Friday, 29 November 2013

Oddball Churches: Panayia Plataniotissa in Plataniotissa

Oddball Churches:  Panayia Plataniotissa,    Παναγίας της Πλατανιώτισσας) in Plataniotissa


Plataniotissa  is near enough to the  Mega Spileio monastery as the crow flies  but those using cars will find the route somewhat  more complicated. It can be reached from the Egion- Kalavrita road via Valta (Βάλτα) but the most spectacular approach is from the sea, taking a road 4.5 km west of Diαkopton on the old national road and south through Boufouskia (Μπουφούσκια).  A little stretch of dirt road ( well looked after) is worth it just to be so close to the spectacular cliffs looming over the road and to say that you passed through a village called the Bloated Bull.  At journeys end you will be rewarded by two churches and restaurants ( open every day in summer and winter weekends) serving wonderful food  (including boiled goat – delicious)  in the shade of plane trees right beside the churches. Feast day: The Nativity of Mary Sep 8th) Usually open every day but I am putting in Father Theodoros Deligiannis’ phone numbers if, in the off season,  you want to check first:  tel: 26920 23129, 69454489956945448995

Churches all over Greece vary in size, and materials, but Panagia Plataniotissa  adds a new wrinkle.  It is entirely contained in the bole of a plane tree, can accommodate 20 people in a pinch and may be the only tree anywhere with a floor tiled in blue and white.

Nestled in a pretty valley in the village of Plataniotissa , this church appeals from the get go.  Its proximity to a small river assures the lush growth of the plane trees, called Platάnia  in Greek. Of course there is a story…

One stormy night in 840 the miracle working icon of Mary (Theotokos )  was being taken from Patras back to its 'home' church Mega Spileo.  At the tiny village of  Klapatsouna (Κλαπατσούνα)  it was placed in this hollow tree overnight to  save it from the storm.  In the morning, an exact replica of the icon was impressed in the wood of the tree opposite from where it had been hung.  This now has a large frame around it and, if you squint, you can still see it  – a miracle itself after 1200 years of tree growth. 

I put in the original from Mega Spileio, created by the evangelist Saint Luke himself, to help you out a bit. (Παναγίας Βρεφοκρατούσας, Virgin and Child)

The Lilliputian sanctuary is a delight; it is  on the east wall. It begins at chest height and looks a bit like the stage of a Punch and Judy show. But it contains all of the necessary equipment just where it should be.  The tiny  and beautifully painted iconostasis has two columns demarcating the three areas in the sanctuary and curtains to keep them private.

Trees do not have domes but whoever was in charge of the church decoration has placed a small wooden plaque just where a dome should be, - with a Pantocrator too! 
Note the sprouting green leaves.

This tree has been tidied up considerably from years ago when the entrance door was old rusty metal, a red fire extinguisher stood handy in the doorway,  and all of the little votive offering – tamata, prayer beads, and even bits of jewellry were strung out on strings under the icon.
Now there is a large metal candle holder outside filled with sand, a sign strictly forbidding lighting candles inside the church, and the votives have all been captured neatly inside a large glass topped case.  All that would be fine if it were not for the new door….

Ah well.

Inside the tree, in just about every nook and cranny findable, are tiny scrunched up papers with prayers to the Panagia. There must be hundreds of them. This icon is still believed to be capable of miracles. That somehow makes up for the door.

 Stand back and look at the church in its entirety and you will see that the nave of the church is formed by three trees that merged into one. This striking symbol of the Trinity has not gone unnoticed.  In typical fashion, those seeking meaning find it and the four Plane trees surrounding the church are said to represent the four evangelists.

The Stone Church Beside the Tree

 The rectangular stone church dedicated to the Dormition of Mary (Κοίμησεως τῆς Θεοτόκου) next to Panagia Plataniotissa does not look like much from the outside but it is a little gem on the inside and should not be missed.  It has lost its barrel vault but its wall paintings dated at 1745 are plentiful and wonderful to “read”.  Even I guessed the date of the wall paintings. Those figures floating on fluffy clouds on the west wall  are the give-away. Especially charming are the filler decorations:  The yellow-pink roses that are between the medallions of the saints, in the sanctuary and elsewhere,  can actually be seen in the gardens of the villages between Plataniotissa and the coast. One or more of the painters may have been local.  The present church cannot be dated with any certainty before 1700 but be assured that there would have been an earlier a chapel next to the tree in order to receive pilgrims.

The skirting around the walls (That area of between the floor under the icon paintings)  is worth close scrutiny as are the filler decorations on the walls. Like the Mycenaens, these painters hated an empty space and had all sorts of filler decorations at the ready: squiggles, medallions, coloured lines, flora and fauna.

the roses

I can’t claim to have seen the birds in the neighbourhood , but you can give it a try.


A view towards the sanctuary

The Palaeologan double headed eagle on the right of the above picture did not come into vogue until the thirteenth century but, as a symbol of the Orthodox Church, it is depicted everywhere after that.

 The saints in the nave are lined up with depictions of the Twelve Great  Feasts and Bible stories above:


Panayia  Platytera (She who is wider than the heavens) is in the semi-dome of the apse as she should be. In fact this church is a textbook rendition of the iconic program.



Notice in the niche of the Prothesis,  (on the left in the sanctuary)  the depiction of Christ rising from his tomb.


On the western wall is a wonderful rendition of Revelations – the tortures and the serpent but I am not going to spoil the anticipation by putting in  pictures. I hope you will visit.

When you do, you might want to figure out what the slot that looks like it is for mail is doing in the Diaconion.(to the right of the sanctuary) It has me stumped. 


One of the pleasures of revisiting churches like Panagia Plataniotissa is to chat with other visitors, the locals, and a priest if one is available. It may take a few more bowls of boiled goat to get the answer to this little mystery…….
























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