Byzantine Crete

14. Church of Panagia Kera near Kritsa

1 km east of Kritsa village, Agios Nikolaos municipality, Lasithi regional unit
Original aisleless church – Byzantine period (?); three-aisled church – 13th century; most frescoes – first half of 14th century

This church is dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God. It was probably built in the Byzantine period as an aisleless church with a dome, just like the Church of Saint Nicholas in Ormos. At the beginning of the Venetian period, the dome was renovated and the aisles were added. Venetian influence can be seen, for example, in the shape of the windows in the west walls of the aisles. Buttresses support the north and south walls of the church. Pediments were added to the east and west in the 16th century.

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The interior walls of the church are almost entirely covered with frescoes. These are the most important Byzantine frescoes surviving in Crete. They were painted in two periods.

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The oldest frescoes of the church are fragmentarily preserved in the sanctuary niche and on the pendentives of the dome. They are from the mid-13th century.

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The second layer of frescoes was painted in the first two decades of the 14th century. They can be seen on the remaining surfaces of the nave. They depict scenes from the Christological cycle in relatively large panels. They show the influence of both the Middle Byzantine and Early Palaiologan art and are remarkable for their vividness and expressiveness.

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Notable scenes include the Last Supper and the Feast of Herod, showing tables full of food and drinks.

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On the western wall we see depictions of men and women suffering in Hell.

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The lower zone shows various holy figures.

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Among the figures in the lower zone is Saint Francis. This is a rare inclusion of a Catholic saint in the Orthodox iconography.

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The aisles were painted immediately after the completion of the frescoes of the nave.

The south aisle is dedicated to Saint Anne, mother of Mary, who is depicted in the sanctuary apse.

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Scenes from the life of Saint Anne are shown based on apocryphal sourcs. These are painted in a realistic and expressive fashion.

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In the lower zone, on the north wall, we see the figures of three holy women, who could be identified as Saint Irene, Saint Kyriaki and Saint Barbara. Opposite them, in a blind arch, is a fragment if the figure of Saint Theodore Stratelates on a horse. This aisle also has a donor inscription.

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The north aisle is dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great. Many frescoes here depict the Second Coming of Christ, and there full-length figures here as well. These frescoes were painted by less capable artists.

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This aisle was built with the contribution of Georgios Mazizanis, who is shown, together with his wife and daughter, in the northwest corner.

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