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Notes, Ecclesiological and Picturesque, on Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, Styria, with a Visit to Montenegro


by the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.,
Warden of Sackville College.

London: J. T. Hayes, Lyall Place, Eaton Square.


WE were very anxious to pay, however hurriedly, a visit to Montenegro; which, though, shorn of its interest since the alteration of its hierarchical government, has yet sufficient difference from every other European State, to render a visit, though it may be brief, an entrance, as it were, into a perfectly novel scene.

Having hired three horses for ourselves (permission having been obtained for Dundich) and one as a sumpter animal, we rode out of Cattaro about 7 in the morning. The pavement of the city is so extremely slippery, that, to prevent accidents, our baggage was not packed till we were fairly outside the walls, in the place where the Montenegrins usually hold their market. Almost the very moment that Cattaro is left, the ascent of the mountain begins, admirably engineered by a series of zigzags, and presenting at each turn a nobler and nobler prospect,—at first, of the Canal, afterwards of the eastern coast, and, finally, of mountain-range behind mountain-range, stretching onward to the interior. This road was a work of the Austrian Government; and, though followed by the Montenegrins in ascending it, it is utterly neglected by them in the descent, when, however heavily loaded, they jump down from parapet to parapet, endeavouring merely to strike out the shortest, without any regard to the easiest, line. For the first three-quarters of an hour, the citadel of Cattaro towers high above you on the right hand; and, before you attain its elevation, you pass the small Morlaceo hamlet of Spigliari. Here a road strikes off to the right, which eventually leads to Budua, and the southernmost extremity of the Austrian dominions in Turkey; but a few miles off. This hamlet contains nine houses; and there is a tradition that, should that number ever be exceeded, the place will at once be destroyed. The Austrian frontier extends some way beyond this; and the moment we pass that, the mountain-road end. We are forced to dismount, and our horses clamber as well as they can through watercourses and over rocks; so utterly bad road that I think Portugal could not match it.

It is almost impossible to imagine, without having seen, the marvellous effect of those mountain-ranges, tossed in the wildest confusion one behind the other, as you look to the Herzegovina and to Bosnia. It is no uncommon thing to make out fifteen or sixteen lines of mountain at once. About four hours from Cettigne, we came on a kind of desolate plateau, where was a miserable cottage, dignified by our servant with the name of "The Hotel." It consists of one room, into which fowls, horses, and men have promiscuous entrance. The poor people that keep it belong to the Eastern Church, and there was the little icon of S. Mary, hanging in the corner of their room,—the place of honour here as in Russia. A wretched daub it was; but it received as much veneration from the Montenegrin muleteers, who were dining while we fed our beasts, as the most precious relique in the most gorgeous church could ever enjoy. Since it is necessary to walk for some four or five miles, the road being all but impassable for horses. There is one most glorious prospect towards Scutari and Antivari; the track there makes a tremendous dip into a narrow ravine, and, on the left hand, at the commencement of the succeeding mountain, is the little village of S. George. Here I made acquaintance with the priest, and was introduced to his wife. Miserably poor they were; his income amounting—so far as the Church is concerned—to about thirty florins a-year: but, as he said, he would not change situations with any "pastor"—to use his own term—in Christendom. He told me that neither he nor any of the Montenegrin priests ever preached, except some of the more learned ones at Christmas and Easter. I counted his library: it consisted of eight volumes. His church was built in the seventeenth century: there is nothing whatever noticeable in it, though the iconostasis has somewhat better paintings than might be expected in such an out-of-the-way spot.

Thus we proceeded all day, with no further variation than the different degrees of savageness of each succeeding ravine. But the water-shed of the mountains once passed, the scenery improved, and several of the glens were covered with bushes and low underwood, and then, as we penetrated more and more into the country, with really fine trees. The latter—now at the very end of May—were almost in full leaf; but here and there the snow lay in patches under them. At length, about 6 o’clock, we stood on the summit of the last mountain-range, and saw the long, narrow plain of Cettigne stretching at our feet.

The last information, so far as I know, which English travellers have received of the strange little principality (perhaps, at some distant time, to be the germ of a powerful kingdom), of which Cettigne is capital, is that which occurs in the very interesting travels of Sir Gardiner Wikinson. The reigning Vladika at that time, who, as had always been the case till then, united in himself the Royal and Metropolitical character, was Peter II.;—to give him his official title, "Metropolitan of Scanderia and the Sea Coast, Archbishop of Cettigne, Exarch of the Holy Throne of Pek, Vladika of Tchernagora, Peter II, Petrovitch Negush." In these amusing pages may be read the warlike feats of this prelate, his extraordinary skill with the rifle, and various details of his battles with the Turks. He was a man of gigantic size and strength, 6 feet 7 inches in height, and proportionately stout.

The principality of Montenegro being vested in its Metropolitans, it necessarily followed that descent from father to son was impossible: the eldest nephew succeeded the uncle. The above-named Vladika had thus succeeded his namesake, Peter I, who died in 1830, and who was venerated by his people as well for his great courage in war, as for his charity in peace. As soon as the new Metropolitan had been consecrated at St. Petersburg, he, of his own authority, and without consulting either the Holy Governing Synod or the Throne of Constantinople, forthwith canonised his uncle, and removed the body—as I shall have occasion hereafter to describe at length—into a chapel adjacent to the great church. This action was not viewed favourably at St. Petersburg; but explanations were given, and the Holy Synod at length professed itself satisfied. And certainly, no favourite saint ever had deeper veneration from the popular mind than has that S. Peter, with whom every Montenegrin, past middle life, was actually on familiar terms of intimacy.

Peter II, after having, by his prowess, secured himself from all danger on the part of the Turks, was endeavouring, in 1848, the year in which Sir Gardiner Wilkinson visited him, to mitigate the barbarous manner of Montenegrin warfare. To bring back so many heads of the Turks was then the great object of their guerilla expeditions.

But, notwithstanding the enormous strength and robust health of the Vladika, it appears that the seeds of a treacherous disease were in his constitution, even when he was in communication with Sir Gardiner; and shortly after the latter had left the country they developed rapidly. I have been told that it was a most touching thing to see him, knowing how much of his influence among his people depended on his personal strength and agility, endeavour to make efforts which were manifestly beyond his strength, till at length he was scarcely able to mount his horse; and, finally, was compelled to confine himself to his ecclesiastical duties. Utterly wasted away with decline, he died in 1850, leaving instructions that he should be buried at the very summit of Mount S. Nicholas, one of the loftiest of the Montenegrin range, in a chapel, for the erection of which, he left the funds from his private property. This little white chapel is a conspicuous object in every direction from the heights above Cattaro; and it seems to me that the original name is likely to be superseded by that of the Vladika Gora. He was succeeded by his nephew Daniel, then only just of age, and who, according to the tradition of the country, was bound to be consecrated Bishop as soon as he should attain to canonical years. But, feeling in himself no vocation for the Ecclesiastical state, he resolved, if it were possible, to break through the ancient rÈgime. He first went to St. Petersburg, where he induced the Emperor to enter into his views; then to Paris, where he formed a very intimate friendship with Louis Napoleon, and received his assurance that France would interpose no obstacle to his wishes; and at the same time, Austria evinced the same favourable dispositions. Fortified by these external permissions, and finding that the Council of Montenegro had no strong feeling against the secularization of their principality, he went to Trieste, proposed to the daughter of one of the richest merchants of that city, obtained her hand, and settled himself in the Palace, of which more presently.

The city of Cettigne—if city such a collection of houses may be called—stands nearly in the centre of a somewhat ugly plain, perhaps six miles in length by two in breadth, through the turf of which the rock continually crops up. The whole place may be regarded as in the shape of a reversed L; the inn forming the points of the termination of the letter; the lower line, which, however, is on the opposite side of the road, the houses of the few inhabitants which are usually occupied by the senators; the upper stroke, partly by stables or other erections of a similar kind, partly by one or two of the more respectable tenements; partly at the upper end, by the Palace and Monastery. Just before we arrived at the first houses, we observed a group of some three or four hundred persons drawn up in a circle round a speaker, who was haranguing them with great earnestness. It was, we were told, a council of war; and though I was unable to catch a single syllable that the Prince, who was the speaker, uttered, it was very easy to understand the formula of approbation,— "Be it as thou wilt, O Vladika!" with which the Assembly broke up. The Prince, who was in a most gorgeous uniform of gold and purple, walked first, followed by his commander-in-chief, who is also his brother-in-law, and some other of his state officers, towards the so-called Mall,—a marshy, unpleasant meadow which serves for military exercises. We sent our introductions to him, and in the meantime made perquisitions into the accommodation of the inn,—the most utterly filthy and vermin haunted that, out of Portugal, I have ever beheld. In about a quarter of an hour we received a message, through the Commander-in-chief, to wait on the Prince. We found him in the Mall, at the upper end of a double line of his subjects, apparently of all ranks and conditions, engaged as the umpire of athletic contests. The ground between the two lines was measured out for flat leaps; and there were appliances near at hand for high leaps. The Prince himself had in his mouth an immense chibouque which rested on the ground; and the brilliancy of his dress contrasted remarkably with the half-clothed, ragged appearance of many of the bystanders and performers. Nothing could be more courteous than the Prince's behaviour while the gymnastic exercises were going on. After enquiring about our past route and future intentions, he expressed his sorrow that the Archbishop, on whom the Ecclesiastical government had now devolved, was absent on a pastoral visit in a distant part of his diocese,—Berda. He even offered, if we could wait two days, to summon him back again, in order that we might receive from him the most exact account of the ecclesiastical arrangement of the province. He then expressed his pleasure that a definitive line had been drawn by Commissioners, an English and French engineer, between the Montenegrin and Turkish possessions; so that, instead of being compelled, like his ancestors, to fix his capital in a place so inaccessible, so barren, so bleak as Cettigne, excluding all possibility of trade by the same obstacles which prevented the approach of the Turks, he should now be able to found a new city by the side of a navigable river, in a rich, fertile plain, and with the advantage of an Italian climate. The language in which he spoke was French, which he used fluently; while he seemed to speak Italian and German with the same ease. The future city he proposed to call from his own name, Danieloberg. I little thought, as I listened to him then, so full of life and strength, discussing, with the brightest anticipations, the future fortunes of his little State, that in a few months he would be lying in a bloody grave; and, in a few more, hostilities, on a more threatening scale than ever, would have burst out between his people and their perpetual oppressors.

We witnessed these exercises till dark; and the Prince was then kind enough to provide us with apartments by ejecting some of the senators; and with food, by sending it down from the Palace. That night was remarkable for one of the most tremendous thunderstorms that I ever remember; but at an early hour, we woke to find the morning bright and cloudless. Our first object was the Palace. It is a quadrangle of two low storeys, though the side facing the green has only a wall. You pass under a kind of oriel below the entrance porch, and the Prince's dwelling-house lies on your right hand. The rooms are but small, and rather overloaded with pictures. Among those in the reception-room are the Emperors and Empresses of Russia and France,—the latter, the peculiar friend and patron of Prince Daniel, who, indeed, received a pension from that Court. Here, after for so long a time having heard nothing but foreign languages, it was a pleasure to be introduced to an English lady, who was charged with the education of the Prince's little daughter,—his only child. From her we heard much of the unremitting exertions which the Prince has made in promoting education and civilisation. In fact, a single glance at the outbuildings of the Palace, as compared with the account of them given in Wilkinson's book, shows what an advance has been made: much of it, probably, owing to the fact of a lady's being at the head of the Court. Then, every battlement bristled with the head or skull of some unfortunate Turk; now, it had no other ornament than flowers. We heard bitter complaints of the severity of the winter, and the eager expectation with which an Italian January was looked forward to for the next—that is, the present—year. Hence we visited a billiard-room in the course of erection, and the garden; and, after this, the church. The latter forms a part of the original monastery, in which the Vladikas lived, while they were ecclesiastics; since that time, retaining only a few monks, it has been turned into a place of education. The church is Romanesque, and very small. It consists of apse, two little transepts, and nave. The apse-arch is plain First Pointed; the nave is two bays, also First Pointed. At the east end of the south transept lies the shrine of S. Peter: it is simply a bier with its hearse, over which a pall is thrown, there being no picture or other external symbol. The tower has a low, pyramidal head. The faÁade of the monastery has three stages. The upper is a series of circular arches, supported on short circular piers, with square base and square cap. The second, of the same arches with square shafts. The third, of obtuse arches of construction, rising not more than two feet from the ground. You enter the church at the right hand of this faÁade, by a kind of vestibule, additional to the south transept. Hence we went to the armoury, also contained in the monastery. It is the most singular collection of scymetars, guns, pistols, lances, horsetails, battered helmets and cuirasses—every possible fragment of wood and steel, which can give an idea of hand-to-hand engagements, from the time of the battle of Lepanto to this. They are heaped together without any attempt at arrangement,—pieces of the sixteenth century, with others captured only last year; the merest fragment, with the uninjured rifle of yesterday. On several of them one may notice a deep dark stain, that shows at the cost of how fierce a struggle they were obtained.

Having thus seen all that Cettigne has of interest, and the provinces beyond its second range of mountains asking a longer time to explore them than we had to give, it only remained for us to take a different course back to Gattaro. The Prince recommended that we should visit, on our way, the chapel in which the last Vladika is interred; and, accordingly, we started with that intention. The road was somewhat more savage than that of yesterday; but, after all, partly from the yet remaining snow, and partly from the effects of the thaw, we found it impossible to reach the pinnacle on which the little church is perched like an eagle. Striking back again, then, into our old course, after ten hours' riding, we saw beneath us the lovely Canal of Cattaro, the opposite mountains, the silver line of the Adriatic beyond them, the high fortifications to our left, and were welcomed down the many zigzags of the last descent by the cathedral bells chiming for vespers. Reaching our old quarters, we sent Dundich to the steamer just arrived from Gorfu, to make arrangements for our return passage; and, at a little after ten that night, found ourselves, to our great content, very comfortably at our ease in one of the excellent berths of this large vessel.

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