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Panagia Drosiani near Moni

The most famous Byzantine church and one of the main attractions of Naxos is the church of Panagía Drosianí near Moní. It dates from the 6th century AD and is one of the oldest churches in Greece. In the late Middle Ages, it was used as a monastery, which gave the name to the nearby village. The church has a unique, rather unusual architecture. The oldest part is a nave with a dome and an apse with three niches (typical for early Christian churches from the 4th to 6th centuries). Unusually, the nave is orientated not towards the east, but towards Jerusalem. To the north, three oblique chapels were added to the church in the Middle Byzantine period, of which the two outer have again three-niched apses. The walls are constructed quite carefully of small, unhewn stones. On the south side, a broad gable for the bells was added in a much later time. Inside, the church is decorated with unusual, very old murals (7th century).

The church of Panagía Drosianí is located in the olive groves below the village of Moní.

The church with its rare and very old murals is an important tourist attraction on Naxos.

Here the two northern chapels with their domes and in the background the dome of the main church.

The church is built from local unhewn stones.

the chapels and the bell gable from the north

The window of the apse divided by a pillar is typical of the early Christian period.

In the church very interesting and unusual murals are preserved, which date back to the early Christian period (6th and early 7th century). These very early paintings were later partly covered by lime plaster, partly by more recent murals (from the 12th to the 14th century). During the restauration of the church since 1964 the younger murals were removed to expose the lowest, early Christian layer (the younger murals are now in the Byzantine Museum in Athens).

The early Christian wall paintings in Panagía Drosianí are very rare depictions, in particular a double representation of Christ in the dome as a young man and as an older, long-bearded man (corresponding to the two aspects of Christ as human and as God). The depiction of Deesis in the northern apse, which dates from before the iconoclasm and is therefore possibly the earliest depiction of a Deesis that we know of, is also very remarkable. Interestingly, wall paintings with similarities to the Panagía Drosianí are found in churches in Ravenna and Rome rather than in Greece. It is possible that this reference to Italy, which is otherwise barely recognisable on Naxos, is due to the fact that the Roman Pope Martin I was in exile on Naxos in the 7th century, i.e. at the time these paintings were created.

Unfortunately, the murals in Panagía Drosianí are quite faded. It is generally not allowed to take photos in the church, but we once asked the priest who was in the church and got permission. It was not possible to take a recognisable photo of the double depiction of Christ in the dome (if you want to see it, you have to come yourself), but here are three other photos (albeit of moderate quality) to give you a small impression:

To the left of the sanctuary: a more recent depiction of a saint on horseback

To the right of the sanctuary: the same

In a niche on the left side very old wall paintings from the 6th or 7th century are preserved: at the top, Mary Nikopoios (the Victorious) with Christ and next to her the holy physicians Cosmas and Damian (all three as “imago clypeata”, i.e. depicted as if on a shield). Below that the Deesis: in the centre the blessing Christ, next to him on the left side “Saint Mary” (a very ancient element) and King Solomon, on the right an unnamed saint and John the Baptist. The last three show a pleading or imploring posture – in the Deesis, around the figure of Christ saints close him were depicted who passed on the petitions and prayers of the believer to Christ; and Christ is depicted in a blessing posture in response to these intercessions.

continue: Panagia Protothronos in Chalki

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used literature: Οι παλαιοχριστιανικές Τοιχογραφίες στη Δροσιανή της Νάξου, Νικόλαος Β. Δρανδάκης, Έκδοση του Ταμείου Αρχαιολογικών Πόρων και Απαλλοτριώσεων, Αθήνα 1988