Church of the Hodegetria

The Church of the Hodegetria or Aphentiko, which are part of the Brontochion Monastery, was founded by the monk and megas protosynkellos Pachomios before 1309, and was completed before 1322. A new architectural type, the so-called Mystras type, was created for the first time in this church. Specifically, its ground floor takes the form of a three-aisle basilica, while at the gallery level it has features of the more complex cross-in-square, five dome church. This new type was adopted later, in the first half of the fifteenth century, by the Pantanassa and the Metropolis, when the latter was rebuilt. Its implementation appears to have arisen from the officers’ need to take part in church services from the galleries, according to Constantinopolitan ritual. Constantinopolitan elements are also encountered in the masonry, in the three-dimensional articulation of the exterior walls, especially the apse, with blind arches, as well as in the arrangement of the roof, which show a shift in orientation from the local Helladic tradition toward Constantinopolitan prototypes.

Inside, the walls of the lower story were covered with marble revetment, displaying a tendency toward luxury. In the narthex, representations of the Virgin as Zoodochos Pege (Life-containing Source) in the lunette above the royal door and of healing saints, as well as scenes of the miracles of Christ, are related to the therapeutic properties of water. These images have been associated with the rising popularity of worship of the Virgin Zoodochos Pege in Constantinople under Andronikos II.

The northwest chapel was constructed to contain the tomb of the abbot Pachomios (died 1322), who is pictured offering a model of the church to the Theotokos. The despot Theodore I Palaiologos (died 1407) was also later buried here. The chosen iconography reflects the chapel’s sepulchral character. The iconography of the southwest chapel is also interesting. Here the vault is filled with Christ in glory, supported by four angels. Painted on the walls were copies of four chrysobulls, issued between the years 1313/14 and 1322, granting privileges to the church of the Hodegetria.

In a recent article the iconography of the wall paintings of the south portico—a detailed cycle of the Dormition of the Virgin and more—has been associated with the holy shrines of the Virgin of Blachernai and of Chalkoprateia in Constantinople, and is considered to be contemporary with the chapel of the chrysobulls. The south portico was used during the fourteenth century as a burial space for members of Mystras’ aristocracy, while in 1366 a chapel was added to the east by the abbot Kyprianos.

In terms of style, various artistic trends are recognized in the wall paintings of the Aphentiko (dating to around 1309–20), and are the result of the collaboration of at least two painters. One of these, mainly represented by the decoration in the narthex and the sepulchral chapel of Pachomios, is reminiscent of the paintings of Chora Monastery in Constantinople, with its particularly elegant figures and familiarity with classical prototypes. Another trend, visible in the chapel of the chrysobulls, in several figures in the galleries, and in the south portico, although faithful to classical tradition, is characterized by dynamism and boldness in the combination of colors and use of light to create an “expressionistic” effect. This avant-garde trend enjoyed great popularity in subsequent decades in the monuments of the Morea.

The relationship between the church of the Hodegetria and Constantinopolitan prototypes is obvious not only in the church’s architecture but also in the style of the decoration and choice of iconography. In fact, the most recent studies show that the donor of the Aphentiko, the megas protosynkellos Pachomios, clearly sought to associate his foundation with the worship of the Theotokos, as it was growing in popularity under Andronikos II Palaiologos in Constantinople during the first decades of the fourteenth century. It was also a conscious link with her holy shrines at the Monastery of Zoodochos Pege (iconographic program of the narthex), of Chalkoprateia, and of Blachernai (iconography of the south portico). The dedication of the church itself to the Virgin Hodegetria overtly associates the church of Pachomios with the famous icon of the Panagia Hodegetria kept in the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople.

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Photo and Plan from Millet

Plan by Hallensleben

Sources

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium

Mistra, A Fortified Late Byzantine Settlement by Sophia Kalopissi-Verti

Les monuments byzantins de Mistra by Gabriel Millet

Resource

Mystras Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Monastery Vrontochios (Religious Greece)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016