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,
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”.
rocky, dry and inaccesible land of inner Mani, flourished during the
Byzantine era, especially the area of modern day
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
In the church of
Saint Nicholas at the village of Charias, one can see the story of a
rooster and two foxes carved.
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
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
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
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.