HL Deb 17 June 1879 vol 247 cc19-22

said, there had been several statements in the public prints that two priests imprisoned in Cyprus had been deprived of their beards. After reading the Blue Book just issued respecting the government of Cyprus, he should be inclined to disbelieve those statements; but, on the other hand, some time had elapsed since they were made, and they had not yet been contradicted on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. But even should those statements now receive an unqualified contradiction, it would not be a waste of the time of the House to place before it those considerations which should prevent the possibility of the occurrence which had been complained of, or of the introduction of English prison regulations into Cyprus. The case of these priests was a very painful one; or, as that word had recently been misused, and might be misleading—it was one of grievous hardship. If an individual were to deprive a priest of his beard, it would be a serious outrage, and it would prevent his officiating until it had grown again. At the time when the Bulgarians were intriguing against the Prelates of the Greek race, it was reported that one of these was got rid of by advantage being taken of his sleep to deprive him of his beard, after which, being unable to show himself in public in his diocese, he had to escape from it and go home. But when priests were deprived of their beards, as in this case, by the act of the civil authorities, it became a usurpation of ecclesiastical rights reserved to the Patriarchs. This was probably done by some subordinate official, in ignorance that its consequence was to degrade the priest, and to incapacitate him from fulfilling his holy office. This could not be done under the Turkish law, which, from the last Blue Book, we appeared to be still administering. But the noble Marquess could not plead ignorance, for this matter was brought before him when he was at the India Office, and a Jacobite Patriarch, who was going to India, came to see him and showed him his berat or charter, which gave him the right in Turkey to imprison and shave recalcitrant priests. This must have happened about the time that the Public Worship Act was passing; and the noble Marquess would, perhaps, recollect it, when he (Lord Stanley of Alderley) reminded him that the interpreter of the Patriarch made some observation or calculation as to the number of barbers that would have to be kept at Lambeth Palace, if the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury had the same powers over recalcitrant priests as were possessed by his brothers of the Oriental Churches. It did not appear that this form of degradation of priests was ever followed in the Western Church; but, in the year 767, the Patriarch Constantine of Constantinople was deposed, degraded, and executed, and he was degraded by shaving his head, beard, and eye-brows. He (Lord Stanley of Alder-ley) must now say a few words for the laymen. Lay Christians did not wear beards, unless they were old men, or were in the Ottoman Service; but if they shaved the moustaches of the lay Christians, it would be putting an odious imputation on them. The beards of the Mussulmans must not be meddled with. There was an anecdote which well set forth the feeling on this subject; but as he did not wish to treat this subject otherwise than very seriously, he must refer their Lordships for it to the pages of Ibn Batoutah, the Arab Herodotus. Some time ago, but he did not exactly know when or where, in England, some playactors were sentenced by the magistrates to a short imprisonment, and were shaved; and as that interfered with their means of gaining their livelihood it caused great agitation, for the law did not allow of any greater hardship being inflicted on a prisoner than that which was contained in the actual sentence. English prison regulations were not in force in India; and, in the prisons in India, care was taken that the food of the Brahmin prisoners was cooked by cooks able to prepare their food. He thought, therefore, that an apology ought to be made to these priests for what they had suffered.


Those priests were deprived of their beards, so far as I can understand the matter, not in consequence of any firman or any decree of any Eastern or Western Council, but in accordance with the English prison regulations which have been introduced by Ordinance into the Island. I am compelled, however, to admit that there was an irregularity in the case, because, by the regulations of the prison, as they have been laid down, the hair ought only to have been removed in the case of a considerable period of imprisonment; and in the case of these particular priests, who were imprisoned for short periods, and for offences comparatively trivial, there was no justification, under the prison regulations, for depriving them of their beards. It was a misapprehension on the part of the Assistant Commissioner, of which notice had been taken, and in regard to which the High Commissioner, Colonel Greaves, had taken steps to prevent any such error occurring again. But I am unable to agree with the noble Lord in thinking that prisoners should not be subjected to personal indignities. It is a personal indignity to put a man into prison at all, and the best way to avoid such an indignity is to act so as not to get put into prison. The object of depriving prisoners of their hair, however, is of a cleanly and sanitary character. I am wholly unable to determine by personal knowledge whether the Cypriotes require such a precaution or not; but I do not think that we shall be able to give any instructions of the absolute character which the noble Lord requires. No doubt, if there is any strong prejudice or popular feeling on the question, as I see has been represented in the newspapers, it will be the duty of the local authorities to exercise due care in the modification of any regulations laid down; and I have asked Colonel Biddulph, who is about to be High Commissioner in the Island, to make inquiries as to whether this particular punishment is suited to the circumstances of the Island or not. But I am afraid that some of the opposition has arisen from a claim on the part of the Greek clergy to which it is impossible for us to accede—a claim, that is, that the jurisdiction over them should be reserved to their own ecclesiastical superiors, and should not be exercised by the civil power. That is contrary to our fundamental notions of justice in this country, and it is impossible that we should accept such a pretension. I agree, however, that in all these matters it is better not to lay down an absolute rule, and that the regulations ought to be suited to the habits and feelings of the inhabitants of the Island.


said, in reply, that he was satisfied with the answer of the noble Marquess; but, owing to the lateness of the hour, he had omitted to say that whilst the English prison regulations were framed with regard to cleanliness, they were not required in this case, for whatever preconceived opinions there might be, he had no hesitation in saying that among the classes that usually tilled the prisons there was much more cleanliness in the Ottoman Empire than in any country of Europe; and he must disagree with the opinion of the noble Marquess that the being in prison was a personal indignity such as those he had complained of.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.