Naxos Island is home to a remarkable abundance of Byzantine chapels, even by Greek island standards. Many of them contain exceptional frescoes from the 9th to the 15th centuries.
History of Byzantine Churches of Naxos Island
The medieval period on Naxos Island was a prosperous time under the rule of the Byzantines and Venetians, so there were plenty of wealthy patrons to found chapels and commission elaborate frescoes to decorate them.
In recent decades, many of the frescoes have been carefully restored. Wherever possible, the newer layers of frescoes have been removed intact to reveal the oldest frescoes beneath. Most of those that were removed are now on display in the Byzantine Museum in Athens.
What to See at Byzantine Churches of Naxos Island
The Byzantine chapels of Naxos are frequently located near the island's prettiest villages, so a driving tour of old churches can be a pleasant way to explore the beauty of the largest Cycladic island. Below are a few of the highlights; for a more complete treatment, take along Paul Hetherington's The Greek Islands: Guide to the Byzantine and Medieval Buildings and their Art.
About 5 miles down the road from Hora to Sangri (worth visiting for its ancient Temple of Demeter) is Ayios Mamas (patron saint of shepherds), a 9th-century cathedral that was neglected during the Venetian occupation but has recently been restored. The view alone from from the church is worth the trip.
In Sangri itself, which also has a medieval castle, is the 13th-century church of Ayios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas). Its frescoes are well preserved, including a beautiful depiction of the River Jordan personified. The keys to the church are held by a volunteer in the village: ask around to find out who it is.
Located just south of Moni and 14 miles east of Hora, the 7th-century Panagia Drossiani (Our Lady of Refreshment or Dewy Virgin) is an ancient and important monastery church. The unusual name may reflect the tradition that they church "weeps" with condensation when the village is in danger.
Panagia Drossiani contains some of the oldest frescoes on the island, dating from the 7th century. Especially notable is St. George right of the altar and the Christ Pantocrator on the dome, which dates from the 9th century. The icon of the Virgin is credited with ending a drought shortly after the frescoes were painted; the carved wooden iconostasis is an ancient one discovered behind the newer marble screen. The church is usually accessible during daylight hours; if the door is locked, ring the bell for the caretaker.
The village of Halki, in the Tragaea 10 miles from Hora, is home to the 11th-century Panagia Protothronos (Our Lady Before the Throne), with well-preserved frescoes from the 11th to 13th centuries. It is usually open in the morning. Near the church is a Byzantine tower that was later renovated by the Venetians.
Quick Facts on Byzantine Churches of Naxos Island
|Names:||Byzantine Churches of Naxos Island|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
- Naxos: Attractions Overview - Frommer's Greece
- The Tragéa - Rough Guide to Greece
- Naxos Churches, Greece - Greeka.com
- The Church of Panagia Drossiani on Naxos - Greeka.com
- Agios Mamas - Naxos Island Guide
- Byzantine Religious Monuments of Greece - Hellenic Ministry of Culture