The life of a monk is often one of seclusion. May who are drawn to the life seek out an existence far from the outside world, and often voluntarily withdraw from human activities, all in the service of God.
Some choose a life of silence, taking orders and then never speaking again. Some choose to devote themselves to the simpler pastoral pleasures, such as gardening, prayer, and making absolutely outstanding beer.
However few achieve the perfection they seek and most who enter orders will carry some memories of the outside world with them. Not so Mihailo Tolotos, the man who lived to 82 and who never set eyes on a woman in his entire life.
Mihailo Tolotos lived in the monastic community of Mount Athos, an Eastern Orthodox community of monks on an archipelago in eastern Greece. Mount Athos is a unique place in Europe, an autonomous region which entirely forbids women from entering (and therefore is arguably illegal in the EU, but that’s another story).
The twenty monasteries that make up the community, accessed via a narrow mountain road and physically, culturally and spiritually cut off from the rest of the world, house some 2,000 monks who live in ascetic isolation. Even female animals are banned from the holy site.
The earliest history of the site is lost to time, but we do know that Mount Athos was inhabited at least since the end of the 8th century where it is mentioned in the works of Theophanes the Confessor, a monk and a Byzantine noble. For over a thousand years the successive generations of monks have lived a quiet life in seclusion.
Mihailo Tolotos was one such monk. Born around 1855, his mother died in childbirth and he was given to the monks of Athos as a foundling. Tolotos grew up in the community and lived there for his entire life.
Tolotos never left Mount Athos, dying there in 1938 at the age of 82. As a result of this and the ascetic lifestyle the monks enjoyed which rejected modern conveniences, it is believed that Tolotos died having never seen a woman.
However, there is one intriguing footnote to this story. In the 1920s the monastery was the victim of two interlopers, trespassers with the wrong genitals. The first was the French philosopher and writer Maryse Choisy who, curious about the secrets of Mount Athos, disguised herself as a sailor and managed to enter.
The second, Aliki Diplarakou, was also the first Maniot Greek to be crowned Miss Europe: she snuck in to the monastery in the 1930s. It is possible that Tolotos may have encountered one or both of these women in his seclusion, not recognizing what he saw.
But, if he did not, then his life is remarkable for what he denied himself. So, at 82, died what is perhaps the only man in history to not know what a woman looks like.
Top Image: Mount Athos: home to Mihailo Tolotos and absolutely no women. Source: World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations / CC BY 2.0.
By Joseph Green