Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Synaxis of Panagia of Podithou


Travelling on the Nicosia-Troodos tourist road and entering the Galata community, on your right you face the "Panagia of Podithou" church. Panagia of Podithou is what remained from a small Monastery that today does not exist. The church is built at the centre of a long and narrow valley close to the riverside of Klarios. Panagia of Podithou has been designated by UNESCO in 1985, which includes nine other painted Byzantine churches of the Troodos range.

The church's shape is rectangular and - in the east - it ends in a semicircular apse. The internal dimensions without the apse are 12 x 4 meters. It is surrounded by a Π-shaped gallery that is covered by the same V-shaped, wooden roof, which is capped by tile plates made by tile-makers from Galata. It was built in 1502 by Demetrios de Coron and his wife Helen. Demetrios and his family were one of medieval Cyprus's families of Latin descent that were Hellenized. In 1461 Demetrios was the commander in the "Pentagia" region and was in favour of Iakovos, illegitimate brother of the legitimate queen Charlotte, who was illegitimately claiming the royal crown of Cyprus. Forty-one years later, in 1502, Demetrios de Coron built the "Panagia Eleousa" Church that was later renamed "Panagia of Podithou".

In the external side of the west wall, the Virgin Mary is figured above the central entrance. The donators are depicted under Her throne, a couple to the left and a man to the right, having a model of the church in their midst, which they offer to the Virgin Mary. Under this composition there is the following founder's inscription:

"THIS DIVINE AND VENERABLE CHURCH OF THE ALL-HOLY, MERCIFUL MOTHER OF GOD WAS RAISED IN THE YEAR OF OUR CHRIST 1502 THROUGH EXPENSES AND MUCH DESIRE OF KIROU MISER DEMETRI DE CORO AND HIS WIFE ELENI, FOUNDERS OF THIS HOLY MONASTERY, AND THOSE OF YOU WHO READ THIS PRAY FOR THEM AND WISH THEM BLESSEDNESS THROUGH OUR LORD, AMEN".

The monastery functioned until the beginning of the 19th century but like many other monasteries of the island it then fell into decline and was finally abandoned after the tragic events of 1821 when the Archbishop and other notables were executed following the Greek revolution. Around 1850 the monk Sophronios established Galata’s first primary school in the monastic buildings.

The building is single-aisled with a steep-pitched timber roof. A later portico surrounds the three sides of the church. The roof shelters both the church and the portico and it is covered with flat tiles. The Russian monk Vassili Barsky, who visited the monastery in 1734, mentions that there were two monks living in an adjacent small, two-storey building made out of mud-brick. This building survived until around the middle of the 20th century.

The church was never entirely painted. The mural paintings, which are contemporary with the church, cover the apse of the Holy Bema, both sides of the western pediment, as well as parts of the north and south walls. Only the figures of the Apostles Peter and Paul, on the north and south walls respectively, date to the 17th century.

The donor is depicted as an old man with his Greek wife, offering to the Virgin Mary a model of the church. It is obvious that he is a hellenised Frank who follows the Orthodox rites and speaks the Greek language.

The painter who worked at Podithou is affected, both in terms of style and iconography, by western art. Some of the scenes in this church are considered to be the best examples of the ‘Italobyzantine’ style of painting, which appeared and spread throughout the island during the period of Venetian domination. It combines Byzantine and Italian Renaissance elements.

Contemporary to the wall-paintings of 1502 is the wood-carved iconostasis, re-gilded in 1783, as well as a lectern.

The iconostasis is one of the earlier examples of this type that appeared in many Greek lands that were under the influence of Venice in the beginning of the 16th century, and it consists of late Gothic and Renaissance elements.

Panagia of Podithou celebrates its feast on Tuesday of Renewal Week.


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