Το Παλιομονάστηρο των Αγίων Σαράντα στη Λακεδαίμονα και το ασκηταριό τουPart of : Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας ; Vol.34, 1992, pages 115-138
The Old Monastery of the Ayioi Saranta (Forty Martyrs) in Lacedaemon and its ascetarion
Located on the bank of a gully quite a distance fromthe present-day monastery of the Forty Martyrs (1620)at Lacedaemon are the remains of an old monastery.Preserved are the ruins of the monastic buildings andthe cave church of the Forty Martyrs, measuring some7 χ 3.30 metres. A vaulted structural addition once extended the church to the west. Although there is no templon in the church, this function may have been servedby a supporting band built at the point of contact between the vault and the cave. Neither is an altar preserved. The Byzantine wall-paintings of the cave churchbelong, I believe, to three periods.1. The older paintings are located in the apse where wefind a Vlachernitissa, below which appear the HierarchsChrysostom and Blasios, and to the left on the east wallthe Angel of the Annunciation. The features of Chrysostom may be compared closely with those of the sameSaint in the cathedral of St. Demetrios at Mistra (1270-1285). I had earlier compared St. Blasios with the sameSaint in the church of the Ayioi Theodoroi in Trypi,Laconia (second half of the thirteenth century). The delicately rendered Angel of the Annunciation is not farremoved from the wall-paintings in the church of theAyioi Anargyroi (1265) in Kipoula in the Mani.In accordance with the above, the wall-paintings shouldbe dated to the second half of the thirteenth century.2. Most of the church's wall-paintings are dated to1304/5 by extant inscriptions, and are the work of thehistoriographos (painter) Manasses who in the sameperiod was responsible for the neighbouring church ofPalaeopanayia, now likewise a ruin.In the lower zone appear full-length portraits of Saints,St. Demetrios riding on a white horse, and the FortyMartyrs; further up, we see bust medallions of Saintsand most of the scenes of the Dodekaorton, without theestablished sequence being followed. Anxiety can clearly be traced in most of the faces of the Forty Martyrs;the depiction is vibrant, and one of the finest in thechurch. The other compositions are smaller, and includemany faces with often roughly modelled features carelessly executed. Indeed, for a moment one may considerthat these are the work of another hand.3. A painter of another period appears to have paintedSt. Steven the Deacon and St. Basil. The latter paintingevidently covered the Virgin in the Annunciation sceneof the original layer. Both wall-paintings, even thoughof inferior quality, may be compared with the vault decoration of the chapel of St. James in the Mt. Sinaimonastery (second half of the fifteenth century), andthus may be dated to the same century. Thus, should thedating of the wall-paintings be correct, the cave churchwas in use from the second half of the thirteenth to thesecond half of the fifteenth century.Further up from the cave, at a site now difficult ofaccess, is a small chapel with a two-storied narthex andornamental masonry with decorative ceramic inclusions; it is known as the ascetarion, a place of worshipusually reserved for anachorites. Cave-like cells are discernible at a location above the structure. The chapel'sroof is made up partly of a masonry vault and partly ofthe natural rock. The cloisonné masonry resembles thatof the cathedral of Ayios Demetrios at Mistra. In thelatter church we also encounter the decorative feature ofvertical bricks embedded in mortar, likewise used in thechapel.Wall-paintings preserved in the chapel include: the HolyMandylion, the Vlachernitissa, Hierarchs, the Vrephokratousa, St. John the Forerunner in the arch (an indication that the chapel was dedicated to that Saint), theArchangel Michael, ascetics (amongst whom St. "Nikos" [=Nikon]), female Saints, the Crucifixion and aDeesis.The wall-paintings of the ascetarion have a provincial,folk flavour. Comparisons allow them to be dated to thelast quarter of the thirteenth century.