Thursday, 14 June 2018

A small church in Georgioupoli
is a reminder of Saint Barbara

The small, traditional Church dedicated to Saint Barbara close to the harbour in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The two main churches in Georgioupoli are the large parish church dedicated to the Ascension (Analipsi), with its splendid flurry of frescoes filling the walls, the ceilings and the dome, and the tiny white-wash chapel of Aghios Nikolaos, at the end of small, rocky breakwater between the harbour and the beach and a must-visit place for every tourist in this resort town.

There are other churches and chapels here, including the archaeological site at Aghios Georgios (Saint George), and some tiny private chapels.

Tucked into a small corner near the harbour is the older, small, traditional Church dedicated to Saint Barbara (Αγία Βαρβάρα).

Few tourists notice this church. Perhaps they think it is closed, but a gentle push on the church door leads into a peaceful and calming space for prayer and reflection.

Inside the Church of Saint Barbara in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The walls and the iconostasis or icon-screen of this small are covered with a large number of icons of Saint Barbara, and a lamp with incense is kept burning before her shrine.

Saint Barbara was martyred in the Syrian city of Heliopolis during the reign of the Emperor Maximian (305-311).

She is a popular saint in Crete, and for 30 years I have been familiar with Saint Barbara’s Church in Rethymnon, close to the cathedral in the old town.

The saint’s shrine in the Church of Saint Barbara in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Her relics were moved to Constantinople in the sixth century, and 600 years later they were moved to Kiev by Princess Barbara, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos and wife of the Russian Prince Michael Izyaslavich.

Her relics now kept in Saint Vladimir’s Cathedral in Kiev, where he is commemorated each Tuesday.

An icon of Saint Barbara in the church in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Barbara is commemorated in the Church Calendar on 4 December. She is the patron saint of armourers, artillery troops, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives because of her old legend’s association with lightning, and also of mathematicians.

As thunder rolled across Georgioupoli briefly this afternoon, I wondered whether these association also explained some of the paraphernalia in the gardens of Aghia Varvara.

In the gardens of Saint Barbara’s Church in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Byzantine-style frescoes
and icons in the parish
church in Georgioupoli

Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli stands in its own gardens off the main square and behind the seafront (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The most photographed landmark in Georgioupoli is the tiny white chapel dedicated to Aghios Nikolaos at the end of a rocky artificial breakwater that juts out into the bay between the harbour and the beach.

It is popular with tourists who are encouraged to make their way out to the chapel and to light a candle there, and sometimes it is a popular venue for weddings, although it is difficult to imagine how a bride could make here way there in a full wedding dress, even if she used a boat and the waves were calm.

But tourists who spend most of their time at the seafront are unlikely to notice the tiny chapel of Saint Barbara, hidden in quiet corner, tucked away beside the harbour.

The principal church in this resort, however, is Analipsi Church (Εκκλησία Ανάληψη) or the Church of the Ascension.

Analipsi Church is large and confident church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This church is back from the seafront, away from the main square and shops, and set in its own gardens.

On the outside, it looks like a confident statement of Greek and Orthodox identity in this town, built with a greater capacity that the needs of a small resident community.

The church is cruciform in shape, has two tall bell towers, and porches on three sides.

Inside Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

But inside, the dome and the frescoes covering the walls are an almost-overpowering example of contemporary Greek iconography at its best – modern in style and approach, yet maintaining a clear continuity with the Byzantine traditions.

Christ in the Dome of Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At the base of the dome, the four spandrels between the arches and the dome are filled with triangular images of the four evangelists:

Saint Matthew in a spandrel beneath the dome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Mark in a spandrel beneath the dome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Luke in a spandrel beneath the dome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint John in a spandrel beneath the dome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

One section of the north wall in the nave has four panels depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ: Christ’s Agony in Gethsemane (top left); his arrest in the Garden (top right); his trial before Pilate (bottom left); his humiliation by the soldiers (bottom right).

Four panels depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the panel depicting Christ’s Agony in Gethsemane, note how the eleven disciples have fallen asleep in various postures and poses, while the presence of God the Father is indicated in the top right corner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the panel depicting the arrest in the Garden, Judas betrays Christ with a kiss; the arresting party carry torches, swords and clubs, while Peter is trying to cut off the ear of one of the men (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the panel depicting Christ’s trial, Pilate is crowned and washing his hands; above them and outside the courtyard, the veil of the Temple is ready to be torn in two (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the panel depicting Christ’s humiliation by the soldiers, they are mocking him not only with words but by blowing trumpets, and banging cymbals and drums (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A number of frescoes in the church depict the scenes of well-known miracles:

The miracle of the loaves and fishes; note there are only two fish, but the loaves of bread have already been multiplied (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The healing of the paralytic man; you can see the ropes his friends have used to lower him down through the roof of the house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The healing of the young blind man … those looking on can hardly believe what they see (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The raising of Lazarus from the dead (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Two linked scenes tell the story of the execution of Saint John the Baptist:

Salome asks for the head of Saint John the Baptist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The beheading of Saint John the Baptist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Of course, there are many scenes from the life of Christ:

The Presentation in the Temple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Transfiguration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Last Supper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Christ washes the feet of the Disciples on Maundy Thursday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Deposition from the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Resurrection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Great Commission … an unusual post-Resurrection scene for a fresco in a Greek Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Among the saints seen on the wall of the church are the Emperor Constantine and his mother, Saint Helen, discovering the True Cross:

The Emperor Constantine and his mother, Saint Helen, with the True Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Often the west walls of Greek churches traditionally depicted a judgment scene. The doors out of the Church are guarded by two archangels:

The Archangel Michael (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Archangel Gabriel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Above them is a scene depicting the Dormition of the Virgin Mary:

The Dormition of the Virgin Mary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The discovery of the True Cross … an image above the door into the funeral chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Columns in a side porch of the church i(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)