ECCLESIASTIC ARCHITECTURE AND AGIOGRAPHY
by: Rev. Georgios Metallinos
Professor at Athens University
"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).
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).
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.
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,
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.