Courtesy Reuters

MOUNT ATHOS, the easternmost of the three prongs of the peninsula of Chalkidiké, has been for centuries the "Holy Mountain" of the Orthodox Church. Pious, or at least penitent, Byzantine, Trapezuntine, Serbian and Russian Emperors and dignitaries founded twenty monasteries there in the dark centuries; more than one monarch sought refuge there from the intrigues of courts, and, to make the solitude safer, it has always been a rule that no female -- except the inevitable female flea, which invades most Eastern monasteries -- should set foot upon Mount Athos. One woman alone is known to have visited the "Holy Mountain" -- the wife of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the "Great Elchi," at the time when that famous British diplomatist was omnipotent at Constantinople. When the Turks conquered the Balkan peninsula they allowed the monks of Mount Athos, which Xerxes had tried to sever by a canal from the mainland,

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  • WILLIAM MILLER, scholar, author of "The Latins in the Levant," "The Ottoman Empire" and other works on the Near East
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