The Hermitage of St. Neophytos: Inscriptions and sources

Introduction: Neophytos (1134–after 1214) was a hermit who carved living and worship spaces (and also a tomb) into a cliff face in western Cyprus. His sanctity attracted followers, and a small monastery was similarly hollowed out of the rock nearby. Translated here are (a) the inscription painted next to the image of Neophytos in the Deesis scene in his living space and (b) excerpts from his monastery’s foundation document, which includes his will and burial instructions. This testament/typikon was begun in 1177 and revised by Neophytos in 1214.

O Christ, through the prayers of your Mother and your Baptist who stand in veneration beside your august throne, be merciful now and forever to the one who pleads before your divine foot.
(b) Excerpted, with permission, from Catia Galatariotou, trans., “Neophytos: Testamentary Rule of Neophytos for the Hermitage of the Holy Cross 1338 near Ktima in Cyprus,” in Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents: A Complete Translation of the Surviving Founders’ “Typkika” and Testaments, ed. John Thomas and Angela Constantinides Hero (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2000), 1338–73. © 2000 Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University.
. . . Because I had not been given over to even one day’s studying of lessons by my parents, so that I was ignorant of even the first letters of the alphabet, I was thus permitted by Maximos the superior of the monastery to tend the vineyards at the so-called Boupai. Having served there for five years, and having acquainted myself with the rudimentary elements of letters, and having learned with [the help of] God the Psalter by heart, I was transferred upon the command again of the aforementioned superior from there to the holy church of the divine [St. John] Chrysostom, forthwith holding the office of assistant ecclesiarch [sacristan].

. . . Henceforward then, departing from the monastery, I arrived at the Holy Land of Jerusalem, both for the sake of worship, and in the hope of encountering in those deserts some solitary and eremitic man and follow him. . . . But having spent six months there, I was told through a vision, by God’s mercy, that I had to go, not in that desert, but to another place, upon which the [Heavenly] King too, it said, shall descend and there stamp the bread [for use in the mass]. Henceforward then, departing from there, I sailed to Cyprus . . . In the year six thousand six hundred and sixty seven [1159 CE], of the seventh indiction, on the twenty-fourth of the month of June, on the birth-day of the venerable Forerunner [St. John the Baptist], having resorted to the said cave, I was twenty-five years old, yet I searched out the solitude of the place even until the month of September. But having discovered that the place was quiet and undisturbed, I started hewing the cave and widening it, and breaking down its unsound parts, and I worked thus throughout all that year, up to and until the following September and the [feast day of the] Exaltation of the Holy Cross. . . . I called the cave by the name of the Holy Cross, having fixed an altar for the holy rites, so as not to distance myself from the holy communion of the body and blood of Christ. . . . Thereafter the structures of the hermitage began to be extended and adorned, and the entire length of the cliff was thoroughly hewn out for the construction of cells. In the twenty-fourth year of my enclosure, the hermitage was painted throughout, and the cliff next to it, hewn out, was consecrated as the church of the All-Holy Cross.

. . . In my previous testamentary Rule I had regulated for a very small number of brothers [monks]. But noting this provision in the rule, not just the brothers about me but also some of the learned laymen came together and they meekly requested that the number of brothers be raised up to twenty or even twenty-five, having also precisely calculated the sum of money necessary for such a number of church and attendant monks, “lest,” they said, “some of the good people may desire to live here and, if they are held back by the rule, you shall be found to be the cause of grief and faintheartedness both to them and to us.” . . . If certain such good men resort here for the glory of God and their salvation and their number is raised, as you said, I myself would certainly be no obstacle to those in whom God delights. Let the number then be raised to fifteen or even eighteen. He who feeds and provides for the few shall have no difficulty in feeding also the many, and especially if [they are] good. Let the most God-fearing and prudent among them be steward, and another of similar qualities, be treasurer, so that the recluse shall always remain quiet and undisturbed.

. . . For behold, fifty-five years have gone by since this hermitage was constructed, and, possessing none of the things pertaining to life, the Lord deprived us of none of his goods. These I had regulated fittingly and well in my first testament. But our country having fallen to the Latins [western Europeans, i.e., “crusaders”] and all the people having been deprived of every necessity, it was obviously natural that we would also fall into hard times, both because of the superabundance of the brothers and because of the increased expense, not simply because of our needs, but also because of the outsiders who daily come and visit the hermitage on account of its fame.

. . . if self-control and contentment with little is praiseworthy in every man, it is even more so in the case of a monk leading the anchoritic and solitary life. For although I, too, many times wished to have just ten grains soaked in water during the public festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, they were not given to me nor did they remember me. Yet, I reckoned that this was not done out of contempt but because of the multitude of people and because I was hidden away and not easily seen. This happened not once but at different times during public festivals, seeing that I did not touch anything softened by fire. I did not want to mention this, but mention it I did, brother, in order to incite you to patience.

. . . I too command that the bounds of the holy hermitage be inaccessible to any woman. If any woman, out of depravity, enters inside the outer gate, she shall fall under the punishment of feeding on dry food for forty days, and of carrying out the same number of genuflections throughout these days, so that both she is taught and she teaches others not to cross boundaries of discipline and not to overstep salvific rules. We have decreed thus, not because we loathe our fellow human beings, but we wrote thus in order to preserve the discipline of the place.

. . . If someone contrives to destroy this present rule or to add or remove anything from the rules of mine laid down by me with [the help of] God, let him firstly fall under the above-mentioned curse, and then be excommunicated from God’s glory and the holy church and the sacraments of Christ.

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Hermitage of St. Neophytos, plan