He was still a tall and strong man, although time had passed and he had already gathered about 50 years of life. He was wearing a neat moustache, always seeing to arrange its tips, so no one ever, Muslim or Giaour, could say about him, the honorable Ahmed Bey, that he was a sloppy man.
The son of a big shopkeeper from Eregli, born and raised on the banks of Karadeniz, Ahmed had joined the Sultan’s army early in his life, as a spahee, and had served bravely for more than 30 years in the guard of the venerable Padishah.
After being severely wounded in a battle against the unbelievers, Ahmed Bey was released from military duty. Prompted by an old comrade, he bought some land in Dobruca, on the shore of Duna, not far from Silistre, the vilayet’s capital. The land was rich, the crops were plentiful and Ahmed Pasha was doing well.
That autumn day, he went riding to inspect the land. After several hours, he reached to the place called Dervent, meaning Narrow Pass, one of his villages he didn’t get to visit not even once in the last six months, since he became the owner of those lands.
His coming to the Narrow Pass wasn’t quite casual. This wasn’t a simple field visit. The Bey had heard a strange story about those places and he wanted to learn more. The local guild master was waiting for him. He was a short old man, with blue eyes, the color of Karadeniz’ waters, during the summertime…
“You’re Neculai? May Allah watch over your old age!”
“I am Neculai! May God watch over you too!”
“The workers told me you’re a really good fellow, and that your village is full of light. I heard only good things…”
The old man smiled, arranged his grey hair and squinted at his master.
“Effendi, this land is blessed, since God has sent His grace over us and our land. But you don’t believe in Jesus the Saviors, the one who died on the cross for our sins…”
The Bey had met in his life people of all kinds and religions. He had fought against the Giaours, in the name of the Crescent, but during the peace years he realized he didn’t hate them. They all were people, under the same sun, having the same needs, joys and desires…
“Neculai Baba, I’m not here to judge you for your ancestral faith, and I don’t want you to judge me for mine. The workers, who are Christians like you, told me about the miracles that happen here, on my land, and I want to learn more about this. I’ve heard of some sacred crosses.”
The guild master watched him in the eyes, as if trying to read his mind, or trying to see if his words were sincere.
“All the crosses are sacred, for they bear the sign of our faith. But our crosses are more than that… Well, effendi, I will take you to see them, and on the way, I will tell you their story…”
“Is it true that sick people are healed after touching them?”, asked Ahmed, soon after they started to walk.
Neculai shook his head.
“If the man believes, then the Crosses will help him. Many got back their voice, the blind started to see, the cripple got up and walked like roe deer, and the ill got rid of the sickness that was consuming their bodies.
But we have always hidden them, because people are mean and some tried to destroy them… All the foul kinds that don’t believe in God, please Bey, forgive my saying so.”
Ahmed didn’t mind. He knew very well what the janissaries were doing with the Christian objects. In Dobrudja though, it was a completely different story. The Sultan was wise and ordered the Porte’s clerk to let the Christians see to their own religion, for a restful vassal is a good vassal.
The Bey and the guild master walked for about half hour, until the old man stopped. Not far, they could see the Danube’s waters, the Holy River that was continuing its millenary story, flowing to Kara Deniz.
Neculai stopped in front of an old stone cross, big as a man’s arm, fastened deep into the ground and having flower crowns around it. Ahmed Bey realized it was very old. He reached out and felt the cold stone, and suddenly he shivered. He took a step back, a bit afraid and surprised in the same time. The old man looked at him, not understanding what was happening…
The Bey recovered his spirits and tried to pretend nothing has ever happened. He asked:
“You said there were more crosses?”
The guild master nodded:
“There are four of them. The other three are a bit further, about 20 steps away. I will take you there. Those too work miracles, but most of the healings happened here. The Saint took care…”
“Yes, the Saint!” The old man squatted, then sat on the grass, near the cross. Ahmed Bey did the same, and caressed the long green grass that was smelling so nice…
Neculai started his story.
“You see, Bey, our people has always been oppressed. Before you came here, others robbed our lands, messed up our customs and troubled our life. Our ancestors fought for freedom, but the strangers were too many and too powerful. The old men say that back in those days we, the land people, had no faith in God, we only obeyed to Nature and its gods. One day though, Saint Andrew came here and he brought us the Word of God. He christened all our ancestors and showed them the right way to salvation.”
Ahmed bey interrupted him.
“Baba, you talk about times that are long gone, when the empire of Rim conquered almost the entire world, and vanquished all people. I’ve heard this before… And I’ve heard of this Saint of yours, who came all the way from Judaea…”
“Probably, those strangers came from the city of Rim. They conquered our land and when they heard of Saint Andrew secretly christening us, they got upset and, with big hatred, they killed him on the cross.”
Neculai’s eyes flickered suddenly, and he resumed the story.
“Those dastards didn’t know that, once you plant the Word of God, it springs and enriches everything, just like wheat does. And this is exactly what happened. Even if they cut the saint, they could never cut the faith of the people.
It so happens that some youngsters in God, that had learned the sacred words of the saint and of other great priests, started to walk through our country. They felt the times were difficult and that simple men needed the Word and the Light. And while preaching the Word of God, the young apostles arrived even here, on the banks of the old river. There were three virgins and a young monk, with beautiful faces and souls, filled with the light of the Holy Lord. And they walked in every village along the Danube, talking to people, helping them and doing all sorts of miracles. News about these miracles got to the big fortress of Durostorum, which is ruled nowadays by the Pasha of Silistra.
Hearing about the four saints’ work, the pagans from Rim sent immediately a huge army, to get them. They caught and threw them to the beasts’ cage. But for a wonder, the wild animals didn’t jump on them. The contrary, legend has it that the wolves and the bears were suddenly tamed. The animals cuddled and ate out of their hands. The Rimans raged to see this… they asked the saints to give up their faith, but they refused with a smile, choosing death instead. So, they tortured them even more. They cut the girls into pieces, and skinned the monk alive, then hung him with his head down, on the Cross. Then, after a few days, they threw their bodies into the river.
The Rimans thought they got rid of the saints, so the locals would go back to being pagans. They reckoned without their host on this one. Four stone crosses appeared right where these kids of God had given their last breath. The crosses were stained with tears, and whoever came there to pray, was healed instantly.
The Crosses have been there ever since, we keep them clean and they help us. Whenever there is illness in the world, we are safe. Whenever the neighborhood villages are burned down by wars, there is peace in our village, for God takes care of us. Many years have passed since the Crosses appeared, but the miracles never stopped.
This is the story of the Crosses, as I learned it from the grey-headed. The Rimans are gone, no one knows their power anymore. But the Word of God and the memory of the four saints remained…”
This is how the old man ended his story. Ahmed Bey got up, without saying anything. He followed his guide to the other three stone crosses, that appeared on the place where the three virgins had suffered…
The Bey remained silent. When they got back to the village, he said goodbye to the guild master, got on his horse and returned home.
As soon as he arrived, he called his servants and ordered them to build a new manor right in the Narrow Pass, near the Crosses. In just a few days, his servants built a big mansion, within a stone’s throw away from The Four Crosses. But before all this, the Bey ordered The Four Crosses in the Narrow Pass to be well guarded and that no Muslim or Giaour ever damages them…
Time passed over the Dobrudjan villages on the Danube’s bank. Difficult times, when the armies of the Pasha from Silistra fought with other big countries, and the region was caught in the claws of war. And, since war never comes alone, all kinds of diseases encompassed the dwellings, making all kinds of victims, regardless the nationality.
Miraculously, only a small patch of land remained untouched by the misery of those years. Ahmed Bey’s estate never got into the path of war. Hunger, plague and other diseases bypassed the villages owned by the former spahee. Word spread fast about the lucky estate, and many people came to settle there.
Everybody knew the story of the Crosses that were watched by the Turkish man. People wanted to work those rich lands and wanted to pray to those Crosses. Ahmed Bey tried to show up as a tough but fair man, and the Christians loved and respected him. Moreover, gossipmongers whispered that Ahmed himself secretly embraced the Christian religion. Who knows if that was true…?
More years passed over the Narrow Pass… When he was 80 or even more, Allah called Ahmed Bey to him. On his dying bed, the old spahee told his children and grandchildren to run the estate just like he did.
“As long as you respect The Four Crosses from the Narrow Pass, Fortune and Light will guide our family and help you do well. But if you overrule my words, the evil and the end will be near…”
Those were the last words of the old Ahmed Bey, before leaving this world and going to the Heaven promised by Mohamed. His children and grandchildren respected his will and things went well for a long time…
Allegedly, Ahmed Bey died the same day Sultan Mustafa the 3rd died, in Istanbul. Abdul Hamid, his brother, followed him on the throne of the Crescent, then other sultans – better or worse – tried in vain to restore the Empire its former glory…
In Dervent, life was much leisured than in the rest of the Empire, as if the Creator was holding His blessed hand over those lands, protecting them from the evil.
The manor was now run by Murad, the great grandson of Ahmed. Murad had obeyed the old rule, just like his ancestors had, before him. But he was called to serve the Empire and the Sultan Mahmud the 2nd, who started a war with the Russians. Murad Bey left to command the Silistre garrison. At the manor, he was replaced by his older son, Ali. This boy was more like his mother’s family, ardent believers in Coran, who arrived in Dobruca coming all the way from Mersin, in the South of Turkey.
Perhaps this was the reason why Ali didn’t like at all the Giaours from his father’s estate, and he couldn’t understand why his parent and the other ancestors respected the customs of the Christian servants. He didn’t believe that the welfare of his kind was connected in any way to respecting the Crosses from the Narrow Pass.
Moreover, the very thought would always make him angry.
One day, when it was harvest time, Ali went to Dervent. Upset to see the Giaours not working as hard as he believed they should, Ali followed his secret thought. He rushed angrily, holding his sword, over the sacred Crosses, in order to destroy them. He cut the arms of the Big Cross and took out of the ground two of the Virgin’s Crosses.
Extremely proud of his terrible deed, the young bey returned to his manor.
But on his way back, guess what happened? A terrible storm broke suddenly, accompanied by a heavy rain, as if the End of the World and the Flood were coming.
A lightning born from the dark clouds stroke his horse, who died instantly. The rider suddenly became a pedestrian, an injured and scared one. Ali managed to walk home, but it never crossed his mind that the lightning could be connected in any way to his bad act.
Master Murad returned home after a couple of days. Just as he was entering the estate, one of his carriage’s horses suddenly collapsed and died. Then, the old bey realized that all the dogs he had took care of since they were puppies, unexpectedly turned into beasts and tried to rip him apart…
The wise bey knew something terrible has happened. Just as he was entering the mansion, his administrator started to grieve: the night before, someone stole all their money. Possibly, one of the workers. The day passed slowly, and the troubles never ended… The next day, around noon, Murad Bey was told that the crops in the Narrow Pass were on fire.
He left in a hurry, followed by his older son. Arriving at Dervent, his worst hunches came true: the bey saw the destroyed Crosses, and Ali admitted it was his fault.
Murad Bey frowned. Suddenly, he felt extremely exhausted. He looked at his son and said faintly:
“Amen, amen! What have you done, my son? Our land will now be deserted. We will end up worse than the slaves.
The God of the Christians helped our people to rule in peace and welfare, just because we respected these crosses. From now on, because of you, my son, this gift has left our home…”
This is what the bey said to his son, and later on it proved to be right. Although Murad Bey struggled to fix things, the curse of Ali’s evil acts could not be warded off… After 5 years, the estate from Dervent was destroyed by a big earthquake, and the granaries took fire. Murad Bey died of a heartsore, then Bad Ali and his servants got sick and passed away quickly. Those who survived the plague fled the estate, and many of the Christian villages were abandoned. The manor went to pieces, just like many hamlets did…
God’s curse ended though one day, years and years later… The Holy Lord made the Four Crossed re-emerge. A deaf-mute shepherd from Coslugea village found them, while he was herding his sheep. The man fell asleep with his head on the Big Cross and when he woke up, guess what? A huge miracle happened: he could speak and hear as if he never had any infirmity… The shepherd returned to his village and told people about this miracle. Then they all went to the Narrow Pass, restored the Crosses and prayed to God for forgiveness.
Since then, Dervent started to be blessed again by God, and it stayed this way until our days…
Note: Own literary work, the legend of the curse took from bibliographic sources.
Archimandrite Andrei Tudor “The History of the Healing Crosses from Dervent Monastery”, 2007
Titus Cergau, Emanoil Papazisu „Legends from Dobrudja”
Photo – Dervent.ro, The Holy Cross from the Chapel
Original story by Cristian Cealera
English version by Adriana Moșoiu