Hodegetria Church-Afendiko (Vrontochion Monastery)
|Collection||Byzantine Research Fund|
Weir Schultz, Mr Robert
Barnsley, Mr Sidney Howard
|Scope and Content||North-east view. The photograph is annotated in pencil at the back.|
|Further information||Mistras, one of the most important Medieval cities of Morea, lies four miles north-west of present-day Sparta on the summit of a Taygetos hill. The first building to be erected by William II Villehardouin, the Frankish prince of Achaea, in the location was the castle (1249). Soon, a settlement was established outside the citadel- most of the churches and chapels stand outside it too. After the recapture of Morea by the Byzantines in 1262 Mistras became the headquarters of the Byzantine general and, later, the seat of the Lakedaimonian bishopic. During the 14th c. it was the capital of the Despotate of Mistras and flourished under the Kantakouzenoi and the Palaiologoi reign until its fall to the Turks in 1460.
The church of the Hodegitria, commonly known as the Afentiko, together with Hagioi Theodoroi (circa 1290/5), form the katholikon of the Vrontochion monastic complex. Hodegetria, which was built between 1310/1 and 1322, combines the five domed cross-in-square church with a three-aisled basilica. Located at the north-west corner of the walls on a particularly steep slope, this imposing building strongly recalls contemporary metropolitan (Constantinopolitan) architecture. At either end of the narthex are two-storey chapels built like towers. Both the north and the south sides are colonnaded. The south colonnade suffered from extensive re-modelling in the 14th c.
At the southern end of the west colonnade stands the bell-tower which is rebuilt on the basis of surviving evidence. The central apse on the east side is semi-circular with three-lobed windows below and two rows of blind arcades above. The interior of the church was lavishly decorated with impressive frescoes framed by rich polychrome marble revetments. The various available interior surfaces permitted the establishment of diverse iconographical groupings.
The two-storey north chapel of the narthex houses the tomb of Pachomios, founder of the monastic complex, near the west wall. Both this and the south-west chapel are decorated with wall-paintings. Particularly unusual is the decoration of the south-west chapel: imperial decrees issued by various emperors on behalf of the monastery cover the walls.