« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
habitants, Piatra owes alike its prosperity and its misfortunes to the capricious river on the banks of which it is situated. It is the centre of the wood trade, and the Bistritza is, up to this point, the mode of conveyance from the densely - wooded valleys of the Carpathians. Not merely does it afford water-carriage for wood, but the rafts in their turn are made use of by travellers as the most convenient way of descending the river. These rafts are of necessity comparatively small, but they are furnished with comfortable little log shanties; and I regretted, as I saw them come spinning down the rapids and being moored to the wreck of shattered cottages, that I bad not found time to explore the headwaters of the river, and descend it in this exciting fashion.
We were most hospitably entertained at Piatra by the prefect, whose house of only one storey, with verandahs all round, was not unlike an Indian bungalow; it was nevertheless one of the most sumptuous mansions in the place. As a rule, the town was little better than a collection of huts, and, to judge from their outward appearance, the people did not seem to thrive very much on the wood trade. The disaster which had so recently overtaken them, and which had reduced thousands to ruin, was, however, without doubt, one chief cause of the squalid and poverty-stricken aspect of the place. We met at dinner the few intelligent and educated men who lived here, and spend the evening, as is usual on such occasions, in political discussions. The policy of Prince Couza always afforded a fruitful topic. Unfortunately, there was never a sufficient divergence of opinion about him individually to make an argument possible. During the whole term of my residence in Moldavia and Wallachia, I did not find a soul who defended him. Indeed, the only man who did not virulently abuse him was the then Prime Minister. As, a week or two after I saw this functionary for the last time, he
was summarily ejected from office, have little doubt that he is not now exceeded by his fellows in bitterness.
We paid a very early visit to the Monastery of Bistritza, situated in the gorge of the valley, and distant only about an hour from Piatra. The scenery at this point becomes really fine, and we regretted that we were prevented from pushing our explorations into the tempting region beyond.
Here, instead of a collection of separate cottages inhabited by hundreds of monks, there was only a large house and a church. The house contained the Igoumen, a fine-looking man, who received us hospitably, and informed us that he, together with two or three exiled priests, composed the whole establishment. We went into the church-an old building, decorated with some quaint frescoes, and in which service was being drawled over by one of the exiles to three or four old men and women. One of the latter startled me by suddenly prostrating herself before the officiating priest as he was carrying the host, and thus obliging him to step over her body. The monk who had accompanied us from the Monastery of Nyamptz informed me that the peasants profoundly believed in the efficacy of this process for healing purposes whenever they were afflicted with any malady; and he went on to say that his experience confirmed this popular superstition, and that he had himself cured people by stepping over them with the host in his hands.
Bistritza was as good a specimen of a Dedicated monastery as we could have selected. The abuses of a system which could foster such an establishment were apparent at a glance; and I am bound to say that the Igoumen himself, with whom we discussed the matter, scarcely attempted to defend it. In order, however, to make clear the distinctions between the various ecclesiastical endowments in these Principalities, it will be necessary to define shortly the conditions under which they exist. It may be said, at a rough computation, that as
nearly as possible one-fifth of the soil of Moldavia is in the hands of the Church. This Church property may be divided into four categories -that belonging to Government monasteries, to Cenobitic monasteries, to Dedicated monasteries, and to secular churches. The Government monasteries are small endowments, scarcely worth mentioning. The whole annual rental of the secular churches is only £3000. It is probable, therefore, that their State endowments do not involve greater abuses than ecclesiastical endowments in other countries. We have left to consider the Cenobitic and the Dedicated monasteries. The first category I described in a former article. Nyamptz, Seku, Agapia, and Veratica all belonged to it. They are not nearly so wealthy as the Dedicated class— and have a great deal more to do with their money. They are people of the country, who spend at home the wealth they derive from the produce of the soil, and who, as a rule, approve rather than otherwise of Prince Couza's wholesale measure of confiscation. It may hit them hard in some respects, but it hits their bitter enemies the Dedicated monasteries much harder. The Cenobitic convents and monasteries derive their riches either from the legacies of wealthy boyards, or from members of the fraternity who have thrown their property into the common lot. The revenue of Nyamptz, for instance, was nominally £20,000 a-year, derived from land: this maintained nine hundred monks, and a large sum was set aside for hospitality; for it was the fashion for strangers to quarter themselves for an indefinite period upon the monastery; and at the time of the annual pilgrimage the guests were reckoned by thousands: added to this, many of the most powerful boyards are heavily indebted to the monasteries for rents of land, and in other ways; as it is not the fashion in the Principalities to pay one's debts, and courts of law exist only as channels of injustice, the monasteries were invariably victimised,
and had large sums owing to them which they never saw the least chance of obtaining. Meantime the Government denies that it has actually appropriated property which does not belong to it; on the contrary, Prince Couza maintains that all convent property is in reality Government property, and that he has a right to take it, with its obligations. Without following him into the special pleading by which he endeavours to prove this, the fact remains that he has poured an enormous sum of money into the Government coffers, and at the same time put the Cenobitic establishments on a footing which they prefer, and which is likely to diminish existing abuses. The monks will no longer be oppressed and victimised by boyards, or eaten up by pilgrims and strangers. They get their three piastres a day apiece for board, besides about £125 a-year pocket-money for each man, and have no further trouble with the administration of their large revenues. The nuns in the same way get two ducats a-day from the Government, with which they are very well satisfied, and admit the propriety of the new regulation prohibiting women from taking the veil until they are forty-five. For ten years to come no novice at all is to be admitted to either convent. The only objection I heard made by themselves to this rule was, that when the convent contained nothing but old women, there would be no one to chant or perform the service. Altogether, it is evident that the Government is doing what it can to discourage such establishments. It opposes the institution of schools by either monks or nunstoo much knowledge, in the opinion of Prince Couza, being a dangerous thing; and it equally opposes the accumulation of wealth for the support of hives of male and female drones, who do nothing but discuss politics and grumble.
We now come to the next category, of Dedicated monasteries. They are upon an altogether different foundation from the estab
lishments we have just been discussing, and derive their wealth from property acquired by the Patriarch of Constantinople for the Church of which he is the head, under various pretexts. It was only natural that, when the Ottoman rule was more directly operative in the Principalities than it is at present, everything should be managed by intrigue through Constantinople; and the boyards repaid the Patriarch for any jobs with the Turkish Government they wished done, by making over, or "dedicating," at their death, their property to the Greek Church. While the monks of the Cenobitic monasteries owe allegiance to the Greek Metropolitan at Jassy, the monks of the Dedicated monasteries owe allegiance only to the Patriarch at Constantinople. They are, in every sense, intruders and interlopers; are seldom natives of the country; and form, in fact, a portion of that vast ecclesiastical system which swallows up, for Church purposes, an immense proportion of the wealth of European Turkey and the Levant. These Dedicated monasteries are affiliated to Mount Athos and other Greek convents abroad, and the Turkish Government has an interest in the question, because they are, in a sense, as appertaining to a Church whose head is at Constantinople, under Turkish protection. So that we have the positions reversed; and while, in Turkey, Russia is perpetually agitating upon the ground of a protectorate in favour of the Christian Church, in the Principalities Turkey is agitating, upon the same pretext, in favour of the same sect. So little has real religion to do with it in either case.
Altogether, the revenue of these Dedicated convents in Moldavia alone amounted to an annual rental of £200,000. When it is remembered that almost every farthing of this sum is sent to Constantinople, and, instead of finding its way back into the pockets of Moldavians, to be used in developing the resources of the country, goes to enrich the
drones of Athos, Sinai, and other monasteries, or else is appropriated by the Patriarch at Constantinople, who is accountable for it to no one, one cannot wonder at the head of the State casting covetous eyes upon it for the exigencies of his Government. It would be too much to expect of any man, much less of Prince Couza, who is not much troubled with the devotional sentiment, to nourish in his bosom the ecclesiastical vampire which has fastened upon the vitals of the country, and is sucking its lifeblood. Even Mr Gladstone, were he Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Principalities, notwithstanding the marks of affection which he has lavished, on more than one occasion, upon the Greek priesthood, would scarcely be able to resist proving by argument the superior claims of the State over a Church the head of which in a foreign country acts as the receiver of stolen goods, while his clergy perform the functions of robbers and exporters of the same.
It was a curious thing to see this solitary man in his large empty house, standing over against a large empty church, without a congregation, without priests, without schools, without paupers to succour, with no other earthly occupation except to collect the rents of the monastery, which amount to £12,000 a-year, and to send them to Constantinople. Though called Igoumen, and invested ostensibly with sacred functions, he really was nothing more than a land-steward on a salary of £125 a-year, kept there, with long hair and a long robe and a sacred character, to gather in the rents and see that the peasants who belonged to the monastery did the right amount of service for the lands they held. Poor man! he himself protested that it made very little difference to him whether the lands were confiscated or not: under no circumstances did he make money, he alleged, so strict was the account he was compelled to render to Constantinople; and he was rather glad than otherwise that the
Government, by coolly appropriating the whole £12,000 a-year, and still advancing him his own salary, saved him all further trouble. Out of the revenue thus acquired by Prince Couza, an annual grant of £900 is made to the support of the Monastery of Bistritza. Judging by the specimens of priesthood we saw there, this sum is ample. The only objection which the public take to this act of spoliation is, that Prince Couza will no more say what he does with the yearly revenue he has pocketed than the Patriarch. There must be something fascinating in the touch of this sacred gold, so closely does it stick to the fingers of all who handle it. However, Prince Couza can't last for ever; and even if he is not more honest than a priest, he has at least the merit of having broken down a system of robbery and plunder on the part of the Church, and of keeping Moldavian money in the country. Under the old system, adventurers or needy boyards used to plot with the dishonest Igoumens, who gave them recommendations to the Patriarch at Constantinople. They thus procured from this dignitary land at absurdly low leases, the representations of the Igoumen being that they were of small value. They would then sublet these lands at an enormous advance, grind the peasantry down to the last farthing, and share the profits with the respectable Igoumen. Better, say the peasantry, have to trust to the tender mercies of the Government than to those of priests of Dedicated monasteries. So they are not averse to Prince Couza's measure of confiscation.
Some idea of the enormous sums obtained by the Greek Church, by means of monasteries dedicated to it, from the countries in which they are situated, may be gained by the fact that in the Monastery of Sinai there are only eighteen monks, with a revenue of £60,000 a-year. As it is quite clear that they cannot derive this sum from the barren sides of Horeb, or from any number of "Wadies," it can only come
from countries like Moldavia, where they possess large tracts of country. It is only natural that the Igoumens, who are scarcely ever natives of the country to which they are sent as rent-takers, should look upon the whole thing as a question of plunder. Our friend at Bistritza told us that he was a native of Constantinople, but had been appointed to his present post by the Bishop of Jerusalem. It will be seen, from the conditions under which the Dedicated monasteries of the Principalities exist, that Turkey has really a very indirect interest in them. It is more a question of principle than of interest, but the traditional instincts of the Porte lead the Government to hold with tenacity to its right upon matters which are really of no importance. Moreover, it is subject to a very strong Fanariot pressure at Constantinople, which the Sultan finds it difficult to resist. The connection of Turkey with these provinces is a distinct source of weakness to her, yet there is nothing upon which the Government at Constantinople is more sensitive than about its rights in the Principalities. If we are to support these claims, it would be wise to do it upon some subject which would be more comprehensible to the British public than the Dedicated monasteries. The Power which has enabled Prince Couza to effect this wholesale measure with impunity has been France; and Russia, although interested in the Church which has been despoiled, and having many good reasons which might have induced her to oppose a measure which really has deprived her of funds which used to be employed in intrigue, was at the time so much committed to a French policy that she has found it difficult latterly to take a more consistent and independent line. However, this question has been merged in others of greater importance arising out of the policy recently adopted by Prince Couza, and which we may consider, in a future article. Meantime we may
take a final leave of ecclesiastical establishments, Cenobitic and Dedicated, of villages of nuns packed together in hundreds, and of gaunt buildings inhabited by solitary monks; and, traversing once more the vast plains of these provinces, examine a little at their capitals the effect of a religion which has this peculiar development upon society at large.
A six hours' drive down the valley of the Bistritza took us to Bakou: our road, not much traversed, followed the river, and here and there the scenery was soft and pretty; but as we approached our destination, the gentle undulations which gave a variety to the landscape gradually subsided, and we found ourselves at nightfall in the dusty plain. Bakou is a town on the main road from Jassy to Bucharest, containing about fifteen thousand inhabitants, and at the time of our visit it was honoured by the presence of no less a person than the Prime Minister. This gentleman had been upon a canvassing tour through the country, arranging matters for the elections. By a judicious admixture of threats and bribes, it is not difficult in these provinces to insure matters going the right way. The only other country where politics as a trade are so profitable, where the men who engage in it are so unscrupulous, and where the people are so thoroughly victimised by the form of government they may by a figure of speech be said to "enjoy," is Federal America. I was amused to observe the manner in which the Prime Minister treated the different gentlemen who were presented to him while I was in his company, the contemptuous indifference manifested to some, the urbanity displayed to others, the servility shown by nearly all, except by one man who seemed to have a presentiment of the disgrace which was impending over the Premier, and did not think it worth while to be civil.
We did not trouble his Excellency very long, but adjourned to an inn where a number of young men were supping, with whom it was
rather amusing to enter into conversation, for they were more unsophisticated than those wretched specimens of "Young Moldavia who are to be found in its capital, and whose manners have been acquired at the "Mabille" in Paris. The youths of Bakou spoke with a certain appearance at least of patriotic fervour. They had aspirations for their country never heard in the polite society of Jassy or Bucharest, and were quite delighted to show us, by the eagerness with which they entered upon politics, that they were qualifying themselves for self-government. The more enthusiastic talked wildly about a Roumania which should embrace Transylvania, the Buckovine, the Banat, and Bessarabia, besides the Principalities, amounting altogether to a population of about ten millions, as they maintain-of people all having the same national sentiments, and possessing within themselves the elements of cohesion. The nationality idea, as applied to Roumania, is the most absurd expression of it which has yet cropped up under the auspices of the Emperor Louis Napoleon. Imagine the whole of Italy in a considerably more degraded state than either Naples or Sicily, without a Piedmont to rally round, and you have Roumania. However, it was useless to argue with our Bakou audience; they believed in their nationality, and called themselves Daco-Roumains. The more moderate, it is true, were inclined to begin with the Principalities alone, without a protectorate.
These five nurses, who are always quarrelling among themselves over this very sickly baby, do not improve the temper of the infant, and in the end will prove fatal to its existence. This conviction leads those who are not in government employ, and can therefore afford to be patriotic under certain restrictions, to advocate the abolition of the protectorate. They maintain that they would thereby be thrown upon their own resources, and have any fine qualities which they may perchance possess called