Christ Pantocrator in the Byzantine Monastery of Daphni

Christ Pantocrator in the Byzantine Monastery of Daphni… whose great eyes, dark and exorbitant and cast almost furtively over one shoulder, at total variance with His right hand’s serene gesture of blessing and admonition, spell not only pain but fear, anguish and guilt, as though He were in flight from an appalling doom. The only fit setting for such an expression is the Garden of ! Gethsemane; but this is a Christ-God in His glory, the All-Powerful One. It is tremendous, tragic, mysterious and shattering… writes Patrick Leigh Fermor in his travel book Mani. Travels in the Southern Peloponnese of 1958. and

The sight of the Pantocrator image at Daphni is indeed breathtaking, and I particularly like Fermor’s use of adjectives… tremendous, tragic, mysterious, and shattering! Whether Fermor was right or not in his description… whether the Daphni Pantocrator survives today exactly as it was created by the anonymous 11th century Byzantine master… is not easy to answer, but was expertly addressed by Robin Cormack in his 2009 article Rediscovering the Christ Pantocrator at Daphni. Professor Cormack takes his reader on a wonderful journey as he “deciphers” the secrets of this amazing mosaic and the wondrous ways of mosaic restoration. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 71 (2008), pp. 55-74 (20 pages) Published By: The University of Chicago Press

Visiting the Daphni Monastery has always been a wonderful experience! Built on the slopes of Mount Egaleo in the grove of Haidari, next to the ancient Athenian Ιερά Οδό (Sacred Road) that connected Athens with Eleusis, the site of the eponymous Eleusinian Mysteries, lies the Byzantine Monastery of Daphni. It is only interesting that the Monastery was built on the location of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo Daphnaios, destroyed during the invasion of the Goths in 395 AD. Unfortunately, of the old temple only one Ionic column still remains in the colonnade of the narthex, while the rest were removed by Lord Elgin in the 19th century.

According to the Greek Ministry of Culture (ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ site), the first monastic community at Daphni was organized during the 6th century AD and was enclosed by strong defensive walls, almost square in plan. The catholicon was a three-aisled basilica which stood in the center of the courtyard. Along the inner NE side of the walls, two-storied buildings were constructed, containing the cells of the monks. A reception hall and a second block of cells were attached on the north wall of the enclosure.

What we see today is the 2nd phase of development and construction, dating from the 11th century (around 1080). The Monastery’s Katholikon is a cross-in-square church of the octagonal type, surmounted by a broad and high dome. It has a narthex, formed as an open portico… The exonarthex was constructed a little later, in the early 12th century and the chapel to the west was added in the 18th century… The porch with the three pointed arches in the west facade of the narthex was added in the 13th century by the Frankish monks and certainly points to western influence… The walls of the church are built in the simple cloisonne masonry with poor brick decoration, restricted on the windows… The monastery is protected by a square enclosure fortified with towers and ramparts, with two entrance gates on its east and west sides.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

For an interesting Video on the Daphni Monastery, please Check…

Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta

Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta, 1294-1296, Arta, Greece

According to a popular Epirote legend… the anonymous “πρωτομάστορας” (master architect), commissioned to build the Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta was accomplished, famous, and much in demand! Hired to design plans for another church, while still working in Arta, the “πρωτομάστορας” was obliged to travel away, leaving his assistant in charge. The assistant, anonymous as well, was young, ambitious, innovative, and highly creative. He decided to change the original plans… implement a novel architectural proposal, and, in the process, created an original Church design we still admire today! Upon his return, the “πρωτομάστορας” was stunned, envious and… vengeful! He wanted revenge and he planned carefully… He tricked his unsuspecting assistant into climbing to the roof under the pretext that he was going to show him a mistake he made and then… the plan was, to push him over. But the plan did not materialize as wished! As the young assistant was falling, he grabbed the master-builder dragging him along to their death. The mother of the young assistant was devastated… but one night the Virgin Mary appeared to her dream and “την παρηγόρησε,” consoled her for her unjust loss. Mary’s consolation was considered a miracle and thus… the Church in Arta was called “Παναγία η Παρηγορήτισσα,” the Church of the Virgin Mary of Consolation.

Ιn Arta the Parigoritissa Church is considered the city’s Αρχόντισσα… most Aristocratic edifice! Built on the western slope of Peranthis hill, the church is associated with the Komnenos Doukas ruling family of the Despotate of Epiros. Archaeologists discern 2 construction phases. The older 1st phase dates to the middle of the 13th century and is associated with Michael II Komnenos Doukas (1230 until his death in 1266/68 ruler of the Despotate of Epirus) and his wife Theodora Petraliphaina (canonized as Saint Theodora of Arta, ca. 1225 – after 1270). Recent archaeological discoveries show that large parts of its original masonry were preserved to a sufficient height and incorporated via various modifications for the construction of the church’s 2nd phase which materialized under the sponsorship of Nikiphoros I Komnenos Doukas (c. 1240-1297) and his wife Anna Palaiologina Kantakouzene (d. 1313). On the western wall of the main church, over the entrance, an inscription verifies the fact that the Parogoritissa church was founded in the period 1294-1296 by the despot of Epirus Nikephoros I Komnenos Doukas, his wife Anna Palaiologina Kantakouzene, and their son Thomas. The aspiration of the princely couple was to create a Metropolitan Church worthy of a Byzantine Capital, impressive and original in design, luxurious and imposing on its exterior and interior decoration!

Thomas Smart Hughes, Travels in Sicily Greece, and Albania… Illustrated with engravings of maps scenery plans &c., vol. Ι, London, J. Mawman, 1820, Collection: Hellenic Library – Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation

The church of Parigoritissa was dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and was formerly the Katholikon of a large Monastery, of which 16 cells and the Refectory are also preserved. It is one monumental, voluminous, cubic in essence (has dimensions of 20,30×22 m) building, which external masonry and design “elusively” resemble the Italian mansions of the Early Renaissance period. The exterior façade of the church is divided into three zones: The lowest one is irregularly built and unadorned because until 1865 it was covered by a portico, as evidenced by the existence of 12 pilasters on the three sides of the temple to support its roof. The two upper zones of the church are meticulously built according to the isodomic “cloisonne” system, adorned with a large number of double (dilova) windows with a colonnette in between, and further embellished with elaborate brick decorations. The Parigoritissa like many other churches in Arta, uses bricks and clay tiles in a variety of colours and designs, to decorate their walls with designs like meanders, concentric rhombuses, and toothed strips to name just a few. Finally, the church is crowned by five domes, from which the central one is larger and taller. Among the two western domes, there is a smaller, open dome, which gives the impression of a ciborium. and

Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta (Keramoplastika), 1294-1296, Arta, Greece

For an interesting 3D Video on the Byzantine city of Arta and its Monuments created by the Greek Ephorate of Antiquities of Art, go to:

For interesting Photographs, go to…

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

My thoughts on the interior architectural plan and decoration of the Parigoritissa Church will be presented in another BLOG POST…

Visiting the Parogoritissa with my students…
Photo Credit: Kostas Papantoniou