Το Παλιομονάστηρο του ΒρονταμάPart of : Αρχαιολογικόν δελτίον ; Vol.43, 1988, pages 159-194
The Paliomonastiro near Vrondamas
The Paliomonastiro, located in about an hour and a half distance (riding on a mule) from the village of Vrondamas in the province of Lakedaimon, on a steep bank of the Eurotas river, was dedicated to the Virgin and St. Niketas, and is now devoted to the Zoodochos Pigi. The cave- church is well preserved, while only ruins of the monastic buildings survive. In the cave-church, the soldiers of Ibrahim Pasha used smoke to choke to death the inhabitants of Vrondamas who had taken refuge there.To mark out the church, two parallel walls were built inside the cave and decorated with wall- paintings. In a later date, a small vaulted chapel with a side narthex was constructed inside the original church (Fig. 1). Three centuries later, a small funeral chapel was added ‘to the west’ of the church and the narthex. Of the original wall-paintings, a head of an angel is preserved next to the entrance of the present narthex, presumably a ‘guardian’, and there are two heads of bishops inside the church. More wall-paintings are preserved on the walls of the original church, above the vaults of the later church and narthex: the Birth of the Virgin, St. Lazarus the Prelate, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, the Crucifixion, St. Ioakeim, St. Anna, the Annunciation, and the Transfiguration. Comparison with the wall-paintings of the churches of the Evangelistria in the village of Yeraki, Zoodochos Pigi at Samarina in Messenia, the Episkopi on Santorini, and that of the Virgin at Arakou on Cyprus, and also with 12th century icons from the Sinai Monastery, leads to the conclusion that the original wall-paintings of the Paliomonastiro were probably executed towards the end of the 12th century. This date is supported by the fact that the later church and narthex were painted in 1201, according to the preserved inscription. Many of these scenes are preserved. In the nave: St. John the Baptist, a Saint, St. Mamas, St. Basil, St. Tryphon, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, the Birth of the Virgin, the Annunciation, the Raising of Lazarus, and the Dormition of the Virgin; in the narthex: St. Polycarp, Saints (Sergius and Bacchus?), Saints Barbara and Marina, Saints Hermolaos and Panteleimon, Hosios Nikon, John Kalyvitis, Alexios the man of God, Saints Demetrius, Theodoras the Warrior and Nicholas, the Virgin Ever- getis and Child, the Ayioi Anargyroi, the mounted Saints Niketas the Iamatikos (Healer) and George, St. Helen flanked by a later built iconostasis, St. ‘Nastasia’ Pharmakolytria, Saints Para- skevi, Irene, Thekla, Kyriaki and Iouliani. The scenes from the Dodekaorton are continued on the vaults of the narthex with the Birth of Christ, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the Transfiguration, the Entry into Jerusalem -the face of Christ in that scene recalls that of the Saviour of the Deesis in the Engleistra of Neophytos on Cyprus (1183)— the Crucifixion, and the Descent into Hell.On the exterior face of the wall of the narthex are painted a Holy Father (Anthony?), the Baptism, with the prophets David and Isaiah —the first known depiction of these figures in a 13th century Baptism- the ‘guardian’ Angels Gabriel and Michael, the Apostles Peter and Paul on the intrados of a doorway and a bust of a beardless Christ on the tympanum of the door. Christ is offering the keys of his kingdom to Peter. On the intrados of another entrance to the narthex are depicted St. John the Baptist and St. Anna. Above the doorways is a frieze of six mounted military Saints, their horses galloping towards two confronted groups, consisting of three figures each. Amongst them are Saints Menas, Eustathius o Plakidas, George and Niketas. Is the scene perhaps inspired by a portrayal of a chivalrous tournament? St. Eustathius is painted with the vision of the appearance of a deer, very rare in Greece.The wall-paintings of 1201 have certain weaknesses in the drawing, but also include a number of sympathetic figures (Gabriel the Guardian, an Angel from the Baptism of Christ, the mounted St. George). There are also some figures treated realistically (Angels and Apostles in the Dor- mition), or even distorted (the soldier with the spear at the first right in the Crucifixion, the Jews in the Entry into Jerusalem). The wall-paintings of 1201, which are related more closely to popular art, may be described as anti-Classical.The bust of Christ on the pediment of the later iconostasis that flanked St. Helen, was probably executed in the 14th century. Two monks were buried in the later small funeral chapel (Fig. 1), as we are informed by an inscription of 1556. The surviving wall-paintings in the chapel were probably also executed at this date, as it becomes clear from a comparison with wall-paintings in a church at Beltsista in Epiros (1568), the Great Lavra on Mount Athos, and the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos (about 1600). The wall-paintings depict the Platytera, Church Fathers, the Ancient of Days, serapheim, the Deesis, the Ascension, Prophets and Hosioi.Some of the wall-paintings in the chapel and the narthex were probably repaired in 1613, as it is attested by the inscription on the outer wall of the narthex.
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