courtyard, where a peacock was preening its tail in a pool of sunlight, and went in, or, as it seemed, down, into the dark church. There in the candlelight were my husband and Gerda and Constantine and Dragutin, two old nuns and a hunchback young one, the two lunatics we had met in the courtyard, and a third, a young peasant girl, who was accompanied by her mother.
The Doctor, with an acolyte standing by him, a lad in a torn coat with his socks in folds above his ankles, was reading the lesson; and when he had finished the royal door in the iconostasis opened and there came out a priest dressed in crimson and gold, who stood waiting, in the space that is left between the congregation and the iconostasis, where there is a circle of white stone with a black star inscribed in it. One of the old nuns led forward the girl in the cloth coat, and she dropped on all fours in front of him. Opening his bearded mouth to make way for a deep-lunged prayer, he swung a censer backwards and forwards over her. Her crouching body made a pitiful hieroglyphic of which the interpretation was very plain. Had the conception of sex been revised in the human mind, so that men are kind to those who give them pleasure, she would not have been mad. But the dark vault and massive pillars of the church about us, the stern and ornate iconostasis, announced the unlikelihood of such a change, and the inveterate inharmoniousness of life. In her place the bearded man crouched down and was censed. He flung himself at the priest's feet with the greatest eagerness, but once he knelt he would have nothing of the rite, he shifted from knee to knee, raised and lowered his head. Here was the source of life's disharmony, of such conceptions as had driven the girl mad. Here was the two-headed calf again, that would drink the milk with one head and spit it out with the other and so must die. Last came the peasant girl, who swung round as she got to the priest and turned her back on him, showing a pretty face, prettily tied up in a white kerchief. She was an idiot, and laughter shook her even when she crouched before the priest. Her mother, who was not old but was dried up by excessive grief as if she had been smoked like a ham, was by her side when she rose, and slewed her round to face the altar. Whispering, she pushed up the girl's hand towards her forehead, and there was achieved a clumsy sign of the cross. The mother must have laboured for years to teach her such a complicated movement.
The priest went back through the royal door, and the Doctor sang another passage from the Mass. The idiot wearied and strayed from her mother, who was standing with her eyes shut in prayer, and spent a little time feeling the fluffy texture of my angora dress. Then she lost interest and stared ahead of her, and saw the back of her mother's head, round under a black kerchief. She put out her hand and began to finger it with an embryonic kind of love; the mother turned a patient face and drew her daughter back to her. Then the priest came out again from the iconostasis and stood holding a bowl full of the sacramental bread, the small flat loaves. The nuns took theirs avidly and happily, the girl in the cloth coat took hers as if it might perhaps be what she really wanted, the bearded man went up eagerly and then turned aside and began to straighten the tangled fringe of the shelf on the iconostasis where the icons stand, the idiot girl came back laughing, with crumbs on her mouth, which her mother brushed away. There was a prayer of thanksgiving, and suddenly the magic was over. The nuns and the priests hurried out of the church about their business, the lunatics sauntered out as if for them all clocks had stopped.
While we were breakfasting in the gallery on coffee and milk and the sweet black bread they bake here from their own corn, I said to Constantine, "I wish you would ask the Doctor if they cure all kinds of madness alike." He answered, "No, he will not like you to ask that. And it is not necessary, for I can tell you what his answer will be. He will say that the mercy of God works on all people that seek it," and went on with his coffee. I said, "Please ask him," but he would not until I had tried to put the question in my stumbling Serbian. The Doctor gave a bright, furtive smile, like a hound thinking of the ways of the fox, and answered, "There are some cases of madness which can be cured by Sveti Naum, and some for which God apparently reserves another way. Neuroses we can cure. Many, many neurotics have I seen go from here sane men. And of psychotics I have seen some cured here, more, I think I can say, than were cured elsewhere, for I think that in the asylums they do not claim to cure dementia praecox, and that I have seen happen here several times. But where there is something organic, there we can do nothing. But I should not put it like that, for this condition may be altered tomorrow. Also I should be careful to point out that there must be a monastery somewhere where such things are cured. All I can really say is that here we cure other things." He said that he thought the girl in the cloth coat would probably be completely cured, but he was doubtful about the bearded man, and that he did not expect that they would be able to do anything for the girl with the white handkerchief.
This ruling on the general types and the particular cases is very much the opinion that an alienist trained in modern Western methods would have passed, except for the optimistic prognosis concerning the psychotics; but the Doctor was speaking entirely according to his own experience and the tradition of the monastery, for his medical education had stopped short of any such advanced studies. In fact, there has somehow been worked out in this monastery a system of psychotherapy which is roughly comparable to that recommended by modern medical science, and which certainly achieves some degree of success. This is not unnatural. The patients come to the monastery for forty days, which is the length of a good holiday, and are given wholesome food, of a more varied kind than they have in their houses, which are in the poorest cases limited to bread and paprika, and they are housed with more privacy. For many of them it is the first break in a life of continuous overwork, and for quite a number of women it is an escape from male tyranny. They are also the exclusive objects of the attention of a number of priests, who are the most important kind of people they know, which must be restorative to their self-esteem; and the effect of the ceremony in church that we had just seen must be overwhelming. These people are used to the Mass, they have often stood in church and known that behind the iconostasis the priests are celebrating the holy mysteries. Sometimes the curtain above the door is drawn back and they see them in a blaze of light, like to the saints and kings of old time shown in the frescoes and icons with their gorgeous garments and their long hair; sometimes they come out to dispense the sacramental bread, the most holy of substances. And suddenly it appears that they can come out for no other purpose than to help one's darkened brain.
After breakfast we went to look at the springs which feed the lesser lake. On the way out we went into the church, to have another taste of its powerful and astringent quality. But we did not stop, for at the tomb of Sveti Naum a priest was reading some form of exorcism over a peasant girl, whose mother stood by with her hands folded across her apron front in an attitude of despair. The girl was sitting on the floor with some sort of embroidered liturgical cloth on her head, staring not at all sadly ahead of her with immense black eyes sunk in a white face. In the sickly slenderness of her wrists and ankles, in the jaunty perversity of her expression, she recalled some young ephebe of Paris in the nineteen-twenties, some idol with feet of cocaine, dear to Jean Cocteau and his circle. As we went out of the monastery a terrific avian hullabaloo broke out in the archway over our heads, and we saw that the rafters were thick with the family life of swallows, which was being threatened by a malign pigeon; but this disorder was speedily righted by a lean old monk who ran out of the kitchen with a long pole, making fierce movements while he uttered mild exhortations, appealing to its better side. Outside, the landscape was as under a special blessing because it was so well watered. Its grass and trees shone with the radiance of youth, of perfect health.
We followed a path that ran round the lesser lake. Its centre was calm: across it a line of poplars were reflected exactly in their ash-white wood and gold-green leaf. But the edge trembles perpetually, for here the waters of Lake Prespa burst out from the imprisoning rock in two hundred separate springs, the sources of the river Drin. Each has its own rhythm; some are quick, some are slow, some beat like a pulse, all are clear as crystal. "How strange that they should both be at Sveti Naum," said my husband, "this little church which is the blackest and heaviest thing I have ever seen, this expanse of water which is the lightest, brightest thing I have ever seen." One spring bubbled up, transparent as air in a stone basin set among long grass in a roofless chapel; at our coming huge bronze and emerald frogs dived from the grass into the basin. We found another. in a basin set in the open, and sat there for a time .Above us, on a hillside stained magenta with wild stock, munched a herd of goats; one kid, grey and delicate, lay sleeping near us, shining and lax like a skein of silk. I put out my hand and it fell on the most poetical of wild flowers, the grape hyacinth. We saw Dragutin, whose religious attitude to water we had often noticed before, reverently walking along the path by the lake, keeping his eyes on it and often standing still.
When the morning had worn on, we found a path back through the orchard where we had seen the Abbot and the peasants, and came back to the bridge over the Drin. Our knees against the ram and ewe, we leaned over and watched a mill-wheel turning under a grey tower that is said to be as old as the monastery, a thousand years or so, and is homely and majestic in the manner of its time. The brightness of the river was not to be believed. We saw Dragutin coming along the avenue of poplars and willows, and pausing for a gossip with the shepherd of a brown and white flock that was grazing on the cushiony turf under the trees. Presently he came up and, after pouring into my hand a stream of round white stones he had found somewhere, leaned over the bridge with us. As I played with the stones they reminded me of the sacramental loaves in the church, and there came back to me a poetic moment in the service I had witnessed on my previous visit to Sveti Naum. At a certain point in the afternoon service a nun went into the centre of the church, where there is a circle of white stone inscribed with a black star on the floor, and put there a rickety little table covered with a white crocheted mat, such as one might see in seaside lodgings. Then the priest in crimson and gold had come out carrying a plate of sacramental loaves and laid it on the table. Then he walked round the table, pointing towards the loaves a long cross with a lit candle fixed to the top of its upright arm, where Christ's head must have rested, and halting at north and south and east and west to chant a spell. This rite strongly evoked the death of Christ, the radiance of goodness, the sin of murdering it, and the cancellation of this sin by the consent of goodness to live again, that those who ate the bread must have felt that they were swallowing a substance like Christ, that they mere absorbing goodness.
Here in Sveti Naum magic can be worked. The mind accepts it. That is to say, this is one of the places in the world which, by their material conformation emphasized be the results of the labours to which they have inspired their inhabitants, have a symbolic meaning. The existence of such places is one of the determining factors in history, and most of the great cities are among them. The shape of the earth around them, the mountains that uphold them or the plains that leave them open to their enemies, the rivers and seas or barrenness about them, recommend certain philosophies. These axe never stated, but the people live or die by them: so do we sometimes go shout all day depressed or exalted by a dream which we do not remember. The proof lies in the power of these places to imprint the same stamp on whatever inhabitants history brings them, even if conquest spills out one population and pours in another wholly different in race and philosophy. Whatever blood finds itself in Constantinople feels an obligation to cultivate an immensely elaborate magnificence under the weight of which it grows fatigued and slatternly; whatever faith finds itself in Rome becomes gluttonous of universal dominion; whether imperialism or communism is in Moscow it sits behind locked doors and balks at shadows.
The argument here, in Sveti Naum, which has been recognized for a thousand years, is a persuasion towards sanity; a belief that life, painful as it is, is not too painful for the endurance of the mind, and is indeed essentially delightful. It presents that argument in a series of symbols. There is the circle of mountains in which the great lake lies. There is the lake, the circle of water, which is a natural substance like the rock of the mountains. There is the other lake, far less in size, which is also of common water, of rain that falls from dark clouds and runs down the hillsides, but which receives other water of a brighter sort, derived from the springs that flow from a distant mountain. This other water flows as a river through that lake and the great lake, immersed in them yet always distinct, and leaves them with its nature unchanged. There is, besides these lakes and these springs and this river, a circle of green earth, where the grass and the trees grow tall without experience of drought and the herds browse and are never hungry; and besides this circle of earth, which is the extreme of fertility, is a small circle of rock, the concentrated extreme of barrenness. On this rock there has been built a square of squat, dark, strong buildings. In the centre is the strongest, squattest, darkest of them all. This building is divided into two parts; in the one there are light and people who can by singing and ritual evoke the thoughts and feelings which are to human beings as water is to the grass and trees and turf, in the other there are darkness and people who need this refreshment.
This is a picture of man's life. The difference between the mountains and the lake is as the difference between nature and man. The difference between the lakes and the river which runs through them is as the difference between man's bodily life, of the kind which he shares with the animals, and the life of his mind. There is the difference between the green earth and the barren rock, the difference between life when it goes well and when it goes ill. There is the monastery as example that man is not powerless when life goes ill, that he can assemble sounds and colours and actions into patterns which make spells and evocations, which persuade the universe to give up the antidote it holds against its poison. It is not pretended in any part of Sveti Naum that this revelation is made with facility. Even here truth does not grow on every bush. Bread does not become of like substance to goodness until it is laid on a little table in the centre of the church, over a circle of white stone inscribed by a black star, until it is enchanted by songs from the four points of the compass, and indicated by flame. It is the character of art and thought never to be easy. Nor is it pretended in any part of Sveti Naum that the revelation is complete, that all is now known. If the place makes a claim it is only that here for a mile or two earth corresponds with reality, which this correspondence shows not to be disagreeable.
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