22 January 2014

The better classes and the common people

Dedicatory inscription, Archangel Michael, Polemitas, Mani. 1278.

I've recently come across some fascinating articles (see below) by Sophia Kalopissi-Verti which have given me another glimpse of the Morea villages and people I have written about several times here (see, for example, "Mapping the Territory," Part 1 & Part 2) These articles concern the evidence to be found in church inscriptions, specifically inscriptions of church foundations and donations by entire villages. Most of them are from the 13th century with a few from the 14th, and very very few from the 15th -- following the pattern of inscriptions and records of donations to churches from individuals.  The two illustrated here are from churches in Mani, single-aisled, barrel-vaulted little churches like those we see off to the side of the road or up on the hillside. Nearly all the village inscriptions are found in similar churches.

In a few cases, all of the villagers are named, as they are in the Polemitas inscription (above), which gives the names of thirty individuals and their families, and lists their donations: a threshing floor, vegetable gardens, fields, olive trees.  We get a clear picture of the modest economic situation of the villagers when we see the small size of the patches of land offered, most often 1/4 to 1/2 of a modios (or stremma) 1000 square meters. Or when we see that one gift was 1/2 of an olive tree. At the same time, as Kalopissi-Verti points out, the gifts give an idea of the cost of constructing and maintaining a church that is 6.7m x 3.25m.  We know the name of the church's painter: Georgios Konstantinionas.

The inscription at Kepoula (below), is more specific about costs, detailing the coins given by twelve villagers and their families. The village lector and notary together donated 8 nomismata, while the rest of the villagers gave from 1/4 to 1 nomisma, for a total of 14 1/2 nomismata which seems to have been the cost of constructing a similar church that is 3.95m x 2.43. The painters were Nikolaos and Theodoros.

Dedicatory inscription, Holy Anargyroi, Kepoula, Mani. 1265.

Archaeologists have reported finding medieval Moreote villages that do not appear to have had a church at all, but Kalopissi-Verti has a 1372-3 inscription from Crete which commemorates "the contribution, labour and expenses of the Christians of the turma of Kityros," for constructing and painting the church of Ag. Paraskevi, and lists the seven villages belonging to the turma.  This could well account-for the missing Moreote churches.

Social distinctions are maintained.  Ag. Ioannis Prodromos in Magali Kastania Mani was built and painted by the "prokritoi and the common people." An inscription in Epiros refers to the "donors small and greater."  Another social distinction can be identified: the paintings in these collectively-financed villages churches are more conservative and their painters not usually as good as those in churches financed by government officials. The church in Platsa sponsored in 1337-8 by Konstantinos Spanos, tzaousios of the area, apparently was painted by an artist from Mistra.

I have just begun with this material, and am waiting for the library to obtain for me some of the articles with the full inscriptions, but I have been remembering a trip to Greece with my youngest daughter in 1994.  After two or three days sitting patiently while I kept jerking the rental car off on another unpaved road to chase down another little church surrounded by thorns, she snatched the keys out of my hand and said, "I'm driving from now on.  Enough churches."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for bringing to surface memories of a rather old adventurous search into the byzantine past of Mani...
    Among the donors of the Polemitas village church are a few with the surname Kouloumiates, i.e. initially originating from Kouloumi. This is the name of a megalithic village few kilometers to the north of Polemitas. The long megalith forming the upper part of the Polemitas church doorway shows a characteristic pattern of a horizontally engraved line crossed by a few vertical ones perpendicular to it. I ignore whether this pattern of lines are of any special meaning. But I noticed the same pattern exists on the long megalith forming the upper part of the doorway of a certain megalithic house at the north part of the village of Old Kouloumi. Speculation: was this house belonging to relatives of the Kouloumiates of the Polemitas inscription? Were they who have repeated the pattern-sign of their house door to the church in Polemitas? Was the Kouloumiates participation in the church construction and illustration synergy the undertaking of the building (masonry) of the Polemitas church?

    I have to put you through some pictures and sketches of the above under separate mail.


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