The Byzantine frescoes of Alikampos – programme of scenes from the liturgical year

This is second of my posts about the wonderful frescoes at the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Alikampos and will cover scenes from the Orthodox Church’s 12 festivals of the liturgical year. You can read my first post here about frescoes of individual saints at Alikampos.

The first scene on the upper tier on the left hand side of the church is the Crucifixion:


Next to that is what I think is the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple:

Presentation of MoG in the Temple

and then finally on this side of the church the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan:


On the right hand side nearest the iconostasis is the Nativity. In this fresco, I love the expression that the painter has given to Mary lying in the cave; the washing of the full-grown Christ by handmaidens in the lower right hand corner; and the devil trying to sow doubt about the birth in Joseph’s mind at bottom left.


The middle scene on the right hand side shows the Resurrection:

Descent into Hell

The final panel is a very dramatic presentation of the Betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane.


In the centre Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, whilst the soldiers have their swords raised ready to strike. One of the soldiers points accusingly at Christ while to lower right St Peter tends Malchus, the servant of the High Priest, whose ear he has cut off. I am intrigued by the hats in this fresco: there are the conical-shaped hats of the two soldiers above Christ and the one on the right behind the soldier’s raised sword. The two figures on the left hand side have two different types of hats, one round (a bit like a Byzantine Emperor’s) and the other more like a turban. Two other soldiers stand on the right wearing different types of hat again. The clothes the protagonists are wearing are also an interesting mix of re-imagined robes from the time of Christ, Roman soldier’s uniforms and Byzantine court costume. I wonder why the painter Pagomenos used such a variety of types of clothing and hats.

I was intrigued by the next scene which I couldn’t fit into any of the liturgical festivals. However, I have subsequently discovered that it forms part of the fresco of the Ascension (where Christ is depicted in a mandorla in the middle of the vaulted ceiling). It clearly shows Mary in the centre and possibly St John on the right with St Paul possibly to his left. Traditionally St Peter is depicted to the left of the Mary. I can’t work out who the other figures are. I particularly like the way Pagomenos depicts the Mother of God, both here and in other scenes. He uses a very simple, almost folk art representation.

MoG in sanctuary

The next scene is a bit of a mystery as I can’t work out what it depicts. Who is the angel greeting? Is it St Paul?

Assumption detail

Assumption detail 3

Our guide tells us that local people think the figure on the right is wearing glasses:

Assumption detail 2

I think this next scene shows the Presentation of Christ in the Temple of Jerusalem. I understand that the figures depicted are (from left to right): St Joseph, Mary, Simeon holding the the baby Jesus (who is looking back towards his mother) and Anna.


The final scene is the one that gives the church its name, the Dormition of the Mother of God, and it is painted over the entrance door:

Dormition of the Mother of God

At the bottom of my picture, beneath the bare plaster you can just see the original fourteenth century lintel above the entrance door, though originally there would not have been a door fitted.

To the right of the entrance, Pagomenos depicted two of the donors of the church holding what must be a representation of the Alikampos church itself:

Fresco of the donors of the church

Above the fresco is a list of all the donors, but it has suffered major damage and is now very hard to read:

Names of the Donors of the church_

Dr Eleftheria Lehmann has kindly provided me with some information about this founding inscription which was reconstructed and translated by A Sucrow in a doctoral dissertation in 1994: “| has been painted…[ the Church…] of the most holy Mother of God of…| by the | Money and support of Mikhailos [As]…| and his wife | and his | children | and of Theo…ni and his | wife | and his children…|of | …Asproto | and his wife | and his children and D[…] [T…] Ma […] and through…| by the hand of Ioannis |Pago|menos | in the Year 6824, Index 14

Finally I would like to draw attention to some of the detail in the sanctuary of the church. To start with here is a general view of the altar:


The altar table is a rectangular block of stone. The floor is the original flagstone one and the front of the altar has a simple decorative design also on stone:


Finally, to the left of the altar is what I took to be a basic seat for use by the priest during long services. However, I subsequently found out that it is actually a Prosthesis or Table of Oblation, used for the preparation of the bread and wine during the liturgy. It’s not particularly well painted, but I found its folksy design somehow very touching.

Sanctuary - priest seat

On the outside of the church seashells are visible in the rock, showing the origins of the rock and connecting the church with even more remote ages:

Exterior view-2

I tell Giorgos, our local guide, that the village must be very proud to have to have such a beautiful and historic church in its midst. Unfortunately, he tells us that most people aren’t interested in it and don’t help to keep it clean and tidy.

I am very grateful to Dr Eleftheria Lehmann for taking the time and trouble to comment on and correct some errors in this and and my other post on the frescoes of Alikampos.


The Byzantine frescoes of Alikampos – figures of the saints

Exterior view

This is the third in my short series of posts on Byzantine churches in Crete which started with a visit to the stunning Church of Aghios Nikolaos in Kyriakoselia (where I was unable to take any photographs of the interior) and then covered the Church of the Dormition in Vamos (which was locked). This time we visited the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the village of Alikampos in the Apokoronas district of Crete to see the fourteenth century Byzantine frescoes. The good news is that not only was it open, but I also had a guide and was able to take lots of photographs. So I have split the post into two: this one on the figures of saints and a second one on scenes from the Orthodox liturgical year.

Alikampos is a village about 6km south of Vrysses off the main road to Hora Sfakion. Enquiring about the key to the church in the village square kafeneio we are led to the house of Giorgos who jumps in our car and leads us down to it. The church is outside the village on the side of a valley and is very well hidden. Built in the typical Cretan style, it’s a single-aisled church with a barrel vault and, as you can see from the above picture, from the outside it’s not much to look at. It certainly doesn’t look old enough to date from the early fourteenth century.

Inside though it’s a completely different story. The whole of the interior is richly decorated with frescoes painted by the Byzantine artist, Ioannis Pagomenos between 1 September 1315 and 31 August 1316. I will come back to the painter Pagomenos in a later posting. Compared to other churches we visit, the frescos at Alikampos are in still in very good condition.

The lowest tier of frescoes on the left and right hand sides of the nave in the main depict individual saints. The first figure to the left of the door is St Mamas:

St Mammas

The obliteration of the face as here, or the eyes, is something you frequently see in Orthodox churches in Greece and is often explained as something that was done during the period of Ottoman rule. This ‘defacing’ was done for religious reasons as Islam forbids the depiction of the human form in art. If this was the case, then it seems to have been implemented in a haphazard fashion as we will see from other paintings in the same church.

The next figure, St Kyriaki, is a case in point as her eyes are wonderfully intact:

St Kyriaki

The warrior saints Dimitrios and George on horseback follow. I like the way the horses are depicted and how they are differentiated, not just by colour but also by the details in their bridles, saddles, position of their heads and even the binding round the tail of St Dimitrios’s horse. St Dimitrios’s cloak billows out behind him giving a sense of movement to the figures.SS George and Dimitrios on horseback

Finally on the left hand side by the iconostasis is a depiction of the Enthroned Mother of God:MoG 1

Then on the right hand aside closest to the iconostasis is a beautiful Pantokrator:


followed by a depiction of Archangel Michael holding the staff of an Imperial messenger:

Archangel Michael

Finally on the lower right hand tier are Constantine and Helena with the True Cross (fragments of which Helena brought back from her pilgrimage to the Holy Land):



On the left in the sanctuary is another depiction of the Mother of God featuring the Annunciation:

MoG in Sanctuary-2

and behind the icon screen on the right are two bishops (left and centre) that I don’t recognise with Aghios Titos (follower of St Paul and patron saint of Crete):


Behind the altar are the traditional depictions of the hierarchs (Aghios Nikolaos, Aghios Ioannis Chrysostomos, Aghios Vasilios and Aghios Grigorios the Theologian) concelebrating the Eucharist:

Hierarchs 1

Hierarchs 2

On the lower tier to the left hand side of the altar is Aghios Stefanos, swinging a thurible:

St Stephen

Above that is an Archangel Michael part of the Annunciation to Mary who is depicted on the other side of the apse:


On the right hand side of the altar is the diaconicon, the place where vestments and books were kept and the clergy washed their hands before services. Often in this location, as here, there is a fresco depicting St Romanos, swinging a thurible in his right hand and holding a miniature church in his left hand on a purple cloth as an offering. Giorgos, our guide, thinks this is evidence that the painter, Pagomenos, was trained in Byzantium as this saint is particularly associated with Byzantium and had a church dedicated to him there.

Unknown saint (from Byzantium-)

In a tympanum above the altar is a fresco of the Mother of God ‘Eleousa‘ (the Panagia of Grace) with a small figure of Christ in her chest entitled ‘Loving Kindness’:


The medallion depicting Christ also shows another name given to Christ, ‘EMMANUEL’ (ie God is with us):
Infant Christ

And above that are two depictions of Christ (the top one being a superbly painted mandelion, the image of Christ imprinted on a cloth as he wiped his face on the way to crucifixion). On either side of these two are Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Mother of God.

Overview of Christ on mandelion_

Finally on the vaulted ceiling over the altar is a beautiful, dynamic and flowing depiction of Christ in glory:

Christ in mandorla

In my next post I’ll cover the programme of New Testament scenes at Alikampos that feature in the Orthodox Church’s liturgical year.

I apologise for the quality of some of these photos. The lighting conditions inside the church were poor and some of the shots were taken in near darkness.

I am grateful to Dr Efeftheria Lehmann for her very helpful comments and for correcting some of my misunderstandings of these frescoes.



Church of the Dormition near Vamos, Crete

Church 2

This is the second in my short series on Byzantine churches in Crete. You can read here about the first church I covered, Aghios Nikolaos in Kyriakoselia.

The Church of the Dormition is in the middle of olive groves on a dirt track off the Vamos to Vrysses road. The dirt track is barred by a stock fence to stop the sheep getting out, but once you get the hang of the way it works, it’s easy to get through.

Allegedly this church has beautiful frescoes from the 11-14th centuries. I say allegedly because the church was locked so we couldn’t check this for ourselves. The consolation though is that the church is in a beautiful setting, looking towards the White Mountains, worth visiting for that alone.

Church 1

It used to be part of a monastery of which only the ruins now remain.

Church exterior 3

Church exterior 4

Church exterior


Upholsterer, Chania, Crete

Chair repairer

Wondering around the back streets of Chania I came across this man re-upholstering some old chairs. It seemed a strange place for him to be doing it, as it wasn’t outside a shop and the doors of the building behind him were padlocked. He was quite happy for me to photograph him as he worked, but this was the only decent picture of him looking up from his work.

Chair repairer 2

Chair repairer 3