Hagios Demetrios (Metropolis)

Department Archive
Collection Byzantine Research Fund
Reference No. BRF/01/01/14/091
Level Item
Place Hagios Demetrios (Metropolis)
Dates 1890?
Donor/Creator Weir Schultz, Mr Robert
Barnsley, Mr Sidney Howard
Scope and Content Marble floor revetment (opus sectile) - Door and lintel mouldings/jambs. This is a preliminary drawing. It is annotated in pencil.
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 Hagios Demetrios (Metropolis) lies at the northern edge of the outer wall. According to surviving inscriptions it was founded in 1291/2 by a certain Nikephoros, bishop of Lakedaimona, who has been identified with Nikephoros Moschopoulos, the proedros of Crete. The church, which served as the seat of the local bishop, is not preserved in its original form. It must have been a barrel-vaulted three-aisled basilica with the central aisle higher than those on either side. Matthew, the bishop of Lakedaimona, restored the building by demolishing the roof and adding a dome (on four piers supported by the original columns of the aisles) and a womens’ gallery in the upper storey consisting of four grained vaults and five domes.

The restored church is strongly reminiscent of the Afentiko. The exterior is simple. Most interesting are the south and south-east sides of the church which are built in carefully laid cloisonné masonry with dog-tooth ornamentation round the windows (first phase of construction). The west façade is decorated with a colonnade of three piers with a triple barrel vault. A belfry and a tower chapel were added to the south side of the building just after Nikephoros death in 1316. The north side dates from the Turkish occupation. The sculpture of the church consists of spolia from other sites: the capitals are early Christian in style, twelfth-century sculpture has been used for the iconostasis, the cornice of the central aisle belongs to the period of Matthew’s activities. The west wing of the north courtyard is used as a museum, and was opened by G. Millet.

The apse was painted over in the 17-18th centuries, while there are at least three phases in the fresco decoration of the monument, the latest of which dates to the 15th c.