Until 1204 the site of a major House Jerbiton covenant, this Constantinople monastery and orphanage is today home to a House Criamon Clutch. The covenant patron is St. Loukia of Berytus, a magical spirit trapped within a false icon.
Xylinites is a long-established covenant, which was almost destroyed in the capture of the city in 1205, and is now fading into winter with new inhabitants. The covenant exists within the walled monastery of St. Christopoulos, inside the walls of the city of Constantinople but in an area largely given over to pasture and orchards.
The monastery was founded as a lavra (a community of monks living in cells), in 823. In the late 10th century Empress Zoe’s first husband Emperor Romanus III Argyrus was particularly lavish in endowing the monastery. He made two particularly important donations — in 1030 he founded an orphanage and school supported from the state treasury and run by the monks, and in 1031 he donated a tiny but beautifully crafted icon of a little-known saint, St. Loukia.
In 1071 Tikh of Jerbiton, a scholar paid to teach at the orphanage school, noticed the icon and that it had unusual attributes. He realized that St. Loukia was Loukia of Berytus (Beirut), a Montanist heretic who claimed to physically enter paradise by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who was executed in the fourth century for blasphemy. After seeking the abbot’s permission, Tikh removed the icon from the church and placed it in the school room of the orphanage. He was amazed when a Magic aura slowly developed around the heretical magical icon, and swiftly moved it to the orphanage schoolmaster’s house where he lived.
Needing space for his laboratory, he uncovered and partially drained a huge vaulted water cistern under the orphanage and east grounds, founding one of the most enduring Constantinople covenants, Xylinites, in 1074. The magi of Xylinites served for the next 130 years as tutors at the orphanage, which gave them a unique opportunity not only to educate many brilliant young scholars and to locate Gifted children abandoned to the care of the monks, but also to build strong links within the imperial palace.
The demand from the palace for eunuchs had long exceeded supply, and with the relaxation of the laws against castration many families saw having a eunuch son as a potential route to wealth and influence. The school attached to the orphanage had long accepted paying scholars from the city, and now a large number of youngsters elected or were volunteered by families to be educated there in the art of music, and subsequently castrated if their voices were suitable for the eunuchs of the choirs, the castrati. In addition, politically inconvenient children were often sent to the monastery, and castrated to render them ineligible for the throne or prevent inheritance disputes. The monastery thus became an important source of eunuchs destined for the imperial palace. Former students at the palace promoted the orphanage’s interests, while the Jerbiton magi enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, ample opportunities for study, and indirect influence over the imperial court.
In 1205 everything changed. While the Latins have allowed the continuation of the orphanage’s funding, the call for eunuchs has largely dried up in the face of Latin disgust at the practice. Three of the Jerbiton magi were slain in the sack of the city, fighting the attackers. The remainder, fearing the censure of the Tribunal, fled immediately into exile. The remaining member, Artoud of Criamon, is dedicated to the Path of the Body (see Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults) and he established a Clutch (a Criamon covenant) dedicated to mystical researches here.
Artoud could not teach in the orphanage, and had never been formally introduced to the monks, owing to his Blatant Gift. But the monks know of his presence in the old cistern. They regard Artoud and the two apprentices he has taught as holy hermits practicing extreme bodily mortification. The companions of the covenant have taken on the teaching duties and act as intermediaries, allowing the ancient covenant a precarious afterlife. Visitors come and go as they always do in Orthodox monasteries, and the staff has little to do with the monks, and less with the hermits. So covenant life can continue, but for how long?
Setting and Physical Description
The walled monastery covers several acres and is a thriving community, with a small vineyard, some pastures, and extensive gardens. Entrance is through a gate with a great golden icon of Christ Pantokrator above the archway. The basilica of St. Christopoulos remains the heart of the monastery, with the refectory, kitchen, laundry, and bakehouse clustered nearby. Small wooden houses scattered across the grounds hold the individual monks cells, and some thirty black clergy live here today.
At the west end of the complex stands a small building of great antiquity, an ancient bathhouse. The partially ruined and roof-less building today has only two remaining baths; one has been converted into a fish-pond, while the other is still used for bathing by the monks. Behind the bathhouse stands the infirmary, and storehouses.
At the east end of the grounds stands a building containing the guest quarters, the school house, and a hostelry for sixty boys — the famous orphanage. The master’s house, student’s refectory, scriptorium, and library are situated next to it. Several concealed staircases from locked rooms in these buildings lead down to the ancient cistern now used as a storehouse.
The cistern, which is still flooded, holds six excellent laboratories cut into the walls and approachable only by small boats moored by the entrances to the steps. Tunnels branch off from it, carrying water to other parts of the city through a maze of flooded passages that could be explored by boat. The covenant uses them to discretely slip out to attend to business throughout the city.
Xylinites’ Patron: False Icon of St. Loukia
Little is known of St. Loukia, a martyr of the early Church. The icon of her is set in a gilded frame, just six inches high by four wide, and is made of tiny squares of gold, silver, and colored stone. It depicts a beautiful young woman sitting in a pastoral setting holding a lamb, while healthy flocks, birds, and even the fishes in the stream by her feet watch her attentively. The scene is vibrant, dazzling even, and every so often it is said that Loukia’s image raises her arms and screams a warning in a tiny voice. This has only happened three times since the icon came into the possession of the covenant. The first time was before a fire that destroyed the orphanage killing many children, secondly before the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, and lastly in the spring of 1204. A demotic inscription on the frame reads “Loukia, Herald of Last Things,” and the Criamon watch avidly just in case…
Loukia was probably a Montanist heretic, condemned for her practices. Montanism was a version of early Christianity that emphasized direct spiritual experience, or gnosis, and its founder Montanus claimed to be the Holy Spirit. Loukia was a pantheist nature mystic with a strong affinity for animals of all types. Her visions were of the Magic Realm, particularly that part associated with the Form of Animal, and meditation on her icon can function as a Level 3, Quality 10 summa for learning the Supernatural Ability Animal Ken. None of the covenant’s magi have realized this, fearing to meditate extensively upon it, but the Criamon may eventually discover this attribute.
The icon is currently located in a small shrine in an alcove of the cistern, in a section still only reachable by boat, and has another amazing, possibly unique, quality. A Magic aura of strength 3 emanates from it in a perfect sphere, which expands out far enough to cover the orphanage and eastern end of the monastery complex, before disappearing on contact with the Dominion aura in the central and western parts of the grounds. This is because Loukia is not dead, but trapped in something analogous to Twilight between this world and the Magic Realm, allowing magic to pour into the world.