Vivien Noakes in her biography of Edward Lear, Edward Lear, The Life of a Wanderer, London, 1968, p.145, describes the artist’s visit to the tiny monastery of St Nilus (or St Nilo), perched on a cliff at the tip of the peninsula. In a letter to his sister Ann, he wrote, ‘that was the queerest spot I ever beheld… 2 old men lived there – neither more than half-witted; they gave me a dry fish & water melon – but only said these words all the time I was there – “are you a Christian?”’
St Nilus was born in the Peloponnese at the end of the 16th Century and orphaned at an early age. He was brought up by his uncle, the holy monk Makarios, and entered the priesthood himself in the 1600’s. In 1615 the pair moved to Mount Athos to live the ascetic life. After Makarios’s death, Nilus went to live in further isolation in a cave on the Holy Mountain where he was later buried. After his death fragrant myrrh gushed forth from the cave down into the sea. Because of its miraculous healing properties, boats came regularly to collect the oil and many people were cured of their illnesses by it.