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«FORMATION OF SACRED SPACE IN LATER BYZANTINE FIVE DOMED CHURCHES: A HIEROTOPIC APPROACH The dome is one of the most prominent features of Byzantine ...»

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Miljkovic-Pepek. Veljusa, p. 192–196, 204–206.

Formation of Sacred Space in Later Byzantine Five Domed Churches 265 by Annemarie Weyl Carr, some scholars tend to associate the appearance of the Virgin and angels with the theme of Ascension (Staraya Ladoga and Nereditsi), linked, through the image of the prepared throne to the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment21. This eschatological interpretation has been challenged by scholars who felt that the proliferation of angels, as well as the image of the throne are in fact liturgical in their content, representing an incipient stage of the theme of the Divine liturgy that will appear in the domes of many Palaeologan churches as will be discussed later22.

It appears, however, that the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive, for it would be very difficult, looking at the processional organization of angels at Lysi, or the inscription from the thrice-holy hymn at Kiev and Veljusa (fig. 2), to completely exclude liturgical overtones — after all, eschatological themes also find their echo in the liturgy. A precise moment of the liturgy, however, can not be determined.

This summary treatment of the programs in the middle Byzantine singledomed and multi-domed churches may help us gain more insight into possible iconographic patterns used in the decoration of domes in five-domed churches.

The iconographic programs of five-domed Middle Byzantine churches require certain reconstructive efforts because there are only a few that preserve their original decoration. The most notable examples are the church of the Virgin Kosmosoteira at Pherrai in western Thrace, founded before 1152 by Isaak Komnenos, a son of Alexios I Komnenos, and the Church of St. Panteleimon at Nerezi in Macedonia, founded in 1164 by Alexios Angelos Komnenos, a grandson of Alexios I Komnenos. Both churches are of Constantinopolitan patronage, both are dated in the middle of the twelfth century, and both have preserved programs only in the subsidiary domes. However, although the decoration of their central domes has been lost, hypothetical reconstructions can be proposed by comparative analysis.

At Nerezi, subsidiary domes display four images of Christ located in the summit of subsidiary domes: Emmanuel, Ancient of Days, Christ Priest and an image of a mature Christ that resembles the Pantokrator, thus recalling the iconography of the church of the Virgin of Eleousa at Veljusa (fig. 3)23. The images of Christ are surrounded by angels in the drum. The church of the Virgin Kosmosoteira at Pherrai displays the images of two archangels, Gabriel (north-east) and Michael (south-east) at the summit of the eastern subsidiary domes, the image of the Virgin orans in the north-west dome and a mature Carr. The Thirteenth-Century Murals of Lysi, p. 47–53. See also: Velmans T. Quelques programmes iconographiques de coupoles chypriotes du XIIe au XVe siècle // Cahiers archéologiques 32 (1984), p. 137–162.

For bibliography and discussion, see: Carr. The Thirteenth-Century Murals of Lysi, p. 47–53.

See: Sinkević I. The Church of St. Panteleimon at Nerezi, figs. XXI–XXVI; XXIX; pls. 12, 14, 26, 27.

266 Ida Sinkević Christ in the south-west dome24. Suited to their architectural space, at the summit of the dome, all images are displayed in medallions. Moreover, the selection of images displayed in subsidiary domes of Pherrai and Nerezi closely parallels the iconography of the central domes in single and multidomed churches discussed earlier. Close parallels between the iconography of central domes of the eleventh- and twelfth-century churches and those of subsidiary domes at Nerezi and Pherrai suggest a significant possibility that subsidiary domes in these two five-domed churches were programmatically connected with the central dome. It is quite possible to assume that subsidiary domes in five-domed churches provided additional domical space used to expand the program of the central dome. That is at least a case in many contemporary multi-domed churches, such as at earlier discussed Veljusa, St. Sophia in Kiev and at Cappadocian churches, where the number of archangels encircling the image of Christ Pantokrator in the central dome is expanded by their appearance in the summit of subsidiary domes.

Considering their Constantinopolitan patronage, it is possible that central domes at Pherrai and at Nerezi followed the classical program of Daphni, reserving the central dome exclusively for the image of the Pantokrator, and using subsidiary domes to expand the meaning and significance of the All-Ruler. It is also possible that side domes repeated some of the imagery of the central dome, thus re-enforcing its dogmatic and/or liturgical content. For example, the appearance of archangels and the Virgin in prayer in the side domes of Pherrai, may suggest eschatological nature of the programs of the domical vaults, since both archangels and the Virgin are powerful figures in the events and scenes related to the Last Judgment and the theme of intercession. While inconclusive, both programmatic solutions would follow the main currents of dome decorations established in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries.

Programmatic connection between the central and subsidiary domes is also seen at Nerezi. Each drum at Nerezi displays four angels in procession, connected to the central dome by virtue of their composition. While the angels in east cupolas split in pairs of two on the east side and meet on the west, the angels in the western domes split on the west side and meet on the east25. Thus, the procession of angels in all four domes is oriented towards the central dome. The proliferation of angels, seen in subsidiary domes of Nerezi is, according to many scholars, one of the major characteristics of the twelfth-century central domes26. It would thus not be surprising that the anSinos S. Die Klosterkirche der Kosmosoteira in Bera (Vira). Munich, 1985, pl. 13, figs.


Sinkević. The Church of St. Panteleimon at Nerezi, pls. 12, 14, 26, 27.

Carr. The Thirteenth-Century Murals of Lysi, p. 47–53.

Formation of Sacred Space in Later Byzantine Five Domed Churches 267 gels in subsidiary domes extend the procession of angels once represented in its central dome. The angels at Nerezi’s domes are also distinguished because of their liturgical connotations. They are dressed in white sticharia, the deacons’ vestments, and they carry liturgical implements: the censers and pyxis with liturgical host.

The four images of Christ represented in medallions also relate to liturgy.

As discussed by a number of scholars including myself, the triad of Emmanuel, Ancient of Days, and mature Christ represents three stages in the life of Christ and is associated with concepts of Incarnation and Salvation, emphasizing theophanic character, dual nature, and the eternity of God27. The image of Christ Priest, seldom seen in monumental art, evokes the notion that Christ is the one who offers and who is offered, who established the sacrament of the Eucharist, who officiates as heavenly priest, and whose action are mimicked in the terrestrial rite performed by terrestrial priests (fig. 3)28. The main stages of Christ’s life as well as his function as a priest in the economy of human salvation is recounted numerous times during the liturgy. While the specific moment of the liturgical celebration can not be pinpointed in the iconographic program of Nerezi domes, their liturgical content, evident both in the representations of angels and in the images of Christ is apparent. It is also apparent that the images of Christ in subsidiary domes expanded upon the meaning and significance of the Pantokrator who most likely occupied the medallion of the central dome. The connection between the central and subsidiary domes is further strengthened by the choir of angels.

Programmatic interconnectedness of the domes, seen in Middle Byzantine churches, is further developed in Palaeologan monuments. Moreover, the images displayed in subsidiary domes of Pherrai and Nerezi provided basis for and are repeated numerous times in five-domed churches of later periods.


Very similar iconographic arrangement to that at Nerezi is seen, for example, in the early fourteenth-century church of the Virgin of Ljeviška (architecture of 1306/1307)29. The church of the Virgin of Ljeviška is a transitional monument that both iconographically and architecturally provides a link between middle Byzantine and Palaeologan periods (fig. 4). It is also one of the earliest five-domed churches in which the program has been preserved in both For a discussion and bibliography, see: Sinkević. The Church of St. Panteleimon at Nerezi, p. 40–43.

Ibid., p. 41–42; Lidov A. Khristos-sviashennik v ikonograficheskikih programmakh XI–XII vekov // VizVrem 52 (1994), p. 187–193.

Panić D. and Babić G. Bogorodica Ljeviška. Belgrade, 1975.

268 Ida Sinkević central and subsidiary domes. The decoration of the central dome at Ljeviška displays the image of the Pantokrator surrounded by angels; prophets are displayed in the drum and evangelists in pendentives. In the sumit of subsidiary domes one finds four medallions of Christ: Emmanuel, Ancient of Days, Christ Priest, and an image of mature Christ that resembles the Pantokrator, thus recalling the iconography of subsidiary domes seen in the middle Byzantine period at Nerezi. As discussed earlier, the images of Christ in subsidiary domes connect to the central dome in that they expand upon the meaning and the significance of the centrally located image of Christ. The connection between the central and subsidiary domes at the church of the Virgin of Ljeviška is further strengthened by the portrayal of prophets that extends the procession of those represented in the drum of the central dome.

Architecturally, the church of the Virgin at Ljeviška displays subsidiary domes squeezed between the arms of the cross of the naos, as seen in Middle Byzantine churches (fig. 4)30. Departing from earlier tradition, at Ljeviška one observes the development of additional spaces that envelop the cruciform core of the church. Known as narthexes, ambulatory wings, and peristöons, these additional spaces became an integral component of five-domed churches in Palaeologan times (figs. 4–6)31. However, in the Palaeologan period, the subsidiary domes in five-domed churches migrated to the outermost compartments of the edifice, as seen in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki (1310–1314) and in Gračanica (1318–1321) (fig. 5)32.

During the Palaeologan period, the auxiliary domes displayed at the outermost compartment of the edifice are associated with three types of church plans. They are seen in churches with additional components enveloping the naos, such as at Gračanica (fig. 5); in churches of tri-conchal plan mostly located on Mount Athos and in Serbia, such as Resava (fig. 6); and in several churches at Mistra that display basilican plan in the lower part of the building and cross-in-square on the upper story, as seen in Aphendiko (c. 1310) and Pantanassa (consecrated in 1428)33.

For a discussion, see: Ćurčić S. Gračanica. King Milutin’s Church and Its Place in Late Byzantine Architecture, p. 70–90. See also: Nenadović S. Bogorodica Ljeviška: njen postanak i mesto u arhitekturi Milutinovog vremena. Belgrade, 1963.

For a discussion on the genesis of late Byzantine architecture, see Ćurčić, Gračanica, p. 70–

90. For a discussion on terminology, see: Hadjitryphonos E. Peristöon or Ambulatory in Byzantine Church Architecture // Saopstenja 34 (2002), p. 131–145.

For Holy Apostles, see: Rautman M. The Church of Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki: a study

in early Palaeologan architecture / Ph. D., Indiana University, 1984, p. 20–27; see also:

Ćurčić. Gračanica, p. 85–90, figs. 9–11, 101.

For Gračanica, see: ibid., p. 31–70; for the five-domed churches of tri-conchal plan, see:

Korać V. and Suput M. Arhitektura vizantijskog sveta. Belgrade, 1998, p. 357–399; for Mistra, see: Hallensleben H. Untersuchungen zur Genesis und Typologie des ‘Mistratipus’ // Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 18 (1969), p. 105–118.

Formation of Sacred Space in Later Byzantine Five Domed Churches 269 In all three types of churches, the subsidiary domes are placed far away from the central dome and pulled to the extreme corners of the building, quite unlike their middle Byzantine predecessors that exhibit a close structural relationship between side domes and the central dome. Indeed, in five-domed churches that resemble the plan of Gračanica or Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki, the domes are completely disassociated from the naos, since they cover the chapels on the east side and the narthex on the west (fig. 5)34.

However, the twelfth-century repertory of images, with the Pantokrator almost invariably represented in the central dome and images of the Virgin, Christ, and angels in subsidiary domes, has been commonly retained in these later monuments. For example, the images of Christ, seen in western subsidiary domes of the Holy Apostles, and the appearance of archangels, Ancient of Days, Emmanuel and the Virgin in Ravanica recalls similar selection of images at Nerezi, Bogorodica Ljeviška, and Pherrai35. Thus, despite their physical distance, the programmatic unity of a select repertory of images encircled in medallions and reserved exclusively for domes was retained in the Palaeologan period.

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