Hagioi Theodoroi (Vrontochion Monastery)
|Collection||Byzantine Research Fund|
Weir Schultz, Mr Robert
Barnsley, Mr Sidney Howard
|Scope and Content||East façade. 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 Achaia 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.
Near the north corner of the outer castle wall stand the large impressive churches of Hagioi Theodoroi and of the Hodegitria. The monastic complex which is known as ‘Vrontochion’ was founded by Abbot Pachomios, the later ecclesiastical chancellor of the Morea, around 1290-5. Hagioi Theodoroi which is one of the oldest and most sophisticated buildings in Mistras, must have originally been built as the katholikon of the monastery, however, when the Hodegitria church functioned as such it was used as the cemetery church for the monks. It is a Greek-cross domed octagon with no gallery- the narthex with the two-storey tower-like chapels at the two ends is a later addition. The architectural type originated in Constantinople but appeared fully developed in eleventh-century churches of the so-called ‘Greek School’. An enormous dome with eight tall windows alternating with blind niches framed by dog-tooth brick ornament dominates the building.
Rich bands of cloisonné masonry alternate in the exterior with unfinished stone bands. The cut stone forms in the apses an undulating screen pierced by windows and blind niches framed by dog-tooth brick ornament. Five arched doorways add to the monumental character of the west façade which is crowned by a gable with two-lobed windows. Dentil courses and glazed ceramic plates decorate the side gables too. The surviving sculpture does not match the quality and sophistication in the design of the building: a single fragment of an iconostasis epistyle decorated with flat Islamic relief motifs now in the museum bears a dedicatory inscription referring to founders Daniel and Pachomios. Only fragments of the mural decoration of the church survive in very bad condition. The south-east chapel is dedicated to the Virgin, like the north-east, it had a burial function. Mistras churches were restored by A. Orlandos in the 20th c.