December 9, 2021

The 11th Century Chapel of Saint Anna, known as "Panagiopoula", in Northern Epirus

At the foot of Mali i Gjerë, or Platyvouniou, at the exact location southwest of the Byzantine settlement of Koukoulia, there is a remarkable chapel dedicated to Saint Anna, the mother of the Theotokos.

A Byzantine structure unknown to many, dominates intact within the other ruins of the ancient Greek and later Byzantine village, since the beginning of the 11th century AD.

This particular Christian church was for many years - according to the testimonies of locals - the main church and the ossuary of this city. Its construction is different from the well-known Byzantine, with the direction of the sanctuary facing the South. There is also a small vault with porphyry and plinth above the interior door, which can be compared to relatively early Byzantine Christian monuments.

The dimensions of the church are only 4.5 x 2.9 meters, but its construction on the edge of the cliff of Koukoulia gives the visitor an impressive and dynamic view. However, the chapel to this day retains an enigmatic history, which in turn has created various hypotheses and conjectures about the role it played in the present ancient settlement. Some claim that it was built by a schismatic monk, while others assume that it was simply a small church in the village.

As for its name, the chapel is usually called "Panagiopoula" by the locals, due to the comparison with a nearby Chapel of the Life-Giving Spring (known as Panagia). Most likely, however, the name is also related to the ecclesiastical history which states that the mother of the Theotokos was Saint Anna.

It is noteworthy that only in Dervitsani there is a church dedicated to Saint Anna and nowhere else in Northern Epirus.

We should mention an important testimony which is closely related to an ecclesiastical issue of the region. Local Dervishes say that during the reign of Ahmet Zogu in Albania, representatives of the Albanian king sent a Catholic priest to the village to liturgize according to the manner of the Roman Catholic Church. As a pretext for this action, was the observation of the architectural structure of "Panagiopoula" by some Italians. Because the church does not have a distinct Byzantine style of construction, they argued that the locals should return to their Roman Catholic tradition.

They sent a Roman Catholic priest in a carriage from the area of Korytsa to officiate at the central sanctuary of Dervitsani. Their specific endeavor was avoided by the intervention of the elder of the village as well as the then priest Evangelos Krassas. These two guardians of the Orthodox traditions did not hesitate to warn all the inhabitants of the village to not attend a service cut off from their roots. Thus they helped preserve the Orthodox legacy of the region.