Fact-checking the Bulgarian Monk

Continuing on the theme of Rev. A.N. Experidon (aka “the Bulgarian Monk”) from yesterday, I thought I would check out some of the claims made by our itinerant friend.

In the Atlanta Constitution (April 30, 1876) Fr. Experidon is reported to have met Loring and Colston, two former Confederate soldiers, in Egypt, where they were in the service of the Egyptian Khedive. About 50 ex-Confederate soldiers did go to Egypt after the Civil War, and both William W. Loring and Raleigh E. Colston were given rather high positions. Both ended up returning to the United States before their deaths, and Loring wrote a book about his experiences, called A Confederate Soldier in Egypt (1884). There’s no mention of Fr. Experidon in the book.

Speaking of books, Fr. Experidon claimed to have been a tour guide in Jerusalem for a group which included Mark Twain. Twain did in fact visit Jerusalem in 1867, and he sent accounts of his experiences back to a U.S. newspaper. In 1869 they were published under the title Innocents Abroad. Again, no mention of Fr. Experidon.

Fr. Experidon also claimed to have met Brigham Young and attempted to convert him to Orthodoxy. This is reported as early as January 8, 1876 (in the Atlanta Constitution). Young died in 1877. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of Fr. Experidon in the various books about Young available on the Internet, but, as Reader Mo suggested in the comments yesterday, it’s possible that the Mormons — who are great record-keepers — have some record of that visit.

So the famous people Fr. Experidon is supposed to have met were in the right places at the right times. That doesn’t necessarily mean he actually met them, of course, but it helps. I suppose in the case of Twain, Fr. Experidon could have simply read Innocents Abroad and then made up the claim that he had met the author. The reporter in the Constitution article on January 8, 1876 remarks, “He occasionally quoted Mark Twain, and it is the opinion of your reporter that it is from this history, he obtained most of his information.” In other words, Fr. Experidon is a fraud who is basing his tales on Twain’s book. I personally don’t buy that argument, but it’s easy to see why someone might come to that conclusion.

One last thing — in the article I posted yesterday, from the San Jose Daily Evening News (March 28, 1889), we find this sentence: “He is a Bulgarian by birth and in his own country was a lawyer by profession.” Over on our Facebook page, Florin Curta pointed out that Bulgaria (and Jerusalem, for that matter) were under Ottoman rule when Fr. Experidon lived there. Florin writes, “There was no other law in the Empire than sharia modified by kanuni (imperial decrees and/or lawcodes).” In other words, since Fr. Experidon was a Christian, he simply could not have been a lawyer in the Ottoman Empire. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t some kind of lawyer, somewhere (Greece, perhaps, as Florin speculates?). But whatever the truth, it is complicated.

UPDATE (9/14/09): I contacted the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and they could find no record of Fr. Experidon’s visit to Brigham Young. However, they said, “It is very possible that he visited and it was never recorded.” And while I still suspect that Fr. Experidon did meet Brigham Young, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mark Twain wrote extensively of his own encounter with Brigham Young in his 1872 book Roughing It, which was a prequel to his earlier Innocents Abroad. I can certainly see why some people thought Fr. Experidon was just ripping off Twain.

2 Replies to “Fact-checking the Bulgarian Monk”

  1. Not to lend credibility to our “monk,” but he could very well have been a lawyer.

    Shariah law, as practised in the Ottoman Empire, divided their subjects into “millet” along religious lines. When the Ottomans started have a constitution, it was rather in the plural. Personal status laws (inheritance, marriage, divorce, etc.) went along those lines, and the religious authorities were charged with keeping the law. This is the reason, for instance, that the Bulgarians sought and received their constitution of the exarchate: it made them independent of the EP. By WWI, there were 17 Millets in the Empire.

    So he could have been a lawyer within either the Rum (Greek/Orthodox) or Bulgarian Orthodox Millet.

  2. Very interesting. It does make sense that each millet would have its own laws and thus its own lawyers. Compared to his more outlandish claims, the idea that Experidon was once a laywer seems rather mundane (and thus believable).

Comments are closed.