Michael Tolotos: The Monk Who Went His Entire Life Without Seeing A Woman

For millennia, various people practicing various religions have taken to the monastic life, which is to say, living in a monastery or convent. These people live largely (or wholly) away from the rest of the outside world in order to devote themselves to faith, prayer, and community. As Britannica notes, the monastic life isn't restricted to Christianity, although the concept was first applied to Christian monastic groups; to this day, Buddhism, Daoism, and Jainism, among other religions, have practitioners who sometimes opt for the monastic life.

There are varying degrees to which monastic groups will take this idea of sequestration from the rest of the world. Some places host tour groups, for example, while other monastaries prefer to be tucked away from prying eyes.

One mountain in Greece is Exhibit A for monks who would prefer to be left alone. As UNESCO reports, Mount Athos is home to 20 or so monasteries going back a millennium where Christian monks of various stripes live in extreme isolation. And one particular monk may have pulled off the rare feat of having lived and died without ever laying eyes on a woman.

No women on Mount Athos

If you're going to establish a monastery, and in particular, a monastery in which the residents live in extreme isolation, you could do a lot worse than Greece's Mount Athos. It's in a remote part of Greece, and the monasteries that adorn it, some centuries old, according to UNESCO, are atop impossibly-steep hills. This starkly beautiful part of Greece houses Eastern Orthodox monasteries, including not just Greek Orthodox ones, but also a Bulgarian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Serbian Orthodox monastery as well, according to Ouranoupoli.

Not only are the monasteries there keen to keep outsiders away: they're particularly concerned about women staying away. Evidently, the closest any woman is going to get to the place is by seeing it from a boat, hundreds of feet below. According to BBC News, they're not allowed within 500 meters (or 1650 feet) of the coast. Further, a legal document going back a thousand years states that not even female animals are allowed up there; the document doesn't mention female humans, but there was no need, as it was understood that women couldn't enter men's monasteries.

It was in one such monastery that a young (male) orphan wound up being taken in and living out his days, presumably without ever having laid eyes on a woman.

Mihailo aka Michael Tolotos

Officially, children aren't allowed on Mount Athos, either, according to the Daily Mail. Unofficially, desperate times call for desperate measures, as a group of monks on the peninsula discovered back in or around 1856. As Vintage reports, a 1938 newspaper clipping from the Edinburg Daily Courier purports to tell the story of Mihailo (anglicized as Michael) Tolotos. His mother apparently died a few hours after giving birth to him, and with no one to care for him, he was taken to the steps of the monastery and abandoned there. The monks apparently bent the rules and decided to adopt him.

Tolotos would spend the next 82 years of his life in the monastery, which means that he never once saw a woman with his own two eyes (save for his mother, who died hours after he was born, and possibly a woman who took pity on the foundling while he was still a newborn). He almost certainly knew what a woman looked like, according to The Vintage News, as the Virgin Mary would undoubtedly appear in iconography in the monastery.

To this day, women and children are forbidden from going anywhere near Mount Athos' monasteries. And since the decision to enter monastic life is one not generally made by infants, it seems likely that Tolotos may be the first, last, and only (sighted) man to have lived his entire life never having seen a woman.