Association of Attica Tserioton "The EVAGELISMOS"

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Inner Mani

 

Christianity and Mani

Finds from the early Christian era (dating from the 5th to the 7th century) were uncovered along the coastal area near the significant ancient settlements of Kyparissos, Oitylos, Gytheio and in the castle standing in the area of Tigani. This castle is considered to be the “Castle of Maina” which housed the administrative centre of the region during the Byzantine era. In the 10th century, Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos stated that the last Greek heathens of Mani were converted to Christianity during the reign of his grandfather, Basil I the Macedonian (867-886). This fact seems to be correct, and therefore, it is true that the ancient religion coexisted with the Christian faith for many centuries until complete Christianization prevailed after the 10th century.

During the last decades of the 10th century, an extraordinary boom in construction and development took place. This turnaround was due to the re-establishment of the Byzantine dominion in the area of the Aegean after the recapturing of Crete by Emperor Nikephoros II in 965 and the missionary work of Saint Nikon “Metanoite”.

Sculpture

The rocky, dry and inaccesible land of inner Mani, flourished during the Byzantine era, especially the area of modern day Oitylos.

Many stone-carving workshops decorated the tens of churches in the region. The progress of stone sculpture in Mani was remarkable and all artwork was handcrafted on indigenous marble. Most sculptures, preserved here in Mani, illustrate the lavish decorative themes and exquisite artistry of the mid-Byzantine era.

Among the native stone-carvers, the work of the artist known as “Nikitas from the land of Maina” stands out. Nikitas worked from 1050 until 1075 and is one of the most important representatives of this art form.

His sculptures have been pinpointed on the western tractors of Saints Theodori church at the village of Vamvakas (dating from 1075), on the marble screen of Saints Theodori church at the village of Kafionas, on the inscribed alter of Saint Nicholas church at the village of Milia etc.

In the church of Saint Nicholas at the village of Charias, one can see the story of a rooster and two foxes carved.

Murals

During the 12th and 13th century sculpting gives way to another art form, murals. An amazing surge in ecclesiastical art takes place after the year 1262, when Mani once again comes under the rule of the Byzantine Empire after the overturning of the Franks. Exceptional paintings were salvaged at the church of Saint Stratigos at the village of Boularion (dating from the beginning of the 11th century and later on a second layer in 1275). Splendid Byzantine works of art can be admired at the church of Episcopi at the Taenarus peninsula (around 1200). Magnificent wall paintings can be seen at Saint Peter’s at Gardenitas (dating from the beginning of the 13th century), in Saints Theodori church at Kafionas (1263-1270), in Saints Anargiri church at Kippoulas (1265), in Saint Paraskevi church at Diros (1265-1275), in Saint Nikitas church at Karava (1270-1280), in the church of Archangel Michael at Polemita (1278), in Saint George’s church at Karynia (1281), at Vlacherna Mezapo (dating from the 13th century), at Saint Panteleimon at Kotrafi (around 1300), at the monastery of Faneromeni Triantafyllia (on earlier layers in 1323), in Panayia Agitria or Odigitria church (dating from the 12th century) etc.

At the church of Saint Peter at Gradenitsa, one can decipher the distinct characteristic Maniot dialect on an inscription seen in the fresco depicting the Rising of Lazarus, which too reveals a native artist.

It is also known that the start of Mystra’s great traditional art is based on the traditional folk art of Mani. The zenith of these murals is known as the Renaissance of the Palaeologus.

In the later half of the 13th century, a large number of churches that were built and decorated with wall paintings or layers of wall paintings were discovered. About 35 churches were found in inner Mani, 12 were found on the outskirts of Mani and another 7 in the lower part of Mani. The explanation for the large number of churches erected during this time is due to the increase of the population by refugees from the region of Moria. Maybe the creation and decoration of so many new as well as older churches might have expressed the elation the orthodox inhabitants felt from ridding the region of the catholic dominance in 1262.

The paintings of this period present a few sporadic western influences too, such as the elegant Virgin Mary with the finger ring waist in Genesis, in the church of Saints Anargiri at Kippoulas village.

Also the fresco featuring Christ going down to Hades with ribbons waving out from behind him like red flames is regarded as one of the most significant mural of all and stands in Saint Peter’s church at Glezos village (dating from the later half of the 13th century).

Post Byzantine Era

In the end of the 17th century and especially in the 18th century, the heyday of Mani is illustrated in the churches and monasteries that were built.

An excellent example is the Monastery of Dekoulos. It stands on a hillside overlooking the bay of Oitylos. The monastery is very grand and imposing for the standards of Mani. It was known from the time of the meeting between the Maniot leaders and the Orloff brothers, a little while before the uprising in 1770, known as the Orloff Revolt.

The monastery’s cathedral is fully decorated and the visitor can admire an exquisite array of 18th century art.

In many churches, the portrayals are mainly of military saints and this shows the reverence the Maniot people held for the fighters and reveals their pleas towards the respective saints concerning the outcome of their struggles against the oppressors.

During these times, the figure of Archangel Michael holds a dominant place in the churches of Mani. The Archangel is portrayed with horrid symbols on his mantle. In one hand, he lightly holds a sword, in his other hand he holds 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. 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).

At the village of Areopolis of the Mavromichalis Family, one of the most glorious cathedrals of Mani dedicated to Archangel Michael, otherwise known as Taxiarchis, has in it a relief with the zodiac signs. These exceptional traditional sculptures keep the beautiful folk art of the region alive. Taxiarchis stands on the lintel along with the other military saints and welcomes the pilgrims. Here is a land that marks a great moment for Greece. Here on 17th March 1821 begins the struggle for the liberation of the enslaved Greek people from the Ottoman rule.

 

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