As remote as you like, for her 37th birthday in 1884, Mabel Bent finds herself on the Greek Cycladic island of Sikinos, a dot squashed between Folegandros and Ios, a leap northwest of Santorini. She and her husband, Theodore Bent, no less inquisitive than acquisitive, were hopping around the islands looking for material for a book which was to appear the following year – his celebrated guide The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. [See below for a summary of Bent birthdays in foreign lands.]
The couple arrived on Sikinos from Ios, a little to the east, on 27 January 1884 and were put up in the house of the demarch, presumably within the medieval, walled chora. They were well looked after, as Mabel notes in her diary:
“[The Sikinos demarch] received us very hospitably. We have a real bedroom and washing table and all. We were soon at dinner and many people came in to see us. When we came out of our bedrooms yesterday morning, 28th, my birthday, we had a tray with a coffee pot and sheep milk and some very hard bread with sesame, all at different times, and very soon after eggs and wine, and then set off with a good many men on mules and foot to the Church of Episkopi, once the temple of Apollo Pythios, about 1½ hour off; of course a steep and rocky way. One could quite well see what it had been in spite of the Christian alterations.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J.T. Bent, Vol. 1, Oxford, 2006, p.41)
Theodore gives this small but imposing (and important) monument ten out of ten. Its designation as a temple to Apollo comes from an inscription identified by Ludwig Ross in the 1840s, but it is more securely considered a mausoleum from Roman times, subsequently rebuilt in the 3rd century AD as a Byzantine Church. Read about it all in a remarkable article, fully illustrated, at Diocese of Sikinos: A unique monument is dedicated to the public today (accessed 19/01/2023).
Very fortunately, the monument escaped the spades of the Bents. Over the last few years it has been re-excavated and restored by the Ephorate of Antiquities (EFA) of the Cyclades, who were awarded the Europa Nostra Award for their work in 2022. The great find was the high-status tomb of a woman apparently named Neiko; Theodore stood just a few metres above her, and she eluded his attentions (unlike the less lucky Karpathos Lady).
Here are his words: “Few remains in Greece are more perfect than this temple of Apollo at Sikinos. Somehow it has escaped observation, and it has been too high above the sea to make it of any use for building material; hence it escaped during the earlier years of Vandalism; and then when it was turned into a place of Christian worship a certain amount of respect was secured for it, which other ruins did not obtain until later years…” (The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, 1885, London, p.176)
Bent also mentions that they met up with the former mayor, Iakovos Kortesis (Theodore names him Kortes) : “An old man, the former demarch, came in shortly after we were up, and begged for the privilege of taking us about the town. In many respects he seemed a man more respected and looked up to than our jocular host; for we were told that if his age and infirmities had not interfered with the fulfilment of his duties he would still have been in office. Wrapped in a shawl, and stick in hand, he seemed to despise the cold, and trudged on at a good pace to show us his garden. Kortes was the name of the old man, and after showing us his garden he conducted us to his house, a large cold place, without any glass in the windows, just over the town gateway…” (The Cyclades, p.178) There is a splendid Sikinos website with contemporary photographs and references to Bent, and see these other (slightly later) photos of the exterior of the house the Bents visited, and a ‘Sikinos gate‘.
A review of Bent birthdays based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897
The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)
There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.