Hagia Theodora

Department Archive
Collection Byzantine Research Fund
Reference No. BRF/02/01/09/028
Level Item
Description Mounted Photographic Print
Dimensions 29.2 x 22.5 cm (H x L)
Place Hagia Theodora
Dates 1890
Donor/Creator Weir Schultz, Mr Robert
Barnsley, Mr Sidney Howard
Scope and Content Capital of the inner colonnade of the church. Further annotation in pencil survives on the back of the photograph. See also photo no. BRF 02/01/09/027.
Further information The church of Hagia Theodora, a three-aisled wooden-roofed basilica, was the katholikon of the 13th century monastic complex re-built by the wife of the despot Michael II, the empress (basilissa) Theodora, who after the death of her husband became a nun in this monastery and was, subsequently, renamed Saint (Hagia) Theodora of Arta after her death.

The church, located in the centre of Arta, was originally dedicated to Hagios Georgios but was renamed Hagia Theodora after the death of the saint. A domed narthex was added to the pre-existing building and in the late 13th century, a ribbed cross-vaulted ambulatory, preserved only on the south side, partially enveloped the two-phase church. The tomb of Saint Theodora is located in the narthex, between its south bay and the south aisle of the naos. It was recreated in the second half of the 19th century in contemporary arrangement but retains most of its Byzantine sculptures, such as the well-known panel representing Theodora and her son, the despot Nikephoros (an alternative view identifies the two figures as Nikephoros’ wife, Anna Palaiologina, and her son Thomas).

The church prominently displays the main features of architecture in the Despotate of Epirus, one of the independent Greek states established after the fall of Constantinople in 1204 along with the empires of Nicaea and Trebizond. The most prominent feature of this architecture is the overabundance of ornamental red brickwork, in this case in the walling of the narthex and the two gables of the naos. The brickwork is arranged mainly in dentil cornices and courses. It also decorates the stone walling of the building and surrounds the single and double-light windows in the gables forming broad blind semi-circular arches. The tympanum and arch brickwork fillings are often decorated with glazed ceramic bowls. Additionally, it is the only example in Arta of big foliate and figure capitals used in the colonnade. The capitals are spolia, possibly, from ancient Ambrakia or Nikopolis. An opus sectile omphalos survives in the centre of the main nave. Traces of fresco decoration dating from the 13th century in the diakonikon, the bema and the narthex of Hagia Theodora were revealed after the 1930s.