A Short History of Women Who Have Entered Mount Athos [Updated]

In the history of the Holy Mountain, there are a few instances recorded where women violated the sacrosanct and entered the “forbidden” world of the monks.

The legendary first violation of the sacrosanct was in 1346. The “guilty” party was Helen, wife of the Serbian ruler Stephen Dushan. However, she did not reach the Serbian monastery Hilander.

The Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe
The Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe

In 1850, the wife of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Stratford Canning, visited Mount Athos exceptionally and with prior authorization. Although the Patriarch Anthimos indicated in his letter that he “understood” the reasons for the visit, he strictly recommended not repeating it.

Maryse Choisy
Maryse Choisy

In 1929, a French journalist, Maryse Choisy, is said to have went to Mount Athos dressed as a man and stayed there for a month. Upon her return, she wrote a book about her experiences, and the “kinky” monk who continually spoke of his desire for making love, temptations and a guilty conscience. Her book entitled, “A Month with the Men of Mount Athos”

Un mois chez les hommes
Un mois chez les hommes

The members of the Monastic State responded to her book, “It is fanciful. She probably only saw Mount Athos from a boat. Further, how is it possible for a young and pretty girl, prone to adventures, to remain even a day in whatever type of outfit, amid 5,000 lively stout monks, and not bring any of them…to temptation? Would she have remained unscathed for a month?” [Obviously these monks were unfamiliar with the Gerontikon and Lives of Saints where many women have dressed up as men and lived their entire lives in male monasteries].

In 1932, Aliki Diplarakou, “Miss Europe of 1930”, disguised herself as a man and snuck into a monastery. She was publicly cursed and anathematized by Patriarch Photios II.

Aliki Diplarakou, Miss Europe of 1930.
Aliki Diplarakou, Miss Europe of 1930.

However, the case of the Pontic woman from Thessaloniki, Maria Poimenidou, was the most interesting since it was the cause—two months after her venture—for Legislative Decree 2623/1953 to be voted. This decree imposes an imprisonment for up to one year for offenders.

On April 17th, 1953, the then 22-year-old Maria “slipped” into the depths of Mount Athos dressed as a man and remained there until the 19th of the same month.

It should be noted that the State of Mount Athos, the Self-governing and Autonomous Part of the Greek State , belongs politically to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Μαρίας Ποιμενίδου
Μαρίας Ποιμενίδου

These are the incidents that have been officially recorded.

Western Side of Mount Athos

The following information is taken from Ralph H. Brewster’s The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, pp. 16-18:

…From the very earliest constitution to the present day, admittance to the Holy Mountain has been expressly forbidden to all women, female women, female animals and beardless youths. The latter provision is by no means observed nowadays. That relating to female animals is still preserved with the sole exception that nowadays hens and female cats are kept by idiorhythmic monasteries. Other animals are still excluded, “so that their mating nay not furnish an outlandish spectacle to souls which detest all forms of indecency, and are daily being purified” (Monk Pavlos of Xiropotamou, quoted by Choukas, Black Angels of Athos, p. 204).

The part of the law relating to women has, however, never been slackened. Women have never been permitted on the Holy Mountain. If some have succeeded in living there, they have not published the fact. In modern times, various women have tried to enter Mount Athos, mainly, however, from motives of curiosity; but they have had very little success. A year or two ago a Swedish girl came dressed as a man and equipped with her brother’s passport. But already on the steamer doubts were raised about her sex; she didn’t seem to be quite one thing or the other. And, finally, as she was about to land, she had a fit of giggling, completely giving the show away.

Mademoiselle Maryse Choisy, in her seductively entitled book: Un Mois chez les Hommes, has made far greater claims. She describes the endless trouble she went through in order to enter, the opening words of the book being: “To start with I had my breasts cut off.” She describes herself being smuggled in, rolled up in a mattress. Once there she proceeds to have a series of completely improbable adventures. However, to anyone that knows anything at all about Athos, the book is a complete and obvious fake. Mademoiselle Choisy was never there.

A Greek girl, “Miss Europe” of 1930, at least landed on Athos. She came with another girl on her fiance’s yacht, and they both went ashore dressed as sailors at the monastery of Vatopaidi, where I heard the details of this story. The two girls walked about an hour or two, and one young monk in particular flirted with them a bit, without knowing that they were girls. “Miss Europe” had herself photographed beside the monk, and when she returned to Athens published the photograph in a newspaper along with the story of her adventure. After some time the newspaper found its way to Vatopaidi. The young monk without saying a word took off his cassock and gave up his whole religious life. He went to Athens in civilian clothes intending to marry the girl. But he found her already married and his despair at his hopes being shattered was so deep that he went mad. He is still being kept at a sanitarium near Athens.

But who knows if other women have not defeated the thousand-year-old laws of Athos and, unknown to fame, succeeded in living in the one country in the world from which they are excluded?

Ecumenical Patriarch Photius II Declared Public Anathema on Woman for Entering Mount Athos (1932)

Aliki Diplarakou, Lady Russell (28 August 1912 – 30 October 2002), was the first Greek contestant to win the Miss Europe title.

Aliki_Diplarakou1

She previously won the “Miss Hellas” (Μις Ελλάς) title at the Miss Star Hellas Pageant. Her name has been spelled in various ways, from Alice Diplarakou to Aliki Diplearakos and Aliki Diplarakos.

Aliki_Diplarakou-2

In 1929 Diplarakou entered the “Miss Hellas” pageant as Miss Athens. Her biggest competitor was Miss Thessalonik Roxani Stergiou who came in second. Diplarakou won the title and represented Greece at the Miss Europe Even in Paris, where she was crowned Miss Europe on 6 February 1930.

Aliki Diplarakou must have been an interesting and educated character. She spoke fluent English, French, Italian (an incredible asset for a woman of her time), and toured the US giving lectures on the Ancient Greek civilization.

Αλίκη Διπλαράκου Miss Europe Aliki Diplarakou 1931

The “particular of her character” appears from the fact that she managed to disguise herself as a man and violate the asylum of Mount Athos. She is one of the few women who have tried and succeeded in the thousand year old history of Mount Athos. The conservative society of Athens disliked her anyways. After the “invasion” on Mount Athos, the Diplarakou name became synonymous with Satan.

Milwaukee Journal June 21, 1932.
Milwaukee Journal June 21, 1932.

NOTE: The following article is taken from the Milwaukee Journal June 21, 1932:

Greek Beauty Enters Forbidden Monastery

Athens, Greece (AP)–Alice Diplarakou, “Miss Europe of 1930,” dressed as a ship’s boy, scaled holy Mount Athos and entered a monastery where nothing female is allowed–not even a cow or chicken. The Greek Patriarch of Istanbul is understood to have pronounced “public anathema” on her head for the stunt.

Milwaukee Sentinel, June 22, 1932
Milwaukee Sentinel, June 22, 1932

NOTE: The following article is taken from the Milwaukee Sentinel June 22, 1932:

Grecian Beauty Denounced For Invasion of Monastery

Miss Europe Slipped Into Sanctuary in Disguise

Athens, Greece–

The daring of a Levantine beauty in entering a monastery on Mount Athos, where nothing female is allowed, even a cow, goat, dog or chicken, was understood Tuesday to have brought a pronouncement of “public anathema” upon her head.

The beauty is Alice Diplarakou, a Grecian miss who toured the United States last year as Miss Europe of 1930. The Greek Patriarch of Constantinople was reported to have pronounced the disapproval of the act.

The girl disguised herself as a ship’s boy, and accompanied by a French girl in a sailor’s costume, scaled the holy mountain and entered the monastery.

At present she was understood to be aboard ship crossing the Aegean Sea.

The Adelaide Mail (Midnight Edition) Saturday, June 25, 1932
The Adelaide Mail (Midnight Edition) Saturday, June 25, 1932

For those unfamiliar with the term “Anathema”, here is the proper Orthodox definition given by St. Nikodemos the hagiorite in his classic work, The Rudder: