HISTORY:Description 1

Chapter 1

The monastery of the Dormition of Bakhchisaray is located not far to the north of the city of Bakhchisaray, in the deep gorge that the Tartars call “Meriem” (Mary’s gorge), surrounded on both sides by steep, towering cliffs rising to a height of 70 sagenes. The monastery lies in one of Crimea’s emptiest but most impressive landscapes. According to eyewitness accounts, its situation is reminiscent of that of Guéorgui Hozevit’s Carthusian monastery near Jerusalem, famous for its wild and barren surroundings. The remains of various plant species found in the ravine are proof that in ancient times, this land was covered by a thick forest which not even the presence of the neighbouring khan’s residence managed to diminish.

During previous centuries a Greek colony found shelter at the foot of the rock; today all that remains are the caverns where the Greeks lived. The place was called Marioupol, or Mary’s village, after the name of the icon of the Theotokos Panaguia which appeared miraculously on the rocks. The village was mentioned already in the late 16th century in the famous Book of the Big Plan. In Tavrida, in 1625, the embassy travel notes mention that, at the end of their official mission to the Khan’s residence before returning to their country, our ambassadors gave thanksgiving prayers in Mary’s village, on the rock of the Dormition. The Greek Christians suffered constant oppression from their neighbours, the Tartar Muslims. Under the Tartar domination, the Christians suffered their misfortune with extreme abnegation. Some sought refuge in woods and caverns in order to devote their lives to God while others founded monasteries. These latter, being the very foundation of the Christians’ religious and moral life, were particularly subject to attack by the Tartars, who destroyed them and burnt the monks’ books. The more the Christians built, the more the Tartars destroyed. In the 15th century most of southern Crimea, including all its Christian inhabitants, fell under Turkish domination. The Greeks found themselves living between two Islamic people: the Turks and the Tartars. This was the beginning of difficult times for the Christians of Crimea. Relations were strained between Turks and Tartars on the one hand, and Christians on the other, who suffered acute hardship and persecution. The Christians from Tavrida lost their courage in the unequal struggle against the Muslims, but just when all hope of saving their faith was on the point of being extinguished , the image of the Theotokos appeared on the inaccessible rock of Bakhchisaray, in the very heart of Islamic territory.

One legend, as conveyed by Russian writers of the 18th century relates : “Once upon a time, on these rocky mountains (where the monastery lies today) there was a dragon which devoured both men and beasts, and forced people to leave those lands; but the Greeks and the Jinn who were also living there at the time prayed to the Theotokos, imploring her to deliver them from the dragon. One night a candle light was seen on the rock. Not being able to climb the steep mountain, the people carved a ladder in the rock. On reaching the place from where the candle was shining they found the icon of the Theotokos and the lit candle in front of it. Rejoicing at this sight, they gave thanks to the Lord who had delivered his people from the dragon. They cut the dragon into pieces and burnt it. To this day, the inhabitants still meet in order to pray to the Theotokos.”

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