The Post- Byzantine Chapels within the monastery precinct

4 November 2011

Of the 19 chapels which are to be found within the precinct of the Monastery of Vatopaidi, 14 are edifices of the post-Byzantine period, and in particular of the hundred years between 1780 and 1880. For the entire Holy Mountain, this century was a period of a great upsurge in building, in spite of the intervening set-back during the post-revolutionary years. As to their location within the monastic complex, the chapels are to be found in every degree of incorporation, since the great expanse of the courtyard allows even for the construction of free-standing and conspicuous chapels (such as that of the Holy Girdle). To be sure, most of the chapels are incorporated into the various wings of the Monastery – either each one separately, or in pairs with a shared wall1, following the Athonite pattern, while one of them (the Chapel of Our Lady Paramythia) is embodied into the complex of the katholikon.

With regard to their typology, the kind that prevails is undoubtedly the compact cross-in-square church, though in a number of variations2. The main variation is based on the issue of the presence or absence of a clearly defined space for the lite*. In churches of small dimensions, such as those in question, it is obvious that any degree of latitude for the partitioning of already limited internal space is essentially non-existent, and therefore a clear separation of the lite* has not been attempted. Consequently, there is either a rudimentary demarcation of its area, by means of a simple differentiation in the roofing, or there is scope for the occasional use of an undefined space in front of the entrance to the church. The best solution to this problem is achieved by the employment of the familiar tribelon (three-arched arcade)3, which on the one hand makes possible the desired demarcation of an area for the lite, while at the same time, however, eschewing the creation of a fully defined space which would be asphyxiatingly small and almost entirely non-functional.

The Athonite style of church – that is, a Byzantine style, widely employed in post-Byzantine Athonite church building4 – may be observed at the Monastery of Vatopaidi both in the complete form (the Chapel of the Holy Girdle) as well as in the compact form (the Chapel of St Panteleimon)5.

Finally, we also have the simple wood-roofed linear churches with false domes or false arches (such as the Chapels of the Transfiguration and of the Three Hierarchs*).

The Chapel of Our Lady Paramythia is located on the first floor in the north-west corner of the katholikon. It was built and its walls painted in 1678 by the munificence of Grigorios, Metropolitan of Laodicea6 in the style of a compact cross-in-square church. The nave is covered by a dome with a drum, while the sanctuary, without a conch, has a semi-cylindrical arch. There is no lite. The interior space is distinguished by the cleanness of its line; however, the absence of windows renders it very dark.

The Chapel of the Nativity of the Theotokos is in the library tower. It is constructed according to the principles of the compact cross-in-square church, roofed with a very low – virtually flat – sail vault in the nave proper and a semi-cylindrical arch in its single-conched sanctuary. The eastern face, with its brickwork design, its concave cornice and its three-sided conch is of some interest. The absence of inscriptions and of information from written sources render it impossible to date the building accurately. Nevertheless, it would seem that a dating to the beginning of the 18th century would not be very far from the truth7.

The pair of chapels with shared walls dedicated to St Andrew and to St George is incorporated in the northern wing of the monastery. The uppermost of the two (the Chapel of St Andrew)8 is a compact cross-in-square church with a wide dome in the centre, an arch-covered sanctuary without a conch, and a small lite with a trough vault. It was built in 1788 with funds provided by Gerasimos of Paros, Metropolitan of Drama, and under the supervision of Philotheos of Moudania9. Of particular interest is its sole (southern) facade with the meticulous wall construction of alternating layers of hewn stone and bricks10, its ceramic crosses, and its windows with their arched glass lenses. Inside the chapel one’s interest is caught by the elegant marble columns (here re-used) of the tribelon, the carved wooden screen, and the central boss in the floor with the double-headed eagle. The nave has wall-paintings dating from 179811. The Chapel of St George is not of particular interest. It retains the ground plan of the chapel above (that is the compact cross-in-square church), though it is not crowned by a dome but by the flat roofing created by the floor of the chapel above. To the west there is a small lite.

The most interesting of the chapels of the Monastery is certainly that of the Holy Girdle. It was built in 1794 with costs defrayed by Theophilos Sozopolitis12 and follows the Athonite style with its single-conched sanctuary and its lite covered by a vaulted roof. The external appearance is of some interest with its cloisonné brickwork, the arched formation of the walls, and the three elegant domes. Inside one is struck by the exceptionally fine carved wooden sanctuary screen13 and the beautiful carved door with its posts from a marble Byzantine sanctuary screen. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the building is the fact that it preserves the authentic style of its original construction even in all its diverse details, as in the plaster partitions of the window frames, the stalls with their wooden bases, and in the lavabo of the sanctuary, etc, all of which are characterised by the same high standard. The interior has wall-paintings of 1860, the work of the monks Nikiphoros and Gerasimos, the archimandrite Anthimos, and the priest-monk Gavril14. Generally speaking, it could be said that the church represents in its entirety a fine example of Athonite post-Byzantine church-building, at a time when the Greek world was at the height of its prosperity.

The Chapel of the St John the Baptist was built in 1813 by the former Abbot Ieremias of Moudania precisely on top of the inner doorway of the entrance to the Monastery15. This is a compact cross-in-square church with a superimposed dome in the centre and an arch-covered sanctuary without a conch. To create a lite, a wide point in the access corridor has been used lengthwise on its southern side. Its facades are austere and without decoration.

The Chapel of St Thomas is incorporated into the south-eastern wing of the Monastery. Built in 1815, its cost was met by the former Abbot Ieremias of Moudania16. It is a compact cross-in-square church, covered by a wide, low-drummed cupola in the centre, an arch in the sanctuary (without conch), and the sloping roof of the wing in the area of the narthex, which widens out, in an original way, with a shallow, enclosed platform at the western end. The two facades of the building do not exhibit any particular interest. However, just the opposite is true of the interior of the church, with its spacious dome and the beautiful carved wooden sanctuary screen, as well as for the lite with the widening of its platform, its large windows, and its sloping roof. Together they create a well-lit and delightful space, which is partitioned by an attractive tribelon and is lent variety by simple painted decoration in a baroque style.

The Chapel of St Panteleimon is situated in the south-eastern wing of the Monastery, in the middle of the central wing of the infirmary. It was erected, together with the rest of the complex, in 185717, most likely by an architect of the academic school. It follows the compact, Athonite style of church and boasts a broad, well-lit cupola, an arch-covered sanctuary with a single conch, shallow side conches, and a flat-roofed lite marked off by an attractive tribelon with marble columns. Both the external facades and the internal space are characterised by simplicity and clarity, in accordance with the spirit of the age, a spirit that has abandoned the picturesque style of the preceding century and prefers one which is more detached and clean-cut. Of particular interest is the gallery of the lite, which opens on to the nave and gives direct access from the corridor of the upper floor of the hospital wing. The existence the catechumena* is certainly not an unusual characteristic of Athonite church architecture, at least in the larger edifices. The interest here lies in the inventive use of this feature in a small building, its purpose here being the serving of its specific purpose: making possible attendance at church by the sick in the infirmary wing.

The joined pair of Chapels of St John the Evangelist and of St John Chrysostom are located in the south-eastern wing of the Monastery. They and the building to which they are attached were built around 186018. These are two compact cross-in-square churches without lite, containing vaulted sanctuaries without conches, while in the nave proper the upper chapel (that of St John the Evangelist) is covered by a drumless cupola and the lower by a shallow sail vault . The facade of the shared wall is austere and unadorned, with nothing of special interest.

The twin Chapels of St Menas and of Sts Theodore the Tiro and Theodore the Commander are located in the south-western wing of the Monastery. They were constructed, as was the entire building to which they are attached, between 1864 and 186619, most likely by an architect of the academic school or someone influenced by it20. These are churches of the compact cross-in-square type, with a trough-vaulted roof to their conchless sanctuaries and in their rudimentarily designated lite. In the naves, the upper chapel (of Sts Theodore) is surmounted by a tall-drummed cupola, while the lower chapel exhibits a novelty in that it too is crowned by a cupola – this one of course without a drum – rather than by the flat roof which is created by the floor of the one above, as one usually finds in these instances. The masonry of their visible (eastern) side is fashioned from grey chiselled stone, which on the upper chapel is alternated with layers of fine marble bracing, in a spare but carefully-executed synthesis.

The Chapel of the Three Hierarchs is incorporated into the south-eastern wing of the Monastery. It was constructed in 188521 and is a simple rectangular hall with a wooden roof and an arched ceiling made of lath and plaster. It presents nothing of particular interest.