Tomb of St. Frigid

Modern day Turkey, like Panama, spans two continents giving it a touch of multiculturalism enmeshed in lashes of schizophrenia.

In its long and checkered history Turkey has many claims to fame and few disappointing historical episodes it would rather brush beneath the proverbial carpet or just drown in the Bosporus.

Internationally, Turkey is of course most famous for breeding supersized chickens which the Ottomans exported to the Americas. The locals called them Turkey chickens which later became plane turkeys.

Other gifts Turkey has given the world include kebabs, helping Germany lose two world wars and ottoman storage trunks.

Turkey’s tourist industry is massive and one of the most beautiful places to visit, once you have done the big five in Istanbul, is the Convent of Saint Frigid and Martyrs. It’s a long drive but worth it. Follow the E80 west out of Istanbul for three hours and then take the D160 for a further 4 hours until you see the signs for Gölpazarı. About 30 minutes past Gölpazarı is a small wooden sign pointing to a dirt track that leads to the gates of the convent.

In 1454, a year after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, St. Frigid, or Novice Susannah, as she was then called, went to the nearby well to perform her first daily duty of ‘spitting in the water’. It was believed the well was a gateway to hell since many people died from drinking the water. Spitting in the devil’s water was a way to keep evil at bay.

Susannah then drew a bucket of water ascended the 77 ‘penitent’ stairs on her knees, that led to the monastery’s refectory. On step 36, known today as the martyrs step, she was alerted by a rustling noise from a nearby tree. She shuffled round to see a local peasant staring at her. Being pure of heart, she decided to see if she could offer help to this peasant and beckoned him to come forth.

Legend states, “He pulled back his dress revealing his manhood and partook of her water.” What happened next is not recorded but Susannah was found dead on the step. The nuns that rushed to aid her waited in the sun all day to see if she would come back to life. They drank from Susannah’s bucket. As the sun rose on the next day Susannah, the peasant and three nuns were found decomposing. The story spread like wildfire and reached Holy See.

Immediately, due to her resistance to the pagan peasant’s advances and subsequent death, Susannah was canonized and renamed Saint Frigid and her fellow nuns were labelled martyrs. A contemporary report states, “A roar was raised over Europe, like a thousand lions in pain, charging to avenge the death of Saint Frigid and the martyrs, 100,000 able bodied men, known as the Army of the Saint, took up arms to fight in her honor.”

In fact, historians have debated this number and most accounts of the story have about 15 to 20 French peasants marching against the might of the Ottoman Empire. The ‘army’ was wiped out by dysentery before even leaving French soil, adding to the list of Martyrs.

The site itself is a modest ruin, with the ground floor foundations still clearly visible. The location of the well has been identified and for $1 you can follow the ancient tradition of spitting on the devil. A reconstruction from papier-mâché of the 77 ‘penitent’ steps is a very impressive feature, but you cannot climb the replica. Viewing the staircase costs $11. The convent’s gate still stands but due to the nuns average height of less than four feet only children can pass through for $3 each. It is said to be the gateway to heaven and many youngsters feel redeemed after crawling through the narrow opening.

A relatively new tradition of laying flowers at the base of a plinth that used to support a statue of St. Frigid has become very popular in recent times. Nobody is sure of the whereabouts of the statue itself but flowers can be purchased for $5.

No visit is complete without a photo lying on the saint’s grave. It’s great fun and you definitely see the site from a very unique angle. A photo will cost around $10.

For more information on the site visit www.frigidnuns.tk

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