Preserve Hilandar

Hilandar Abbot Danilo in the defense of Mount Athos

At the beginning of the 14th century, professional soldiers, brutal Catalan mercenaries, plundered unrestrained throughout Greece. For three full years, they ravaged Mount Athos. This most dangerous mercenary army of that time was hired by Emperor Andronikos II in the hope that he would be able to oppose the Turks with it. In the period from 1307 to 1309, the Hilandar monastery came under their attack. At that time, Saint Danilo was the abbot of the Holy Serbian Imperial Lavra.

Hilandar Abbot Danilo

Abbot of Hilandar

Danilo was born somewhere in the 8th decade of the 13th century in a respectable and wealthy family. From the earliest days, he showed interest in monastic life. As a young man, he spent some time at the court of King Milutin, whose love and trust he quickly gained. He became a monk in Serbia. Apart from spiritual, political, diplomatic, and outstanding literary abilities, he also possessed warrior skills. Danilo’s biographer describes him as a good warrior and a wise fighter.

He was elected abbot of Hilandar probably in the summer of 1307.

What is specific about him as abbot of the Serbian Monastery of Mount Athos is that he was appointed to that position at the Serbian court, before he set foot on Mount Athos. This violated the liturgical book of Saint Sava.

Danilo’s assumption of the abbot’s throne coincided with the beginning of the Catalan invasion.

Abbot of Hilandar

Defense of Hilandar

The first three years of his abbotship were marked by attacks by marauding Latin Catalan companies. Hilandar was then under siege, and the brotherhood received many families from their estates under the monastery’s auspices. Danilo, as an extremely capable warrior, led the fight against the enemy. Food supplies within the monastery walls were limited and it was not certain that the siege would be sustained. Under the ramparts around the Hilandar gate, a fierce battle was fought. “Arrows fell like raindrops and war trumpets blared” as the attackers “cut down the gates” and “broke down the walls of the city.” Strongly fortified, it resisted attacks, but soon famine struck.

Danilo took advantage of a brief respite in the defense, and with a selected group of followers headed to the court of King Milutin in Skopje for help. They took the monastery’s gold and valuables with them to save them from robbers. King Milutin gave them provisions, considerable financial aid, and military escort, which were of crucial importance for the defense of Hilandar. Having escaped the bandit’s ambush, they arrived at the monastery at the last moment, because the besieged were already completely exhausted from hunger.

Danilo then showed superior war skills and with the help of mercenaries whom he paid with money brought from Milutin’s court, he laid an ambush, severely defeated the Catalan detachment, and took their loot.

Defense of Hilandar

The defeat of the Catalan mercenaries

The Catalans, because of everything that happened, made it their goal to capture Danilo himself. Fleeing from the attackers, he found refuge in the monastery of Saint Panteleimon. When the Catalans found out that the abbot of Hilandar was there, they fiercely attacked the Russian monastery. This attack probably took place in 1309. Danilo and a group of selected comrades locked themselves in the monastery tower, which the attackers set on fire in order to force them to surrender.

The Catalans knew that there was a shortage of water in the monastery and that there was certainly not enough in the tower to put out the bonfire. They experienced an unpleasant surprise because Danilo and his men extinguished the fire first with water, and when it ran out, then with wine. After that, he attacked the robbers from behind and they were forced to run away. They left the monastery and headed for the West.

After three years of fierce siege and Catalan persecution, Mount Athos was liberated.

The defeat of the Catalan mercenaries