A Local Law of Old Achyrona (Kalloni, Lesvos, Greece)

By Christos An. Stavrakoglou

Translation by Joanna Michalakelli

Original article appeared in Greek in Palmoi tis Vatoussas
[quarterly publication of
Vatoussa, Lesvos, Greece],
Vol. 116, Jan.-Mar. 2004, pp 9-11.

The codes of the village Aldermen and the Commissars in old Achyrona, four in number, which were maintained and recorded on a CD with the care of the former Mayor Aris Eleftheriou and Christos Tragellis, contain many important facts about the life and history of Kalloni and the greater area two centuries ago.

In the third code, number 32, a local law of the year 1896 is recorded, referring to matters of engagement, wedding and so on. It is the sixth and last of a series of laws that were enacted beginning in 1833 and that can be found in the codes of the aldermen and the metropolis [ecclesiastical see, also bishopric].

The local laws were decisions made during the citizens' assemblies, with which matters relating to christenings, engagements, weddings, inheritances, education, and so on, were regulated.

The procedure of setting up and ratifying these laws was roughly the following: the aldermen of each community convened assemblies whenever necessary, so as to discuss and decide on the above-mentioned matters. The records of the assembly, which were signed by the aldermen and the citizens who attended the assembly, were submitted as a report to the bishop in order to be validated. The bishop issued his own document entitled "Episcopal Encyclical," in which he reviewed the decision of the grand assembly, either in identical words or with some additions or extractions, emphasized the factors that imposed this decision, such as "disastrous habits that caused mental and material damage" and closed by advising faithful to keep the laws and threatening all those who would not comply with severe punishment, i.e. "fines." The fines were monetary and intellectual, mainly the "hideous anathema."

From that time on, the decision acquired the force of a law and therefore became a source of justice for the ecclesiastical and communal courts, but also for the Ottoman as well.

If someone were to study the whole issue of the local laws, he would be impressed by the high standard of self-government the Christian communities gained under the control of the Ottoman regime. We must acknowledge that it was higher than that gained in the free Greek State, at least during the years of the Bavarian domination.

We should also remind our readers that the Greeks gained these rights not only during the last years of the Turkish domination, when the regime had become liberal, but from the beginning of the establishment of the communities, since they derived from known prerogatives which the Sultan had granted to the Patriarch [of the Eastern Orthodox Church, ecumenical head of all Orthodox Christians worldwide, today numbering some 300 million followers] immediately after the Fall of Constantinople.

The local law which we are presenting has been validated by Metropolitan Stephanos, who was one of the most active bishops. Following is the text of his encyclical:

Pious clergymen and all blessed Christians of the town Acherona [sic], our beloved and much desired offspring, let it be grace and peace from God, for us, prayer, blessing and forgiveness. Many of those blameworthy habits in your society many years ago intruded firmly, as they never ought to have done, and inflicted this moral and material damage. Knowing that fact very well and the source of evil, our intention is to prevent it with the help of the most virtuous notables and the active Aldermen, maturely mediating and having a unanimous opinion, we set the following inviolable limits.

Chapter A

Facts relating to the holy sacrament of Christening:

Article A: The holy sacrament of Christening (will take place) in the Holy Church according to the regulations of the Sacred Canons of the church. But in cases of plausible need, Christening at home is also permitted. If someone wants the Christening to take place at home, having no evident need, then he pays one and a half silver medjidie (Turkish coin) to the treasurer of the Holy Church and obtains permission from the church wardens.

Article B: The priests of every parish are not allowed to baptize the child of any family before the so-called "certificate of baptism" is handed in to them by the godparent, signed by the Secretary of the Holy Church, otherwise they are responsible.

Article C: The distribution of money on the godparents' behalf is totally forbidden because of the commonly called "martyria" (evidence that you have attended the Christening) both to strangers and their closest relatives, as well as to the godchild, apart from the locally decided and usual right of the Priests, the chorister and the midwife.

Article D: The so-called "ankremasidia" (cloth used by the godparent to hold the child during the Christening) are generally prohibited; instead of them, a ribbon the lengths of three forearms should be used.

Article E: The attire usually prepared by the godparent for the prospective godchild from now on is always going to be plain, obviously of little value and never luxurious (extravagant).

Article F: It is forbidden for godparents to suspend a florin or any other jewel from the veil (cap) of the godchild, even one of minimum value.

Article G: Apart from the closest relatives of the godparents and the godchild and invited guests, no one else is allowed to follow uninvited the godparent bringing the godchild from the Holy Church to his parents' house.

Article H: It is forbidden for the godchild's parents to offer a meal to the godparent and his/her relatives and friends after the holy sacrament of Christening, as well as to send any kind of presents to the godparent on any formal celebration. From this prohibition, those people whose children were baptized before this delimitation are excluded.

Chapter B

Information relating to betrothal:

Article A: All engagements without exception are performed by the Priest according to the local regulations in the presence of at least two of the active Aldermen. Otherwise, an engagement set contrary to those conditions has minimum validity.

Article B: The engagement presents consist of a ring and a handkerchief, depending on the financial status of the engaged couple, in a pastry from the fiancé and nothing else.

Article C: The exchange of any presents between the engaged is not allowed in any case; sending presents to their closest relatives is also forbidden during the betrothal.

Article D: The duration of the engagement can be extended to a year only, or to two, if the fiancé happens to emigrate, or more in case of great but severe disease of one of the engaged, otherwise the wedding takes place quickly or the engagement is broken up; if someone without due cause does not accept the nuptial ceremony (the wedding), he is obliged to pay back the monetary fine, which was agreed at the time of the setting up of the engagement, according to the article immediately following.

Article E: Shortly before the arrangement of the engagement, a document is composed, in which the fiancée's dowry is defined and the monetary fine that should be paid by the person responsible for the dissolution of the engagement. That document is signed by both parties, validated properly by the Aldermen and the Holy Bishopric and is recorded in the Code of the Community.

Article F: The fine paid according to the previous article is divided into three equal parts. One is taken by the Holy local church of Zoodochos Pigi, the other is received by the educational institutions of that town, and the third is taken by the person who was not responsible for the dissolution of the betrothal.

Article G: If the engagement is terminated with the common consent of both the engaged, half of the agreed monetary fine is paid by each one of them to the schools of that community.

Article H: It is strictly forbidden for the fiancé to go to the fiancée's house freely and frequently and especially to sleep at her house; he is only allowed to visit the fiancée's parents on formal celebrations and during the carnival, whenever he is invited by them, but never uninvited and in their absence.

Article I: If someone breaks the (immediately) previous condition, even once, the wedding takes place quickly, without taking into account any of his demands.

Article J: The dissolution of any engagement is not valid, if it is not recognized by the Holy Bishopric.

Chapter C

Events taking place during the wedding:

Article A: The following are entirely abolished:

a) The food usually prepared for a feast offered to the best man, and the relatives and the friends of both the newlyweds during the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd day of the wedding.
b) The presents sent to the best man (called "koumpariatika") on the day after the wedding.
c) The presents sent to the newlyweds (called "kaniskia") on the 8th day.
d) The commonly called "riximo" or "koumpariatiko," that is, the present offered by the best man to the newlyweds at the time of the ceremony, consisting of cloth or other kind of thing and
e) The shirts and slacks or any other presents offered by the bride to the best man and her closest relatives and the bridegroom's relatives.

Article B: It is forbidden for relatives and strangers to escort the newlyweds from the Holy Church to their house on the 8th day from the wedding. The newlyweds' parents and sisters are excluded.

Chapter D

The events during the funerals of the deceased:

Article A: The following are forbidden:

a) The various prepared foods, the so-called "paravoli" (parable) during the funeral of the deceased.
b) The food distributed on the venerable celebrations of Christ's Birth and Holy Easter, distributed in memory of the departed, as well as sweets and drinks in the church and in the streets.

Article B: It is forbidden for all women, relatives or strangers, and the wife and mother of the deceased to watch the corpse during the funeral and to lament on the way to and inside the church; this thing causes disturbance during the performance of the funeral service and also causes laughter among the men and is generally improper for Christianity and contrary to "expecting Resurrection of the dead," according to the sacred symbol of our immaculate faith.

Those rules, which are beneficial and very suitable and appropriate to the requirements, living in the time of commonly prevailing financial depression, were unanimously approved and suitably validated; we hope that all of you will want to keep them firmly and, having this confidence, we bless all of you paternally in advance. But because of the great envy of the Devil towards the pious and because human nature is afflicted by disease and has an inclination to shrewdness, it is therefore likely that some of you will misbehave and more or less surpass these limits; that is why we advise and order all of you Episcopally, that each one of you understand very carefully and with certainty that the transgressor, whoever he is, will not only be punished with the infliction of a monetary fine after the unanimous approval of the Aldermen of the time and our own, but he will attract the criticism of public opinion against himself. The "shafts" of the ecclesiastical fines will be harshly hurled against the transgressor by the righteousness of our Holy Bishopric as counteracting the common moral and material profits of our glorious homeland. Bearing these things in mind, conduct yourself thus from now on, praying not to surpass these limits, nor to fall into the painful consequences of your disobedience, and that God's grace and His infinite compassion be with you all together with our wishes and blessing.

Holy Bishopric 13th October 1896
Mythimnis Stephanos

I consider it worthwhile to add a few more things in order to facilitate the comprehension of the text and generally the whole issue of local laws:

1) The presence of the priest and 203 Aldermen during the engagement was deemed necessary, because in this way, the keeping of the rules and traditions such as the following was secured; the editing and signing of the prenuptial agreement, the presents exchanged, the size of the dowry (cash), the arrangement of the duration of the engagement, whether the betrothed attended the engagement free and sober--there were cases where the bridegroom was obliged to consent under the pressure of the bride's relatives or under the influence of inebriation—and so on. Particular significance was ascribed by the church to examine whether there was some degree of kinship between the betrothed that would prevent them from getting married. According to the Holy Canons, a wedding was forbidden between young people who had 8th degree of blood relation or 7th by marriage or 8th degree of kinship by Christening! Finally, the priest's presence was considered essential because he had to perform the religious ceremony of the betrothal--nowadays not only it does not take place, but it is also forbidden by the canons--and to exchange the rings. He was normally the editor of the prenuptial agreement.

2) Usually in the local laws there was a clause specifying the fine that must be paid by a person who terminated an engagement without due cause. If it did not exist, as it happens with the laws we are presenting, it was specified in the prenuptial agreement. Its specification was a fine in monetary terms--in some cases it reached 200 gold sovereigns--or proportionally according to the whole of the dowry, usually 15-20%. In some communities, such as Mytilene and Aghia Paraskevi, it reached 40%. That happened, however, in periods when great restrictions had been imposed upon the size of the dowry.

3) Perhaps the most basic reason for which the local laws were issued was the restriction of the expenditure in the engagements, the weddings, the christenings, and even in the funerals. The[se addressed the] exchanging of many presents, sets of clothes, jewelry and ornaments, parties and feasts, the frequent visits of the bridegroom to the bride's house, and especially the great endowments submitted to the parents of the bride, expenses that surpassed their financial status and often led them to despair. Characteristic are those regulations written to the people of Keramia (1900) by Metropolitan Stephanos. He mentions that many parents are obliged to sell their furniture very cheaply, so as to make the usual sweets to the bridegroom. That was an issue that worried the Greek nation for centuries. Plutarch had already mentioned that there was a law that prohibited extravagant endowment, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the end of the 17th century began to issue Ordinary Regulations, with which engagement matters were settled and so on. These Regulations constituted the typical models of the "Episcopal Encyclical," like the one that we are currently presenting. Of course, there were other reasons that necessitated the enactment of local laws, such as to safeguard the girl's honour and the family's in general by preventing the dissolution of the betrothal and the bridegroom's visits, to secure the Holy Canons and the ecclesiastical order, to keep the traditions and the moral principles of the Christian and Greek community, some measures that would help it to keep its cohesion against the pressure and the influence of the conqueror and others.

The presentation and study of texts, like this one, is, in my opinion, advisable. Not only does it offer us the opportunity to become acquainted with a part of our history, but it also helps us to make comparisons with our time and to draw useful conclusions.

Christos An. Stavrakoglou

Christos Stavrakoglou is a scholar, a graduate of the University of Athens, and the former headmaster of the public high school in Kalloni, Lesvos. He is an active member and officer of local organizations on Lesvos, including his current position as President of the Christos and Mary Papoutsy Vatoussa Revitalization Foundation.

Mr. Stavrakoglou has authored a number of seminal and scholarly publications which appear in prefectural and local publicaitons in Lesvos. In addition to this article, HCS is pleased to be able to offer readers a few of his other works, primarily on Greek history and foreign travel: "At Mount Athos, in Panayia's Garden," "One More Document From the Elders of Vatoussa," "Impressions From Australia," "In Commemoration of Asia Minor," and "A Tribute to Helen Demos Papoutsy."

Ms. Michalakelli is an English instructor in Greece, a graduate of the University of Athens now completing her Masters Degree, and a native of Lesvos. She has translated a number of seminal articles for HCS about Greek history, particularly local history on Lesvos. See also her translation of "The Great Frost (or Kais) of 1850 (also authored by Ioannis "John" Manoukas)," and "The Uprooting of Hellenism in Asia Minor, Part Two (written by Evangelos Gdontelis)."

HCS readers who have enjoyed this article about history may wish to read more in the HCS Archives section about Byzantine and Modern Greek History, Vatoussa, Travel in Greece, and our Hellenic Genealogy section.

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