The churches of Northern Kythira, lookouts against raiders

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By George E. Georgas

English translation from Greek by Aggelos Pilidis

Kythira, the eye of Crete. During the 10th century the island was uninhabited due to the raids of the Arabs of the Emirate of Crete, that were using it as their base. When the Emirate of Crete was destroyed by the army of the Roman Emperor Nikephoros Phokas, the island remained uninhabited until Saint Theodore arrived and stayed alone in the abandoned monastery of Saints Sergios and Bakchos, until he rested in peace. A few years later, hunters from Sparta and Monemvasia found the holy relic of the Saint by miracle, and then the island started being inhabited by people from those places, that settled in its northern part and gradually spread towards the south. The island was under the jurisdiction of the Commander of Sparta, that built Saint Theodore’s monastery. Later the island came into the jurisdiction of the Eudemogianides family of Monemvasia, whose provinces were more autonomous compared to other provinces of the Empire.

The church of St. John. The traveler can see the watch tower of the church.
The church of St. John. The traveler can see the watch tower of the church.

If one travels the area, they will find the ruins of the large fortress-town of Kythira, named Palaiochora and was the island’s main city until its razing by captain Barbarossa.

That is curious, since there are many villages and settlements located far away from Palaiochora. The inhabitants would have to travel many miles before they would reach the castle’s protection. That would lead us to conclude that they were unprotected, but they weren’t. Each village and settlement, no matter how small, had at its center or very close by a church. Like for example the settlement Georgadika, located close to Logothetianika in Northern Kythira, built by Spartans (from the Georgas family) that came during the first wave of settlers after the miraculous appearance of the relic of Saint Theodore to the hunters. The Australian Paliochora-Kythera Archaeological Survey has counted 88 churches-lookouts, 38 of which were built before 1537.

The castle city of Palaiochora.
The castle city of Palaiochora.

The churches were built in places that couldn’t be seen from the sea, and were fortified with towers and battlements. Each church, aside from a place of worship, was also a lookout for possible raids, while they were used as shelters in times of war. These churches are dedicated to military and healing saints.

The view from the watch tower of the chrurch St. Prokopios. The church/watch tower can not be spot from the sea.
The view from the watch tower of the chrurch St. Prokopios. The church/watch tower can not be spot from the sea.

The people of Kythira believed their saints would protect them from the raids and the churches are spread throughout the island so they can communicate with each other. This way, if a landing took place, the nearby villages quickly found out and took the necessary actions to prevent the worst. That original fortified network was later successfully used by the Venetians for centuries. Even in the great raid of Barbarossa, many of the people of Kythira were saved by that system.

Bibliography

Augustine of Hippo. De Civitate Dei.
Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World. New York: Harper and Row. (1972).

Brown, Peter Robert Lamont. The Cult of the Saints: its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago. (1981).

 

Caraher, W.S. “Constructing Memories: Hagiography, Church Architecture, and the Religious Landscape of Middle Byzantine Greece: The Case of St. Theodore of Kythera” W.S. Caraher, L.J. Hall, and R.S. Moore, eds., Archaeology and History in Roman, Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece. (2008).

Gregory and Tzortozopoulou-Gregory. The Central Northern Plain: Trifyllianika, Osios Theodoros, Georgadika. pg. 2. In this article, Gregory and Tzortozopoulou-Gregory point out that the connection between these two saints may also be made evident by the relative proximity of the monastery Osios Theodoros, south of Logothetianika, and Ayios Nikon outside of Zaglanikianika. William Caraher in his article also connects the Life of Osios Theodoros with the Life of Theoktiste of Lesbos by Niketas Magistros.

Chatzidakis, M. and Bitha, I. Ευρετήριο Βυζαντινών Τοιχογραφίων Ελλάδος Κύθηρα. Athens. (1997).

 

Chelias. “Chronikon monasterii S. Theodori.” ed. K. Hopf. Chroniques Greco-Romanes inedites ou peu connues. (1873).

 

Farmer, David Hugh. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. New York. (2011).

 

Gregory, Timothy E. “Churches, Landscape, and the Population of Northern Kythera in Byzantine and Early Modern Times.” First International Congress of Kytherian Studies. Kythera: Myth and Realithy, vol. 1. (2003).

Gregory, Timothy E. and Lita Tzortozopoulou-Gregory. “The Central Northern Plain: Trifyllianika, Osios Theodoros, Georgadika.” The Archaeology of Kythera. pg. 2. Along with Osios Theodoros and Osios Loukas of Stiris, all of whom lived in Greece during the 10th century.

Gregory, Timothy E. “Contrasting Impressions of Landuse in Early Modern Greece: Kythera and the Eastern Korinthia.” Between Venice and Istanbul: Colonial Landscapes in Early Modern Greece. Athens. 2007.

Gregory, Timothy E. “Landscape and Cultural History in Early Modern and Medieval Kythera.VIIIth International Panionian Conference. (2006). 52

Gregory, Timothy E. “Narrative of the Byzantine Landscape.” Byzantine Narrative: Papers in Honor of Roger Scott. (2006).

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