by: Rev. Georgios Metallinos
Professor at Athens University

Cephalonia, "a peculiar and civilized place", is "a vast museum of ecclesiastic art" (D. Konomos). Peculiarities in Cephalonian ecclesiastic architecure can be found in church temples, pulpits, stalls and pews, thrones, ceilings, etc.
Foreign influences - mainly westestern - were inevidibly incorporated not only in structural forms but church decoration as well. Church exteriors feature simple baroque elements (doors - windows), while the interiors are characterized by high aesthetics in agiography, wood carvings, gold gilting and silver plating, all reminiscent of the byzantine-cretan style.

Neoclassical elements emerge during the 19th century. After the 1953 earthquake destruction, there has been a noticable movement towards the use of more traditional forms in every aspect of ecclesiastic art, although practical solutions have generally prevailed. Cephalonians have displayed a persistant sensitivity for the preservation of their artistic identity to the extent that baroque forms are "altered in order to adapt to the Greek perception of norm" (D. Zivas). Some traces of the byzantine heritage have been preserved on the island. Examples can been observed in the triple-nave basilica in Fiscardo, several structures with St. George Fortress (Kastro), the ruins of Ag. Fanentes in Sami, etc. The byzantine tradition was broken in 1204. The occupation by foreign forces lasted until 1864 (Union with Greece).

After 1669 (Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans), groups of Cretan refugees find their way to Cephalonia, contributing to the renewal of its culture and ecclesiastic art. A large number of churches was built at that time in order to house the many icons that the refugees had carried with them. As a result, by the 18th century there were over 340 orthodox and western dogma churches on the island - without counting the small chapels. From a legal (ownership) standpoint, churches fell into one of three categories during the Venetian occupation: private or family churches, public churches and, cooperative type (parishes). The use of church grounds for burial purposes led to churches being built in towns and uninhabited areas not only by religious institutions but by noble families as well. There is only one known union church in Cephalonia, that of St. John Theologos in Lixouri (shoeworkers union).

Bell Towers

The "Ionian Basilica" , single naved, wooden roofed, with a semi-circled sanctuary cavity, and with frequent deviations in its inclination to the east, is still prevalent in Cephalonia today. In practice, the main entrance is usually in the north and the secondary entrance is west. The bell towers are of significant artistic quality and are classified as simple (Frankish) or turreted (Venetian). They usually feature a circular rather than a conical crown (dome). Bell towers at monasteries and convents still serve as entrance gates. The turreted bell towers blend in harmoniously with the church structure but while connected to it, they are not part of the main structure. Most are of excellent construction, such as that in St. Gerasimos Convent, at Panagia "Ratzaki", at St. Spyridon in Argostoli, at St. Gerasimos in Lixouri, etc.

Ecclesiastic wood sculpting was highly developed from the middle of the 17th century on (by Cretan techinicians). The older temples - latticed or not - feature mainly leaf decorative themes. They depict Christ, the Apostles, Angels, wild or tame animals, eagles, mermaids, dragons, etc.

Another ecclesiastic art form highly developed in Cephalonia was "monument painting" in the form of mosaics and frescoes. Today, there are no preserved samples of this art that are very old, with the one exception dating to the 12th century: The Church of St. George in Kontogenada Pallikis (Mar. Theocharis). However there are sufficient samples dating from the 16the century on: Taxiarchon Monastery in Milapidia, Faneromeni Church in Kastro, etc. Here, the mix of late-byzantine and late-gothic elements is obvious. From the 17th century on, two mainstream tendencies emerge: a byzantine-traditional and a folk artistic.


Excerpt from the article "Christian Cephalonia" published in a Special Supplement of "Kathimerini" newspaper in December 1995 under the title: Cephalonia - An Island of Contrasts.

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