While listening to NPR this afternoon, I was startled out of my reverie by the realization that they were airing a feature about a pilgrimage in Greece, to Mount Athos. The startling part, to me (and I now know, to countless others) is that the destination is only open to men. The following description is from a website I found, but I also direct you to the text of the radio feature I heard on NPR — just click here: http://theworld.org/2013/05/visiting-the-holy-mountain-athos-in-greece/
All visitors to Mount Athos are by definition pilgrims. Whatever reason you have for visiting them, the monks will welcome you as a pilgrim. It may be helpful to bear this in mind when planning, making, and recalling your visit. It will help you to decide such things as what clothes to wear, what books to read, what subjects to discuss with the monks, what to do and where to go on the Holy Mountain, how to approach fellow visitors, how to describe your experience when you return.
Pilgrimage means different things to different people. In English, the word means a journey undertaken for religious purposes and implies a degree of hardship or discomfort. But the Greek word for pilgrimage, proskynesis , means prostration or veneration: in other words it lays stress on what you do when you arrive rather than on how you got there. Pilgrims therefore hold quite different views on how to travel between monasteries, and the recent proliferation of roads and vehicles means that often there is a choice.
One belief that is shared by the vast majority of pilgrims and certainly by all the inhabitants of Mount Athos is that the Mountain is actually holy ground. The tradition that Athos was visited by the Virgin Mary is very much alive and accounts for the dedication of the Mountain to the glory of the Mother of God and for the exclusion from it of all other women.
The Mountain is unique for many other reasons too: for its history, its architecture, its art, its place in the history of scholarship, its music, its ecology, its flora, its fauna, its incomparable natural beauty, its seclusion, its silence, its worship. For all these reasons — and it is accepted that any one of them is a perfectly valid motive for visiting Athos — the Mountain expects and merits our respect. Clearly, this is not for all “pilgrims.” It is primarily a traditional destination for Christians — even Catholics — and yes, men only!
One quote I have found on that subject so far: “Mount Athos is the only state in the world which women are not allowed to enter, and until you arrive here you have no idea quite how weird that feels. I’d always pictured Mount Athos as a lone escarpment, like Gibraltar, but it’s actually a long finger of land, ending in a snow-capped peak, surrounded on three sides by the blue Aegean.” I am still searching for more information about that aspect of this journey, and I will update this entry as soon as I find a good resource.
And here is the link to that complete article, which I found quite informative: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/for-men-only-a-pilgrimage-to-mount-athos-in-greece-7786356.html