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Agios Artemios near Kinidaros

South of mount Kóronos, from the village of Keramotí to Engarés on the coast, lies one of the steepest and deepest valleys on the island of Naxos. The valley is unusually rich in water: the most important of the island’s seven rivers flows here. To the north of Kinídaros in this valley lies a remarkable large 18th century church, dedicated to St Artémios, which is of interest for the history of the island.

das Tal südlich des Koronos-Berges
The valley north of Kinídaros; the church Ágios Artémios lies approximately in the centre of the picture.

During the difficult years of Turkish rule over Greece, during the many wars between the Ottoman Empire and Venice and especially during the Russo-Turkish War from 1768 to 1774, educated and active monks from mainland Greece came to the comparatively safe Cyclades with the aim of preparing and organising the Greek uprising against the Ottoman empire. On Naxos, several monks from the Peloponnese settled in the remote, inaccessible but also fertile gorge north of Kinídaros. They built a small monastery with around 12 cells at the ancient Byzantine church of Ágios Dimítrios and founded a small school, where they illegally taught children from the area (“kryfó scholeío” = secret school).

The small, today derelict church of Ágios Dimítrios dates to the 9th century.

looking through the window into the church

The buildings next to the church were built as monastery cells in the 18th century by immigrant monks from the Peloponnese.

At the same time, several Greek leaders living on Naxos and the neighbouring islands began to work for the establishment of Orthodox schools to teach and educate the Greek population and prepare them for an uprising. Captain Nikos Mavrogénis from the island of Paros, founded four schools in the Cyclades (on Naxos, Mykonos, Andros and Kea). The school on Naxos was the first to be founded, in 1775, with the participation of the Metropolitan of Paros and Naxos Ánthemos and the important and active leader of the assembly of the villages of Naxos Márkos Polítis as well as deputies from the municipality of Búrgos in the Chora and bishops from neighbouring islands.

Ágios Artémios as monastic school

Although old documents testify to the foundation of the school, it was unknown where the school was located. Evidence suggests that the unusual church of Ágios Artémios in the valley north of Kinídaros was erected as a building to house this first Naxiotic Orthodox school. Firstly, it is significant that a small school founded by politically active monks already existed on the same site. Also, the location in the middle of the island and hidden in a remote ravine was certainly particularly favourable for the establishment of an illegal educational institution. Moreover, it is inexplicable why else such a large church would be built so far away from any village.

view of the church of Ágios Artémios from Ágios Dimítrios

The church of Ágios Artémios was the largest church building on the island of Naxos at the time of its foundation in 1775. It is a three-aisled basilica measuring 20 by 16 metres. It was not until the following years that other churches of similar dimensions were built: the Metropolis of Naxos and the village churches of Apíranthos and Filóti.

The architecture and furnishings of the church are also remarkable and unusual. The building is unusually carefully surveyed and constructed. The acoustics in the church are excellent and a series of windows along the sides ensure that the interior is well lit. There is no dome, but all three naves have apses (the round projections on the east side, the Holy of Holies), which meant that they all functioned separately as churches. However, the furnishings of the church are extremely simple and are limited to a wooden altar wall.

The design of the church as a three-aisled basilica without a dome is extremely unusual for the post-Byzantine period.

the front of the church

When we visited the church, the door to the centre aisle was decorated with myrtles.

The inscription above the door states that the church was built in 1780 by Metropolitan Anthemos, Dragoman Nik. Mavrogenis and the leader of the villages Markos Politis.

The three naves are separated from each other by five simply designed, low round arches.

All the naves are of the same design and have a simple apse; here the southern nave.

The furnishings of the church are limited to a wooden altar wall.

The church is comparatively well lit by windows along the long sides and by small hatches on the west side.

the east side of the church with the three identical apses

The church lies within abandoned gardens.

Nearby stand these beautiful large boulders that look like a pagan monument.

Brücke bei Kinidaros
This large bridge leads to the church of Ágios Artémios, which probably also dates from the time the church was built.

The location far from the villages and the unusual architecture and furnishings of the church suggest that the building was not actually intended as a church, but as a school. The design of the building as a church served as a disguise, as the Greek population was forbidden to give their children a Greek and Orthodox education. Also of course the school was an ecclesiastical school where pupils were trained as clergymen; and the three-aisled design of the church obviously corresponds to the children being taught in three classes.

Among the teachers at the school of Ágios Artémios were two important clergymen of their time, the later canonised monk Nikodimos, who came from Naxos, and the monk Chrysanthos, brother of Saint Kosmas from Aitolia. A number of important figures in the Orthodox Church emerged from the school, not only several abbots of Naxiotic monasteries, but also the later Bishop of Smyrna and another bishop who even became Patriarch of Constantinople.

Márkos Polítis, Founder of the school and leader of the Greek resistance on Naxos

Márkos Polítis was the most important leader of the fight of the Greek population on Naxos against both the Venetian feudal lords and the Turkish overlordship. He built two of the few Greek-owned fortified towers.

the tower of Márkos Polítis in Akadími near to Chalkí

the tower of Márkos Polítis in Keramí

Márkos Polítis and his comrades managed over time to withhold most of the share of the harvest that was due to the Venetian feudal lords. This impoverished the already derelict Catholic nobility even more; over time, the Venetians could hardly venture out of their fortified towers. Márkos Polítis, who was himself a wealthy citizen and was able to finance the construction of two towers, was nevertheless so committed to the liberation of the island’s Greek population that he was eventually captured by the Turks, exiled to Mykonos and executed.

After the execution of Márkos Polítis, his property, including apparently the church, was confiscated by the Turkish rulers and the school was closed. The teachers and monks presumably escaped to and settled at a tiny monastery near the small settlement of Skepóni, not far away to the north-west, where they probably continued teaching on a smaller scale.

The tiny monastery near Skepóni was inhabited until some decades ago by a single nun who lived there all alone in a very simple way.

In later years, the church festival of Ágios Artémios was always celebrated with great fervour and with the participation of the population of the surrounding villages: They were probably in fact celebrations in memory of Márkos Polítis, the honoured hero of fight against both the Venetian feudal lords and Turkish overlordship.

continue: The Pilgrim church Panagia Argokiliotissa near Koronos

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