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Panagia Liouriotissa in Marathos

In the valley of Marathós south of Kastro Apalírou, in a side valley, lies among olive trees the small church of Panagía Liouriótissa (Our Lady of the Olive Grove), which is dedicated to the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas, in Greek Ypapantí). This festival is celebrated 40 days after the birthday of Jesus. In addition to the offering of a sacrifice by the young mother for her “purification”, it is also celebrated as a festival of the presentation of the child in the temple, in Jesus’ case before the two wise men Simeon and Hannah: the Bible reports that the first-born son was given to God as property and then redeemed by a monetary sacrifice.

Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The small church of Panagía Liouriótissa is located in a valley branching off the valley of Marathós valley south of Apalírou; the area is mostly covered by olive groves.

view over the valles of Marathos from the fortress Apalirou
view over the valley from Kastro Apalírou; the church lies roughly in the centre of the picture.

olive trees near Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
Many olives grow in the area, some of which are very old.
The church is a very simple building: it is a single-nave church without a dome, a type that was very common in the first two centuries of the Venetian rule over the island, i.e. the 13th and 14th centuries.

Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The entire church is decorated with wall paintings that are still in moderately good condition. They mainly depict various scenes from the life of Christ, as is customary in Byzantine churches.
left of the door: a large standing saint, next to it a depiction of the Presentation of the Lord

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The paintings in this church probably date to the 14th century. As was often the case during this period, the time of Venetian rule, they are rather simple and in a more “rural” style.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
Here the scene of the Presentation of the Lord, to which the church is dedicated.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The colouring in yellow-orange and red-brown tones is also typical of this time period on Naxos. Here you can see that the faces are somewhat clumsily painted – they were made by a painter who was not particularly experienced, maybe the donors themselves. In the 14th century the donors of the wallpaintings usually were not dignitaries of the church or rich citizens, but the Greek inhabitants of the area, i.e. a local priest or a farmer.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
In the front part of the church different scenes of the life of Christ ond Mary are depicted, here the Entombment or Lamentation of Christ

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
Further to the right is an image of Mary and Jesus with two saints.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
Of interest is the design of the halos with small stamped stars: this is one of the very few examples of a Western, Catholic influence in the Orthodox Byzantine churches of Naxos. Mary’s veil is also decorated with small incisions.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The halo of Jesus contains, as usual, the cross in the form of three beams, in which the stamps are omitted.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
Above it stand three larger figures with several smaller ones – I don’t know to what scene this refers.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
On the right-hand side of the church, the murals are more heavily damaged by deposits and are barely recognisable. This could be the Dormition of Mary.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
In the inner part of the church, two saints or hierarchs stand on the left wall.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
More saints are painted above.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The ceiling in the centre of the barrel roof, above the viewer, is occupied by a large depiction of the Pantocrator (whose head would be painted in the dome if the church had one); here he is painted as a full-body image in a presumably blessing gesture.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
The paintings in the apse are unrecognisable; the arch in front of it probably depicts Christ at the top, with an angel to the left in a posture of invocation or worship, similar to the intercessors of Deesis.

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos

murals in Panagia Liouriotissa Marathos Naxos
the angel, details

The church of Panagía Liouriótissa is a good example of a simple, rural church of the 14th century. It gains particular interest from the western influence recognisable in the engravings in the halos. Given that the island’s population was under the rule of Catholic feudal lords, it is not surprising to find a Catholic influence in the murals in the churches of Naxos – it is more surprising that this is so rare an occurrence, and that the few examples stem from very small churches in rural settings (apart from this church also Ágios Nikólaos near Komiakí).

Despite the simplicity of the building and the paintings, even in the church’s current state you can still feel the dedication and passion with which the people built and decorated their churches, as well as the effect the Holy story presented in the church must have had on the congregation. This may also give us an idea of the importance that the churches must have had as a place of refuge, comfort and hope during the difficult centuries of foreign rule.

continue: Agios Nikolaos near Komiaki

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