Byzantium the vaults of heaven …

Church of Moni Ypsilou on the island of Lesvos

Byzantine culture spanning from the 5th century has influenced many of the Mediterranean art styles and even after the fall of Constantinople in 1543 marking the end of the Empire, artistic influences continue to flourish even during the Ottoman Empire. What is later known as the Post-Byzantine art evolved mainly in Eastern Europe – a continuum of the Byzantine tradition dominate the sacred arts of the Eastern Orthodox Christians. Masterworks of this period can be found in many Orthodox churches and monasteries spread throughout Greece especially on the islands and Crete being one of the most important. The island is a treasure trove for Byzantine paintings where some dates back to the times of the Venetians. Unfortunately some are in poor condition and it is not always easy to find them as they are not properly listed but there is this one lovely Aghios Nikolaos church located in Maza, a picturesque village in south western Crete with a hidden treasure …

14th century Byzantine church of Aghios Nikolaos decorated with frescoes by Ioannis Pagomenos.
Maza village west Crete

These frescoes are very beautifully made even along the walls of the smallest village chapel. Some of the most interesting can be found on the islands of Symi, Tilos, Lesvos, Karpathos, Rhodes and certainly many more places that I have yet to visit … Alongside these wonderful frescoes are the iconic images of Theotokos and portraits of Saints usually adorned with golden and silver tamata – votive offerings, symbolic gifts in the form of an embossed silver or gold metal plaques depicting the subject of prayer or in the guise of gratitude. These Saints are seen as thaumaturge or wonder workers and many believe in their miracles. I’ve seen locals placing these metal plaques in the belief that they could be healed from sickness …

Tamata Greek style ex-voto usually placed alongside saints and religious icons

The Cretan school of painting began as early as the 13th century and after the fall of Constantinople it reached its heights in the 16th century. Two styles make up this aesthetic movement, one that is faithful to Byzantine tradition of Constantinople and the other influenced by the Venetian Renaissance masters. Take a closer look at these secret masterpieces the next time you travel around the Greek islands. These early Christian churches are usually recognizable through their unique architectural shape. They are mostly small in size adopting the basic basilica design – either the barrel vault mono chamber or the simple cross barrel vault with or without the cupola. These radiant representations of liturgy and Christian faith cover most of the church walls giving that impressions of being enfolded into the vaults of heaven. I enjoy searching out for these delightful old churches and monasteries even if it is just to get a glimpse of these yet to be rediscovered Byzantine iconic paintings.

Byzantium frescoes decorating walls of a village chapel

And here are more images on the vaults of heaven …

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Categories: Greece, Photography, Travel

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13 replies »

  1. Absolutely stunning photos and a great article. As an Orthodox Christian myself I always “cringe”when I come across articles such as this but in this case it was written beautifully and the photography was a perfect accompaniment. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face today!

  2. The artwork is simply gorgeous and your pictures are wonderful. I have a friend who is visiting Rhodes in Greece at the end of the month. I will definitely tell her to visit the church there 🙂

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