14 June 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the base of the dome, the four spandrels between the arches and the dome are filled with triangular images of the four evangelists:
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).
A number of frescoes in the church depict the scenes of well-known miracles:
Two linked scenes tell the story of the execution of Saint John the Baptist:
Of course, there are many scenes from the life of Christ:
Among the saints seen on the wall of the church are the Emperor Constantine and his mother, Saint Helen, discovering the True Cross:
Often the west walls of Greek churches traditionally depicted a judgment scene. The doors out of the Church are guarded by two archangels:
Above them is a scene depicting the Dormition of the Virgin Mary: