The area around Mani today known as
Messinian Mani, stretches over nearly 320 square meters, ranging from
the coast of Verga up to Lagada and Poliana. Throughout this area, one
can admire a multitude of churches from the Byzantine and post Byzantine
era. They are either situated in the middle of most of the
nearly-seventy settlements of the region or scattered between the olive
groves and the dry landscape. These churches testify the inhabitants’
deep faith and particular social and cultural customs, which are
characteristic of this land and dates form the early Byzantine to the
post Byzantine times.
There were two architectural church
styles prevalent during the Byzantine era. The cruciform type church
with a dome resting on two columns (a typical style found around Greece)
and the single-nave vaulted church on which usually a north and south
building was attached to form the three-aisled style church typical in
Oriental Cappadocia. One can note that architectural material deriving
from ancient buildings was used in the churches’ construction, (elements
like ancient tombstones, ancient column capitals, flutings from the
column shafts etc). These structural pieces were usually built-in on the
front facade of the church or used in its interior decoration.
Stone-carved screens, reliefs portraying animals and column capitals,
prove that man inhabited this land during all the historical periods.
The portrayals created
during the Byzantine times preferably illustrate military saints riding
on horse-back or saints in full body and martyrs.
Post Byzantine monuments
The post Byzantine churches of Mani
show similar features between the architecture and the murals.
Regarding the architecture of the
churches, one usually comes across the single-nave vaulted type
elaborated into the three-aisled cruciform style church, there are also
many cruciform inscribed type churches, free-cross plan view churches,
single-nave vaulted churches or roofed cruciform plan view churches.
During this period limestone was used as the main construction material.
It was a material that facilitated creating the decor of the churches,
facades with fine window and door frame carvings, ornate wall reliefs
and high-storied bell-towers.
Inside the churches, one can admire
wood-engraved screens that show the development of the wood-work art
that decorated the walls during the 17th and 18th
century. The fretwork consists of sculptured figures, themes from the
traditional way of life, wall-covering representations of religious
glorification, judgment day, martyrdom, miracle working saints etc.
Archangel Michael otherwise known as
Taxiarchis is one of the most beloved figures in Mani and many places of
worship are dedicated to his grace.
The Archangel is a figure depicted in
amour that stuns the observer with his intense gaze. The huge skull
painted on his mantle that covers his chest and the smaller skulls on
his gaiters and epaulets give out an aversive message. In one hand he
lightly holds a sword and in his other a baby that symbolizes the soul
of the unrepentant mortal on which he stamps on with one of his feet.
Some Maniots call the Saint, Charos (the ancient god of the underworld),
others name him the Saint of Mani. This is an exquisite painting of the
saint who looks like one of
Palaeologus’ last worriors that came and captured Mount
Taygetus as a battlement. He is a reminder of our vain and mundane
world. Lord Michael is
the serene judge, the soul bearer that constitutes the link between
Christian Mani and Taenarus, which was said to be the entrance to Hades
(the underworld for the ancient people).