21 November 2011

A terrible beauty

 Agia Fotini, Mantineia, Arkadia. North side.

I know very little about Ag. Fotini at Mantineia.  We stopped there, briefly, so most of the others could give a scholarly eye to the ruins of Mantineia.  I was told that the church was built, one stone at a time, over thirty or more years, by a visionary lawyer from Tripolis. (A few construction photographs here.) I was also told that the Bishop had refused to consecrate it until the builder replaced his own portrait in the dome as the Pantokrator in bluejeans with a more conventional Pantokrator. If readers have more and better information, I would be grateful to hear from you.

[Late note: a colleague has sent an article which tells me that Ag. Fotini was built in 1973 by the architect, Kostas Papatheodorou.*]

 Ag. Fotini is at the white comma to the left of the straight road,
within the wall circuit of ancient Mantineia.

Somewhere in the original design is a memory of a Byzantine church, but where nearly every other "new" Byzantine church in Greece bears the stifling ugliness of poured concrete, this one is an ecstatic revelation of materials and forms, and what seems random and disproportionate begins to reveal an intensely personal logic.

The workmanship is solid, the masonry excellent, if all the perpendiculars and parallels are not perfectly conventional, and in places such as the brickwork here, there is the same movement of intensifying soaring praise that I saw in the Gloria gloria gloria spiralling around the spires of La Sagrada Familia.  In fact, La Sagrada Familia is the church I know most like Ag. Fotini in character, and I think of Gaudi, as I do of Ag. Fotini's builder in terms of Yeats: And what if excess of love /Bewildered them . . ./A terrible beauty is born.

 Occasional spolia has been incorporated, nearly always
as functional pieces, rather than as surface decoration
Apse leading from the mountain of the Lord.

 South side. Externally, Ag. Fotini seems large, unwieldy,
but it is a structure that intends to soar.

 Once you come to enter Ag. Fotini, the proportions are humane, easily understandable.


The interior is tender, light-riddled as suits the name of Fotini.

The interior creates spaces of intimacy over and over.
The iconostasis is a gate rather than a barrier.


It is easy enough to name off all the different kinds of architecture incorporated into the fabric, but really, it is all of Greek history brought to support an anthem of praise. Ag. Fotini was the Samarian woman at the well, and the apolytikion for her feastday says All illumined by the Holy Spirit.   

* John J. Yiannis, "Coping with the Imported Past: A theme in Greek and Greek American church architecture," in Αναθήματα Εορτικά: Studies in Honor of Thomas F. Mathews, ed. Joseph D. Alchermes, (Mainz, 2009) 318-326.


  1. http://3dbyman.blogspot.com/2011/01/agia-fotini-mantinea.html


  2. What a precise title! At first a maze of randomly put pieces, but then it makes sense!

  3. Probably all the spolia are looted from archaeological sites? Or how is it possible to collect all this material?

  4. There is little actual spolia in the building. I don't know where it was found, but this way it is being preserved. I have seen too much "spolia" in original sites plastered over by modern church committees wanting to make their church look modern. I suspect this comes from a rebuilding of an earlier church on the site. Possibly the above links would give some idea.


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