Monasteries Daphni, Hosios Lukas and Nea Moni (World Heritage)

By | August 18, 2021

The three Byzantine monasteries were built between the 10th and 11th centuries and are considered to be outstanding examples of Byzantine sacred architecture and visual art. They have richly decorated interiors with mosaics and murals.

Daphni, Hosios Lukas and Nea Moni monasteries: facts

Official title: Monasteries Daphni (near Athens), Hosios Lukas (near Delphi) and Nea Moni (island Chios)
Cultural monument: three monastery complexes geographically distant from each other: the monastery church Daphní located on the holy road to Eleusis with its magnificent all-ruler mosaic and the monastery of the Assumption of Mary; Hósios Lukás, according to oxfordastronomy, one of the most beautiful Byzantine monasteries in Greece, dedicated to St. St. Luke consecrated, the main church there, a cross-domed church, with splendid marble cladding; New monastery (Néa Moni) with mosaics such as »Betrayal of Judas«
Continent: Europe
Country: Greece, Attica, Boeotia and Chíos Island
Location: Daphní, northwest of Athens; Hósios Lukás, southwest of Levádia; Néa Moni, west of Chíos
Appointment: 1990
Meaning: significant examples of the architecture of the “Second Golden Age of Byzantium”

Monasteries Daphni, Hosios Lukas and Nea Moni: History

after 953 Construction of the monastery church of Hósios Lukás
around 1050 Creation of Néa Moni
around 1080 Construction of the new Daphní monastery church
1204-1456 During the Franconian rule Daphní was taken over by the Cistercians
03/27/1821 in the monastery of Hósios Lukás call for a national revolt against Turkish rule
1822 Devastation of Néa Moni by the Turks; Slaughter of Christians
1881 during the earthquake, the dome of Néa Moni collapsed
1957 During restoration work by Hósios Lukás, mosaic stones were found from the dome that fell down in the 16th century

Architecture in Medieval Byzantium

Although they are spatially far apart, these three church and monastery buildings form a unit, but they express the basic idea of ​​Middle Byzantine church architecture of the 10th to 12th centuries in the highest perfection.

There were no fundamental changes in the construction principle of monasteries and churches between the early and middle Byzantine periods. Since the 10th century, however, more and more importance has been attached to the design of the church’s exterior and architectural refinements have been made, although a cube-shaped dome structure still represents the Christian universe. The monastery church of Daphní was designed in a balanced and simple manner, the interior of which rises above the floor plan of an orthodox cross. The decor of the outer wall of the apse is remarkable, in the upper part of which meandering strips made of bricks are bordered by two »sawtooth friezes«. The Hósios Lukás complex is more spectacular, even if it largely follows the basic principle. Century and despite several changes in the following centuries remained essentially unchanged. The core of the building consists of two connected churches: the 10th century cross-domed church, consecrated to Theotokos, and the main church, consecrated to St. Luke, the catholicon built on a cross-shaped floor plan with a dome that rests on eight pillars. The peculiarities of a changed exterior design come to the fore here: The walls show horizontal and vertical framing of the stones laid in rows. The effect of this brick decoration is supported by so-called “tooth ribbons”, which also adorn the arched windows. The use of Kufic letters is also striking.

In all these church buildings, the interior remains the essential thing, since the Middle Byzantine architecture understands the interior as a canonized closed system covered by a sky dome. The architectural structure is strictly hierarchical, starts from the dome and, as it were, descends over the arches down to the ground. The modest size of central Byzantine church buildings and this hierarchy are very well suited to express the essence of the Christian cosmos in the design. In the center of the hierarchy, in the middle of the dome, Christ is enthroned as the ruler of the world, followed by the Virgin Mary, archangels, apostles and saints like St. Anne and St. Stephen.

The Katholikon by Hósios Lukás has the most extensive pictorial program of the three church buildings. It is assumed that artists from Constantinople created the mosaics, which, in addition to scenic representations, mainly show individual people, including Lukas Stiriotes, to whom the monastery was founded. Also noteworthy are the wall paintings in the church and crypt from the first half of the 11th century, as well as the marble work on the walls and floors. To this day, the mosaics by Néa Moni fascinate thanks to the finely coordinated red and blue tones in the depiction of lively biblical scenes. The mosaics in the monastery church of Daphní show scenes from the life of Mary, among other things. And in the center of the dome, Christ, surrounded by sixteen prophets, looks down on the believers.

Monasteries Daphni, Hosios Lukas and Nea Moni