18 July 2009

Monastery of the Metamorphosis, Asine

Gina Margarita told us about the Metamorphosis, except that she said it was a church with a moat. Gina was an Englishwoman living on a tiny pension in a tiny caravan near Asine beach. It took us a long time to realize how very poor she must have been, but she frequently came up our stairs at lunchtime crying, "AL-lo it's GI-na!" She had red hair and green toenails ("I was born in Sherwood Forest, like Robin Hood, you know!), and she believed she was the reincarnation of Isadora Duncan. German hikers had taken her to see the Metamorphsis -- it was in their hiking guide. In fact, she was frequently taken off on expeditions by vacationing foreigners or invited to dance for parties.

She told about being invited to dance for a large estate outside Argos, where people came down from Athens and engaged in behaviors they said were the restoration of the worship of the ancient Greek gods. Everyone back then had just read The Magus and wanted to try it out themselves, and at some point a great many people with inadequate clothing were arrested for what the police who had no theological training said was an orgy.
Gina said the parties did get a bit naughty, and she found it tiresome having to wait until someone was sober enough to drive her back to her caravan. A daughter said I should not put much about Gina in here, and she was right: Gina tends to lead the topic astray.

Thirty years ago I walked to the Metamorphosis by going up the hill above Tolo, through the garbage dump, and down into the valley on the other side. (The Tolo and Nauplion --above Karathona --garbage dumps have the most spectacular sites and views in the Argolid). Then it was a long walk either out to the Asine-Lefkakia road, or on across two more lines of hills to Nauplion. Now there is a long and winding, but simple road right to the church. The valley has been planted with orange trees and farmers need access.

The Metamorphosis -- in English that would be "Transfiguration" and locally it is called. Ag. Sotira -- is a medieval chapel that at some point became a monastery. It has a 15th-century tower on the north side, originally at least 4 floors, but in thirty years it has lost the indications of the fourth, and the guidebook says it had three. You can compare the before- and after- pictures, though different angles, and there wasn't a tree 30 years ago. Other parts of the walls have gone missing, but there is a vaulted room down to the left. The enclosure wall, somewhat restored, remains along the south side of the propery.

The most interesting aspect of the church, apart from the roof that looks as if it is melting, is the spring house. The church was built against a spring. On the south side by the apse, slippery steps go down to a chill dark enclosure where a metal cup hangs. It was hanging there 30 years ago, and probably for 30 before that. The water is fine, not as good as that from the Agia Moni, but better than that from Profitias Elias. The water flows under the apse of the church and emerges on the south side where it feeds a large open tank -- this must be Gina's moat -- and an irrigation channel. Under the apse, in a niche beside the flowing spring, is a hiding place, used during the Revolution, and WW2 and the Civil War. In recent years, large protective walls have been built around the spring, not damaging, but they do alter the somewhat absent-minded effect of the old roof.

Like all the other chapels of the Argolid, this has a great cool porch with benches and a table (and a place for trash). Interestingly, there is also a great marble structure which appears to be an altar for outdoor use as the porch can hold at least four times the number of people that could squeeze into the airless interior. The picture at the beginning is the little window that looks out on the porch, and you can see that this window has been rebuilt at least three times.

The interior of the chapel is densely frescoed in mostly 16th-century frescos, not terribly exciting individually and difficult to make out from the damage of age, and my inability to find out how to turn on the electricity, but some about women are prominent on the left -- Salome, the wedding at Cana. The apse has a fine Virgin andChild with a damaged Annunciation just above. At various places you can glimpse frescos under frescos, and there is a fresco on the soffit of the large arch over the front door which was filled in at some point with the fresco left in place. Many of the frescos have been covered with a clear varnish -- this cannot be a good idea and the reflectivity makes them nearly impossible to photograph -- and there is a nice inscription dated 1570 on one wall from the donor of the frescos. The lightbulb wasn't there thirty years ago.

There are two arcosolia, one with a Deisis -- this was another burial chapel for a fief at one time, though we can't now know if the fief was private or belonged to the church. A couple of late 15th-century documents from Nauplion refer to the hermitage of the Franciscans of Sta. Maria di Valverde, a Venetian order with a name descriptive of the location. But we don't know if it belonged to them.

If you follow the route of the little creek from the spring, you will go on down the hill to a small valley opening onto a private beach. It is difficult not to think that at one time, or at different times, it served as a hiding place for one of the small pirate boats that in medieval times infested the coast of the Argolid like mosquitos. That broken tower would have been a good place from which to watch the bay and perhaps to signal.

[More on a fresco here.]

1 comment:

  1. The Metamorphosis sounds like an amazing monument, especially with the spring so integrally connected to it. And Gina Margarita sounds like an amazing person, too. Having read the Magus last year, I can totally picture her. A British friend of mine, in his 60s now, came to teach English in Greece soon after reading the Magus. It's funny how important novels used to be. Thanks for all the great comments on my blog and for encouraging me with the new DETAILS direction.


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