The monastery of Daphni
The monastery of Daphni
It is not known whether Christian churches were built in Attica during the first four centuries. Most probably the believers worshipped inside the “eukteria” which were special rooms within the houses of the wealthier Christians.
Following the decrees of the Christian emperors such as Constantine the Great (313 A.D.), Theodosios I (392 A.D.) and Theodosios II (426-435 A.D.) the faithful converted the idolatrous temples into Christian churches.
Thus, in the 5th century A.D., the Parthenon became a church, first of Floly Wisdom (Aghia Sophia) and subsequently of the Virgin of Athens (Panaghia e Atheniotissa), the Erechtheion a church of the Virgin (Theotokou) and later of the Holy Trinity (Aghia Triadha), the Pinakotheke in the Propylaia of the Acropolis became the church of the Taxiarchs, the sanctuary of Asklepios and Hygeia on the southern slope of the Acropolis became a church of the Aghioi Anargyroi, the temple of Hephaistos, i.e. the Theseion, became a church of Aghios Georgios, the reading room of Hadrian’s Library became a church of the Virgin and was known as Megale Panaghia, the “Clock-tower of Kyrrestos” otherwise known as the temple of Aiolos, the “Winds”, as it is called nowadays, became the Baptistry of the basilica which is beneath the adjacent mosque, the “Metroon of Demeter in Agra” or “Metroon in Agrais” an elegant little temple of Demetra and Kore beside the Ilissos became the church of the Panaghia in Petra etc.
At the same time the Christians began building new purely Christian churches, very often on top of the ruins of an ancient temple. These churches were called basilicas because they were built in accordance with the order — the plan — of an ancient building which was called a basilica.
We mention the most significant of these churches:
— Basilica in the area of the Theatre of Dionysos to the SE of the Acropolis.
— Basilica in the Roman Agora underneath the Phetichie mosque.
— Basilica of Bishop Klemantios in Tsakaloff Road, near Aghios Dionysios Areopagites.
— Basilica in Philotheos Road, near the Archbishop’s Palace.
— Basilica next to, north of, the pillars of Olympian Zeus.
— Basilica of Ilissos, next to the National Swimming pool, where there is the crypt-place of martyrdom of the Bishop of Athens Leonides.
— Basilica of Glyphada beside the sea, in front of the night-spot Asteria.
— Basilica of Alimos between Kalamaki and Trachona.
— Basilica of Kaisariane, in the cemetery of the Byzantine monastery, upon the ruins of the ancient temple of Artemis.
— Basilica of Daphni, within the area of the monastery, most probably on top of the temple of Apollo.
— Basilica of Aghios Zacharias at Eleusis, on the site of the ancient temple of Apollo once again.
— Basilica of Panaghia inside the acropolis of Aigosthena at Porto Germenos.
— Basilica of Dagla or Aghios Emilianos near Markopoulos, basilica of Brauron near ancient Brauron.
— Basilicas at Paiania (Liopesi) Koropi, Laureotikon Olympos etc.
Throughout the whole of Attica such churches — basilicas — existed during the so-called Early Christian period, that is until the end of the 6th century.
However, it is very difficult for one to determine how many monasteries existed during this same period. We say that, in all probability, Aghios Georgios-Theseion, Kaisariane and Daphni were monasteries.
From the three following centuries, 7th, 8th and 9th, historical information about Athens and Attica is minimal. We do not even know whether there were churches and other works of art. A few engravings of asketes-hermits on the rock inside the cave of Davele on Penteli, can be dated to the 7th century. This is why this period (7th-9th century) has been characterised as a “Dark Age” for Athens and Attica.
Things become somewhat different from the end of the second half of the 9th century and after. Furthermore, it was then that the situation within the Byzantine Empire started to improve with the dynasty of the Macedones who reigned in Constantinople from 867-1056 A.D. In the 9th century old churches were repaired and new ones were built. We mention Aghios Yannis the Magyte (871 A.D.), Ypapantes, Aghios Philippos et al.
In the 10th century a convent was built at Monasteraki, the church of Aghios Dionysios the Areopagite under the rock of the Areos Pagos, the church of the Taxiarchs upon the ruins of the basilica at Kaisariane etc. There are more than forty known churches and monasteries in Athens and its environs from this era. We mention the most significant:
1. Aghioi Apostoloi, within the site of the ancient Agora of Athens. It is one of the earliest churches (1000-1025 A.D.) built on top of a Nymphaion of the 2nd century A.D.
2. Aghioi Theodoroi in Klauthmonos Square, built by Nikolaos Kalomalos who held the office of Spatharokandidatos (circa 1065 A.D.)
3. Soteras of Lykodemos in Phillelenon Street, of the Protoktetor Stephanos of the Lykoi family (circa 1054 A.D.). It was the katholikon of a monastery. In 1852 it became the Russian church.
4. Kapnikarea in Hermes Street the church of the princess and of Prentzas (third quarter of the 11th century).
5. Gorgoepekoos or Little Metropolis and Aghios Eleutherios to the south of the present Metropolis (Cathedral) of Athens. It is a “show-case” of specimens of ancient and Byzantine sculptures (12th century).
6. Aghios Ioannes о Theologos to the north of the Acropolis (11 th-12th century).
7. Aghioi Asomatoi at the Theseion (11th century).
8. Taxiarchs in the Roman Agora. It is known nowadays as Gregorousa (llth-12th century).
9. Aghioi Anargyroi at Pseires (11th century).
10. Aghios Nikolaos the Ragabas, NE of the Acropolis (llth-12th century).
11. Soteras of Kottakes — Aghia Sotera — in Kydathenaion Street (11 th-12th century).
12. Aghia Aikaterine near the Phanari of Diogenes (llth-12th century).
13. Taxiarchs of the Petrakes monastery, next to “Evangelismos” Hospital (11th-12th century).
14. Monastery of Aghioi Pantes Omologetai in Tsochas Street (12th-13th century).
15. Metamorphoses, to the north of the Acropolis (14th century).
16. Kaisariane, one of the most important and richest monasteries of Hymettos (11th century).
17. Karea monastery on Hymettos (13th-14th century).
18. Astere monastery (Taxiarchs) on Hymettos where, most probably, Hosios Loukas lived as a hermit for a short time in around 920 A.D.
19. Monastery of Aghios Ioannes the Theologian on the foothills of Hymettos (13th-14th century).
20. Monastery of Aghios Ioannes the Chaser of Philosophers (tou Kynegou ton Philosophon), on Hymettos (12th century).
21. Monastery ofDaos Pentele which was founded during this period but was renovated later in the 16th century.
22. Two churches-hermitages, Aghios Nikolaos and Aghios Spyridon, in the Davele cave on Pentele (12th-13th century).
23. Omorph’ekklesia (Beautiful church) — Aghios Georgios near Perissos (11th century).
24. Kleistoi monastery on the foothills of Parnas (14th-15th century).
25. Daphni monastery on the ancient “Iera Odos” (Sacred Way) etc. These churches are among the finest creations of Byzantine sculpture and painting.
There is no doubt that the most important building in Attica from the era of the great floruit of Byzantine art (11th-12th century) is Daphni.
The building complex of the monastery is located between the ancient mountains of Poikilon, Korydallos and Aigaleo. The site is about half way along the Sacred Way which the participants in the festivities took from Athens to Eleusis to celebrate the “Eleusinian Mysteries”. On the same spot stood the Sanctuary of Daphneios or Daphnaios Apollo. Therefore, when the Imperial Decree referred to above prohibited the ancient idolatrous religion, the Christians occupied the area and during the first half of the 5th century built a basilica with material from the old buildings, in order to win over to the new religion of Christ those idolators who still went to Eleusis. Since the site has strategic significance, for the route to Athens was via it, the area was fortified with a rampart. A large part of this wall is preserved today on the north side, towards the road. On the inside there were two-storeyed cells with an open stoa in front, refectories, hospices, hospitals etc. The monastery was well-organised and very wealthy. There are many explanations of its name. It was taken from Daphneios Apollo, or from the monastery of Daphne in Constantinople, or from a queen Daphne who was shipwrecked at Skaramangas or from the many Laurel trees (Daphnes) which once grew there.
In the 11th and 12th century there was a surge in building activity in Athens and Attica as we have said. Indeed, the Emperor Basil II who came to Athens in 1018, following his victories over the Bulgars, and paid homage in the church of Panaghia tes Atheniotissas upon the Acropolis, became the excuse for the construction of many beautiful and rich churches.
In 1100 A.D. a still unknown but important Christian came to Daphni, he cleared the ruins of the old basilica and built a new church which he embellished with wonderful mosaics and polychrome marble. The new church was built in the octagonal order. The principal feature of this order is the enormous dome which covers virtually the entire length and breadth of the interior of the building. The dome is supported on an octagon which is formed, on high, of four arches with four squinches at the corners. Despite its large dimensions (8 metres in diameter) the dome, which is 16.40 metres high at the centre, appears light and airy thanks to the 16 windows which open into its sphere. In the eastern section is the Iero. In the middle the holy Bema, to the north the Prothesis and to the south the Diakonikon. These three openings were initially separated from the rest of the church by a marble templo (iconostasis). The base of the templo is preserved in situ. In the middle of the templo the marble plaque was found on which the altar (Aghia Trapeza) stood. The small depression is the place of dedication.
The original floor of the church was of small pieces polychrome marble, in a geometric pattern. The present floor was made in 1955.
To the west is the esonarthex, a long narrow area which occupies the whole width of the building and which communicates via three arched openings with the central space.
Less than thirty years after the church was built an exonarthex was added to the west of the esonarthex. The exonarthex bore 2 arched openings on the south side (these are preserved today), 7 on the west one and 1 on the north. The arches rested on lovely Ionic columns. Only the south one has survived, the others were transported to London by Lord Elgin.
There was another storey in the esonarthex which was either the Library or the Abbot’s residence. In the 13th or 14th century, when the church was damaged, the Frankish Cistercian monks who then occupied the monastery, demolished the upper floor and made it defensive battlements, the arches of the ground floor were transformed into Gothic ones.
If one observes the church of Daphni from afar he will easily discern its elegance, absolute symmetry and considered arrangement in all its parts, especially the roofs. The wall structure is particularly impressive. The external walls have been built according to the enclosed brick system, that is each ashlared poros block has a brick on each of its four sides. The 5 large trilobe windows and an arched doorway which open on the long side walls, the three semi-hexagonal apses of the Iero and the 8 unilobe, bilobe and trilobe windows on the east side, the dentelated bands, single or double under the tiles and around the windows, break the monotony of the walls and impart plasticity and lightness.
However, that which distinguishes the church of Daphni from all the other Byzantine churches in Attica is its wonderful mosaics. These extend over the upper surfaces of the walls, above the carved marble band, the kosmetes. Originally the surfaces below this band were covered with lovely polychrome marble slabs (dado). However, during the period of Turkish rule these plaques were destroyed and the walls were then plastered and the decoration completed with wall-paintings. A few of these wall-paintings are preserved today.
The iconographic themes of the mosaics illustrate the dogmatic teaching of the church as it was formulated during the 11th and 12th century. There are 76 themes which have nowadays survived and they are scattered in the esonarthex, the dome, the arms of the cross of the roof, in the squinches and the Iero. Some of the scenes refer to the life of Christ and others to the life of the Virgin. The solitary figures are archangels, prophets, saints, martyrs; bishops and soldier-saints. Monks, Hosioi and hermits do not exist.
On the right in the south cross-vault are depicted:
1. The Prayer of Aghia Anna with the Annunciation of Joacheim.
2. The Blessing of the priests and.
3. The Presentation of the Virgin (Eisodia tes Theotokou).
All three are from the life of the Virgin. Since the Illrd Ecumenical Synod (431 A.D.) had officially confirmed the worship of the Virgin, art created a great cycle of scenes concerning her life. In the first scene the righteous Joackim and Anna in a beautiful garden, listen to the Angel’s joyous message that they will beget a child (the Virgin). “Thy prayer has been heard” said the Angel to Joachim. In the second scene only Joachim and the infant Virgin in his arms, with Anna behind, have survived. Forty days after her birth they brought the Virgin to the temple for the dedicatory blessing. In the third scene the Virgin is 3 years old and her parents accompanied by young girls bearing candles escort her to the temple as they had promised. She remained there for 12 years. An angel brings her food (left).
On the north cross-vault we have:
4. The Last Supper.
5. The Washing of the Feet (Nipter).
6. The Betrayal of Judas.
These scenes are from the life cycle of Christ. In the Last Supper only the head of Christ has survived on the left and three Apostles on the right. They are seated at a semicircular table. Only the left half of the scene of the Washing of the Feet has survived with a group of six Apostles. Christ, who was in the middle (his halo is vaguely discernible) and the right-hand group of Apostles have been destroyed. The content of this scene is well-known. Christ, wishing to teach his Disciples humility, washed their feet. The scene of the Betrayal is well-preserved. In the centre is Christ, taller than the others, unperturbed and calm, while Judas on the left embraces him to kiss him and a soldier on the right arrests him. Behind this soldier Peter attempts to cut off the ear of the little servant Malchos. To the left of Judas a Pharisee and an officer of the squad.
The Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis tes Theotokou) is illustrated on the west wall above the central passage. Christ in the centre, who held the soul of the Virgin, has disappeared. The Virgin passed away in the house of John the Evangelist in Jerusalem. It was there that the Apostles had gathered from the ends of the earth and buried her in the garden of Gethsemane. In the small compartment, south are depicted the saints: Sergios, Eustratios, Eugenios, Auxentios, Orestes and Mardarios.
In the other one, north, are the saints: Bakchos, Aphthonios, Pegasios, Anembodistos, Elpidephoros and Akindynos.
In the dome within a circle with the colours of the rainbow, the imposing and expressive figure of Christ-Pantocrator projects impressively. He is the King of Heaven, the ruler of the world who looks down on the earth and makes it tremble. He is severe because he watches over mankind in order to judge their actions, he has great spirituality which is mainly expressed through the eyes and the hands.
In the zone beneath the Pantocrator and between the windows of » the sphere are depicted 16 prophets, the 4 major and 12 minor ones.
They have handsome characteristics, expressive movements. Their attitude is reminiscent of ancient Greek statues.
The 4 great festivals, the Annunciation (Evangelismos), Nativity, Baptism and Transfiguration (Metamorphoses) are illustrated in the squinches which are formed in the four corners under the dome. The scene of the Annunciation is simple but with dogmatic meaning. Within the limitless golden meadow the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin are portrayed, lovely and expressive figures. The Nativity scene has more figures and more episodes. In the opening of the cave the infant Christ swaddled on top of the built manger, with the two animals beside him. In front the Virgin semi-reclining, Joseph bottom left thoughtful, higher up 2 shepherds and to left and right of the rays, 4 angels. Bottom left in the damaged portion there was a scene of the bathing of the new-born child.
The scene of the Baptism is very symmetrical. The naked body of Christ has been rendered with pinkish flesh and correct proportions. The hand and foot which can be distinguished bottom left belong to an old man who is the personification of the Jordan. During the first 4 centuries the Nativity and Baptism were celebrated together. Later, however, they were separated. The Transfiguration which as is well-known took place on top of Mount Thabor, is equally symmetrical. Christ is in the middle, Elias on the left, Moses on the right, beneath are the Apostles Peter, John and James.
Underneath these four scenes are portrayed the busts of the Prophet Aaron, Aghios Gregorios the Akragantine, Aghios Gregorios the Miracle-worker and the Prophet Zacharias.
In the north arm are depicted: bottom west the Entry into Jerusalem-Palm Sunday and above the Raising of Lazaros (nowadays destroyed), bottom east the Crucifixion, above the Birth of the Virgin. Above the trilobe window the saints Andronicos, Tarachos and Probos. The Entry into Jerusalem is depicted in accordance with the narratives of the Gospels. The Crucifixion was executed with simplicity but with great dramatic effect and insurpassable magnificence. The artist confined the scene solely to the 3 principal figures of the drama. The Crucified Christ dominates the gold background his body slightly curved and his eyes closed. Blood and water flow from the wound in his side. A little below, on the left, the Virgin, on the right John the Evangelist, Christ’s beloved disciple, both express through controlled movements their pain and anguish.
On the corresponding south arm there are: to the east the Resurrection (Anastases) and above the Homage of the Magi, to the west the Touching-Doubting of Thomas. Above the trilobe window are the saints: Samonas, Gourias and Abibos.
The Byzantines represented the Resurrection with the Descent to Hades. In the scene the old man beneath Christ’s feet is Hades, on the left Adam and Eve and a little behind David and Solomon. On the right Saint John the Baptist and other righteous ones.
The Homage of the Magi is well-known from the Gospels. The 3 Magi, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar came into Judaea and offered gifts to the new-born Christ.
Equally well-known is the Touching-Doubting of Thomas. On the facade of the 2 jambs of the Iero a few sections of the Panaghia, on the left and Christ, on the right, are preserved.
On the roof of the Bema there was at one time (nowadays it is destroyed) a revealing scene of the preparation of the Throne which symbolises the Second Coming of Christ.
As is the norm the Virgin with the infant Christ in her arms is depicted on the quarter dome of the apse of the Iero. There is the Platytera of the Heavens and the ladder via which God came down to earth.
Some of the most beautiful and impressive figures at Daphni are the 2 Archangels, Michael on the left (north) and Gabriel on the right of the Platytera. They are the guards of the Queen of Heaven.
In the Diakonikon to the south of the Bema, are portrayed the saints. In the Prothesis to the north, the saints: John the Baptist, Silvestros, Anthimos, Stephanos and Rouphinos.
The very brief and simplistic description given above cannot, of course, convey the meaning and value of the mosaics of Daphni. It merely contributes to drawing the visitor’s attention and interest to them. Perhaps it will help him to appreciate the harmony of colours and symmetry of the representations, the charm and correct proportions of the bodies, the controlled gestures of the pliant and modelled draperies of the clothing, the diffuse gentility of all the faces.
The ancient monastery of Daphni had two external portals: one was on the east fortification wall beneath the present gateway.
The large thresholds are visible. The other one was on the west wall and led to the sea.
The small paved courtyard with the arches and columns to the south of the church was made during the years of the Turkish occupation. In front of this there are marble sarcophagi. Some of the Dukes of Athens had been buried there.
To the north of the church are the ruins of the Byzantine refectory contemporary with the church (1100 A.D.).
Under the church there is a crypt in which burials were made.
THE MOST IMPORTANT DATES IN THE HISTORY OF DAPHNI
2nd century A.D.
5th century A.D. 527-565 A.D.
7th, 8th, 9th cent. A.D.
1st half of the 12th
2nd half of the 12th
1207 -1311 A.D. 1311-1387 A.D. 1387-1458 A.D.
1st half of the 16th
1532 and 1548 A.D.
16th century 17th century 1764 A.D.
1830 A.D. 1838-1839 1883-1885 1888
1959-1960 and 1972
Pausanias refers to the temple of Daphneios, Daphniphoros, Daphnaios Apollo.
The Goths of Alarich destroyed the temple of Apollo. Founding of the basilica and the fortified enclosure. Justinian I, repair and restoration of the fortification in its final form.
Dark Age. Abandonment of the monastery.
A new church built in the octagonal order. The mosaics made. Refectory, cells, underground cistern.
Paul, President and Abbot of Daphni.
Addition of the exonarthex with upper floor.
Wall-paintings in the exonarthex.
Franks. Latin monks of the Cistersian order expelled the Orthodox monks. Arrows against the Pantocrator. Alterations to the exonarthex. Gothic arches. Battlements.
Guy I de la Roche Duke of Athens is buried at Daphni. Franks.
The Orthodox monks returned to Daphni. Engravings on the walls of the church. Low cells are built and the paved courtyard to the south of the church. The present-day east gateway constructed. Wall-paintings in the NE side chapel and Prothesis. Side-chapel built onto the west exonarthex from the favour of the grocers.
Daphni a barracks and arsenal.
G. Lambakes-Christian Archaeological Society. Conservation works.
Athens Archaeological Society. Works.
Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities. Works. Excavations.