John Covel was a British clergyman and classicist (1638-1722). He first studied botany and medicine at Cambridge, but later turned to theology and became professor at his college at Cambridge in 1661. In 1670 Covel travelled to Istanbul, where he stayed for seven years as chaplain to the Levant Company and the British embassy. He sailed from England in October 1670 and arrived at Izmir by way of Gibraltar, Malaga and Tunis. He stayed at Izmir for one year, during which time he met British consul Paul Rycaut and made the tour of Ephesus.
During his stay at Istanbul and his travels in Asia Minor, Covel collected coins, antiquities and important manuscripts in Greek, and recorded information on demographics, politics, economy, topography, mineralogy, botany and zoology as well as philology, music, theology, architecture and epigraphics. In his diaries, he copied Palaeochristian, Byzantine and Latin inscriptions and made notes on the customs and traditions of the diverse ethnic groups of the Ottoman empire. He corresponded with several clergymen of the Orthodox Church, and was the first British citizen to visit Mount Athos. Especially interested in theology and history, he also made the tours of Iznik (Nicaea) and Izmit (Nicomedea). Covel returned to his home country by way of the Aegean islands, Italy and France; while in the latter country, he made the acquaintance of French scholar Charles du Cange, the founder of Byzantine studies.
Covel remained active in intellectual and church life until his death. He corresponded with Greek and European scholars such as Isaac Newton, John Locke and others, in several languages. In 1716, Covel sold part of his library and personal notes, which are today in the British Museum. Parts of Covel's travel diaries were published in 1893 and 1998.
In the 17th century, the church of England showed a special interest in approaching the Christian denominations of the East, something not unrelated to its confrontation with Catholicism. Covel's treatise on Orthodox practices forms part of the general problematic of the time. However, as it was published much later (1722), it did not attract significant attention as the subject had ceased to be of topical interest. The work includes chapters on the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostomus, the adoration of icons and saints, and the mysteries of the Orthodox dogma, and closes with a thorough index.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou