Daphni Monastery

Department Archive
Collection Byzantine Research Fund
Reference No. BRF/01/01/01/165
Level Item
Place Daphni Monastery
Dates 1888-1890
Creator Weir Schultz, Mr Robert
Barnsley, Mr Sidney Howard
Scope and Content Katholikon - Mosaic decoration (arch of north door). Further annotation in pencil survives.
Further information The katholikon of the Daphni monastery, which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis), stands on the road leading from Athens to Megara. An imposing domed Greek cross octagon with narthex (the exonarthex, a two-storey open portico, is a twelfth-century addition restored during the Frankish period partly with ancient spolia) recalls, though in a much less sophisticated manner, the octagonal katholikon of Hosios Loukas in Phocis and the Athenian church of Soteira Lykodemou. Morphologically speaking, this is a representative example of the so-called middle Byzantine ‘Greek School’.

The stone masonry has been arranged along the base of the walls into a series of large crosses. Ornamental elements, which were used in overabundance prior to 1050, are employed with economy in the cloisonné masonry. All traces of Kufic or geometrical inserts have disappeared, single bricks alone frame the stone blocks. Dentil courses are employed as surrounds to the windows and, in conjunction with meander friezes, to the central apse. Pseudo-Kufic ornaments decorate the window tympanum on the north and west walls.

The monument marks an important development in the form of triple windows: the central light rises above the others practically filling the whole tympanum. An impressive simplicity and balance reigns at Daphni. Architectural masses and elements are superbly balanced against each other. Equally impressive is the mosaic decoration of the church which now survives in a severely fragmentary form. Unfortunately, the rich marble revetment of the interior is now lost. The monastery flourished between the 11th and the end of the 13th century and the katholikon and its decoration most likley date to the late 11th century. The enclosure walls of the monastic complex as well as the remains of the rest of the monastic buildings still survive in situ. The dome of the katholikon collapsed in the 1888 earthquake and the mosaics were restored by Italian conservators between 1892 and 1897.