The Church of St Nikolaos at Maza in Crete – part 3: life of St Nikolaos and litugical frescoes

This is the third in a series of blog post about this Pagomenos church in the village of Maza in Crete. You can find the first two here and here.

First of all, two of the most stunning frescoes in the church, first the depiction of Christ the Giver of Light in the apse and then the head of Christ on the Mandelion:

I am now going to look at some of the frescoes depicting scenes from the life of St Nikolaos, to whom the church is dedicated, and key liturgical scenes.The first one shows the birth of St Nikolaos and the bathing of the new born.

In the next one he is entrusted to the care of his teacher:

Then St Nikolaos giving the dowries for the three sisters:

St Nikolaos tonsured as a deacon:

In a badly damaged fresco, St Nikolaos is made a bishop:

The next fresco depicts St Nikolaos appearing to Emperor Constantine in a dream. This is one of a series of 3 frescoes in this church chosen to illustrate an episode in St Nikolaos’s life.The Consul, Ablabius, accepted a bribe to put three innocent generals in prison in Myra. They had been sent by the Emperor Constantine to put down a revolt in Phrygia, but ended up being imprisoned instead. St Nikolaos appeared to Constantine and Ablabius in dreams informing Constantine of the truth and frightening Ablabius into releasing the generals.

The next fresco in this series depicts the three generals in prison:

In the final icon in this programmatic series, St Nikolaos saves an innocent man from being beheaded:

On its own, outside the usual liturgical programme is this depiction of the Hospitality of Abraham, on of my favourite iconographic subjects, traditionally interpreted as the Trinity:

The next series depicts scenes from the life of Christ, starting with the Nativity, again badly damaged unfortunately:

This is followed by the Presentation of Christ in the Temple:

I love the simplicity in the depiction of the Virgin’s face. This is followed by Christ’s Baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist:

I like the detail of the two boys or young men in the water with Christ and the fish looking up at him. The boy on the left is a personification of the River Jordan., while the figure on the right riding a sea monster is a personification of the sea:

Next is the very badly damaged Metamorphosis:

This is a very badly damaged fresco of the Raising of Lazarus:

followed by another very bady damaged fresco of the Three Marys (the ‘Myrrh-bearers’ as they are referred to in Orthodoxy) at the Tomb of Christ. It shows the angel in white garments sitting on the gravestone

Nice detail in the bottom right of the sleeping soldiers supposed to be keeeping watch over Christ’s tomb:

The next one is Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (on Palm Sunday), with the lovely detail right at the bottom of the little boy feeding the donkey:

Following on from this is the Betrayal, another badly damaged fresco, with inset at bottom right St Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest Caiaphas:

Christ in Chains (ie on the Road to Calvary):

The Crucifixion is on the west wall above the entrance. Clearly the resrticted space available in that position gave Pagomenos a challenge which I think he more than meets in the drama of the fresco:

Finally in this series, the Resurrection:

I am intrigued by this bowl embedded into the wall over the entrance. It looks Byzantine in style, but I can’t believe it’s that old:

Rear view of the church:

My thanks to Eleftheria Lehmann for her gentle encouragement in getting me to post this series of photo essays on this wonderful little church, for providing me with a plan of the frescoes that she found; and for her very helpful comments on the identity and details of some of the frescoes.
A word of apology to the good people of Maza for moving the church furniture round a bit to be able to take uncluttered shots: I did this respectfully and moved it back afterwards. I hope you think it was worth it.
Finally, I am enormously grateful to my wife for all her love and support; specifically also for waiting so patiently while I took all these photographs and for encouraging me to publish them four years later.

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