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E01271: The church of Panagia Drosiani on the island of Naxos (Aegean Islands) houses labelled pre-iconoclastic paintings of saints, datable to the 7th/8th c.: *Kosmas and Damianos (brothers, physician martyrs of Syria, S00385) *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033); possibly *Solomon (Old Testament king of Israel, S00270); *John the Baptist (S00020); just possibly *Catherine (martyr of Alexandria, S00765); possibly *George (soldier and martyr, S00259); and *Ioulianos/Julianus (possibly the martyr of Cilicia, S00305).

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posted on 2016-04-13, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Studies on the late antique and Byzantine churches of the island of Naxos began with the works of Perikles Zerlentes, published at the turn of the 20th c., and N. Kalοgeropoulos, edited in the 1930s. However, Georgios Dimitrokallis stresses that systematical research started only in the 1960s (for references, see: Dimitrokallis 1968, 283, note 3). In 1988 Nikolaos Drandakis published the monograph Οἱ παλαιοχριστιανικὲς τοιχογραφίες στὴ Δροσιανὴ τῆς Νάξου, discussing important pre-iconoclastic iconographical evidence for the cult of saints from the church of Παναγία Δροσιανή/Panagia Drosiani.

The church is located in the centre of the island, about halfway between the cities of Moni and Chalkio. It is the only remnant of a local monastery, dedicated to 'the birth of the God-Bearer' (Γενέσιο της Θεότοκου), but also named Panagia Drosiani ('the dewy All-Holy one'). The dedication is apparently of a later (probably middle Byzantine) date.

The oldest phase of the church is dated to the later half of the 6th c. It is believed that the original building consisted of one nave and the three-conch choir, preserved to date. The internal dimensions of the building are: L. 19,40 m; W. 3,5 m (at the north-western end) - c. 8 m (between opposite apses in the choir). The church is positioned on an axis NW-SE with its choir directed towards Jerusalem. The choir is covered by a dome on a drum with two windows. The church was several times extended in the middle Byzantine and modern periods.

The sanctuary is famous for preserving several pre-iconoclastic labelled paintings, including some of saints, in the southeastern apse, in the northern apse, and on the dome of the choir, dated to the 7th c. (usually to its later half). An overview of the paintings in the church (especially that with two figures of Christ as Pantokrator on the dome) suggets that the people who commissioned them were adherents of the Chalcedonian creed, opposing both Miaphysitism and Monotheletism, the latter being supported by emperors of the period. Nikolaos Ghiloes (see: Ghiloes 1998, 70), argues that the double image of Christ, symbolically stresses the existence of his two natures, the divine and the human one.

It is highly probably that the sanctuary served as the cathedral church of the island.

The labelled paintings and inscriptions from the oldest part of church were reproduced and discussed by Georges Kiourtzian in his corpus of Christian inscriptions from the Aegean Islands.

Drandakis published six late antique votive inscriptions from the church, beginning with the formula ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας / 'for the salvation' and ὑπὲρ εὐχῆς / 'as a vow', recording the names of donors and their families, and of a bishop (see: Drandakis 1988, 46-51). However, none of them refers directly to a saint, so just one will be offered in full here. The inscription labels the picture of Christ as the Pantokrator on the dome of the choir and gives the names of the donors of this most important painting of the church. They were probably the people who authorised the whole iconographical programme of the sanctuary:

Inscription 1: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 38; Drandakis 1988, 45-46.

ὑπὲρ σο-
τηρίας Ἀνδ-
ρέα κ(αὶ) τῆς συμβ(ίου)
α̣ὐτ̣ο̣ῦ κ(αὶ) τῶν τέ-
[κ]̣νο̣ν ̣α̣ὐτῶν
ϙ θ

'As a vow for the salvation of Andreas, and his wife, and their children. 99 (= amen).'

The inscription, written with white letters on a crimson background, is sited in a medallion, between the two figures of Christ. It is possible that more names of donors were written in two other medallions, positioned next to the discussed one.

Among labelled paintings of saints, the following have been dated to the late antique period:

Painting 1: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 39 = Dandrakis 1988, pp. 42, 74-75.

In the upper register in the northern apse of the choir there is a depiction of two busts of the holy physicians, Kosmas and Damianos. The bust are within medallions flanking a picture of Mary, Mother of Christ, as the Nicopea ('the one who brings victory'). The names of the saints are written vertically, next to their busts. Letter height 0.03-0.04 m.

A: + ὁ | ἅ|γι|ος

B: + ὁ | ἅγι|ο|ς

A: '+ Saint Kosmas'
B: '+ Saint Damianos'

Kiourtzian notes that a sanctuary, where the two saints were venerated together with Mary, is also attested by an inscription from Epiphaneia/̣Hama (Syria): ὅροι ἄσυλοι τῆς δεσποίνης ἡνῶν τ(ῆς) Θεοτόκου (καὶ) τῶν ἁγίων Κοσμᾶ (καὶ) Δαμιανοῦ κ.τ.λ. / 'The inviolable boundaries (of the church) of Our Lady the God-Bearer (and) Saints Kosmas (and) Damianos, etc.' (see: $E01926).

Painting 2: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 40; Drandakis 1988, 42, 78-80.

The lower register of paintings of the northern apse of the choir contains a depiction of Christ. To the left of it there is a rectangular panel with full-length portraits of Mary, Mother of Christ, and Solomon, the Old Testament king of Israel, as a Christian saint, holding a cross. The figures are labelled (letter height: 0.025-0.03 m):

A: + | ὁ ἅ|γι|ο|ς

B: + | ἡ ἁ|γί|α

B1. [Μ]|α|ρί|[α] Drandakis

A: 'The holy Solomon'
B: 'The holy [Mary]'

Kiourtzian notes that Solomon was not venerated as a saint, neither by Jews nor by Christians, though he is sometimes mentioned in Christian writings in the genealogy of Jesus, and he was invoked in inscribed charms, as a protector from evil spirits, by both pagans and Christians. But here Solomon appears exactly as a saint, holding a cross and named ὁ ἅγιος. Perhaps he was called so only because of the conventional way of depicting holy figures on paintings in churches. Remarkably, Mary is likewise named ἡ ἁγία in the corresponding label, while she was usually named Θεοτόκος/'the God-Bearer' in eastern inscriptions. Another explanation (see: Kiourtzian 2000, 109) is that the painting of Solomon is to be considered together with that of a female figure, whose label is lost, standing to the right of Christ (see below), as the allegory of the two Churches – Solomon represents the Old Convenant, i.e. Ecclesia ex circumcisione / 'The Church of the Circumcision', and the woman: the New Convenant, that is Ecclesia ex Gentibus / 'The Church of the Gentiles'.

Between these paintings there is a votive inscription on behalf of a certain Ioannes, Anastasia and their parents. Kiourtzian supposes that they were the donors, who funded the decorations in this section of the apse (see: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 41; Drandakis 1988, 49). It is likely that Solomon and Mary were meant to intercede for them.

Painting 3: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 42 = Drandakis 1988, pp. 42, 84-85.

To the right of the depiction of Christ in the lower register of paintings in the northern apse of the choir is a rectangular panel with pictures of a female saint, possibly Saint Catherine (only two letters of her name are legible: ΡΙ), and John the Baptist (with long hair and camel-skin dress). These are again full-length depictions, labelled (letter height 0.03 m):

A: + ὁ | ἅ|γι|[ος]

B: [+ ἡ ἁγία]
[Αἰκατε]ρί[νη (?)]

A1. [ὁ ἅγιος] Drandakis || B1. [Νύμφη Χ]ρι[στοῦ] Pallas

A: + Saint John.
B: [+ Saint Cathe]ri[ne (?)].

The figure of John is to be connected with that of Mary, from the opposite side of the painting of Christ. Together they form a scene with the deesis motif. Nonetheless, John's position is unusual, compared with middle Byzantine paintings, where this popular motif is also used. It is possible that this is due to the pre-iconoclastic date of the painting.

The woman is dressed like an empress. Certainly she is not one of the donors, but rather a holy figure. Drandakis reconstructed the label with her name as [+ ἡ ἁγία Αἰκατε]ρί[νη] / '[Saint Cathe]ri[ne]. Demetrios Pallas considered the figure as the allegory of the Church and reconstructed her name as [Νύμφη Χ]ρι[στοῦ] / '[the Bride of Ch]ri[st]', see: Pallas 1989-1990, 129-130. Kiourtzian believed that the figure should be interpreted together with that of Solomon, standing to the left of Christ (see above), as the allegory of Ecclesia ex Gentibus / 'The Church of the Gentiles'.

Painting 4: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 43; Drandakis 1988, 42, 72.

On the left-hand part of the arch at the entrance to the northern apse of the choir there is a painting of a saint with a short beard and short hair. The label is only partially preserved (letter height 0.03 m):

ὁ ̣ἅ|γ|ι|ο|ς

'Saint G[- - -]'

The saint is probably George or Gregory.

Painting 5: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 44; Drandakis 1988, 41, 71.

On the right-hand part of the arch at the entrance to the northern apse of the choir, opposite Painting 4, there is a depiction of a young male figure with a nimbus, holding a Gospel, labelled (letter height 0.03 m):

[ὁ ἅγιος]

'[Saint] Ioulianos'

Drandakis believed that the picture showed a priest (presbyter), rather than a bishop, and identifed him as probably Julian, the martyr of Ankyra. But, as Kiourtzian rightly points out, the Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae contains entries on more then twelve saints bearing this name. Furthermore, there is no other evidence for the cult of Julian of Ankyra in the Aegean Islands and the note in Synaxarium describes him as an old person, while the man depicted in the painting, is young.

Next to the painting of Julian there is a votive inscription on behalf of a certain Stephanos and his unnamed parents (see: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 45; Drandakis 1988, 48-49).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Kosmas and Damianos, brothers, physician martyrs in Syria, ob. 285/287 : S00385 Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Solomon, Old Testament king of Israel : S00270 John the Baptist : S00020 Catherine, martyr of Alexandria, ob. 305-313 : S00765 George

Saint Name in Source

Κοσμᾶς καὶ Δαμιανός Μαρία Σολομών Ἰωάννης [Αἰκατε]ρί[νη] Γε[ώργιος Ἰουλιανός

Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Aegean islands and Cyprus Aegean islands and Cyprus Aegean islands and Cyprus Aegean islands and Cyprus

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Naxos (island) Moni Chalkio Drosiani

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Naxos (island) Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Moni Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Chalkio Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Drosiani Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Public display of an image

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Other lay individuals/ people Ecclesiastics - bishops


Edition: Kiourtzian, G., Recueil des inscriptions grecques chrétiennes des Cyclades, de la fin du IIIe au VIIIe siècle après J.-C., (Travaux et mémoires du Centre de recherche d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance. Monographies 12, Paris: De Boccard, 2000), 99-116. Drandakis, N.B., Οι παλαιοχριστιανικές τοιχογραφίες στη Δροσιανή της Νάξου (Δημοσιεύματα του Αρχαιολογικού Δελτίου 36, Athens: Ταμείο Αρχαιολογικών Πόρων και Απαλλοτριώσεων, 1988). Further reading: Dimitrokallis, G., "The Byzantine churches of Naxos", The American Journal of Archaeology 72 (1968), 283-286. Ghioles, N., "Οι παλαιότερες τοιχογραφίες της Παναγίας Δροσιανής στη Νάξο και η εποχή τους", Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρίας 20 (1998), 65–70. Kalogeropoulos, N., "Τριάκοντα πέντε ἄγνωστοι βυζαντινοί ναοί τῆς Νάξου", Νέα Ἑστία 14 (1933), 799-805, 871-877, 928-934. Kiourtzian, G., "Pietas insulariorum", [in:] Eupsychia: mélanges offerts à Hélène Ahrweiler, vol. 2 (Série Byzantina Sorbonensia 16, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998), 365, 368, 373. Korres, G.N., "Επωνυμίαι της Παναγίας εν Νάξῳ", Ἐπετηρίς Ἑταιρείας Κυκλαδικῶν Μελετῶν 6 (1967), 563. Pallas, D., "Ὁ Χριστὸς ὡς ἡ Θεία Σοφία. Η εικονογραφική περιπέτεια μιας θεολογικής έννοιας", Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρίας 15 (1989-1990), 119-144. Zerlentes, P., "Ἐπιγραφαί ἐκ Νάξου", Athenische Mitteilungen 8 (1883), 384-385. Zerlentes, P., "Βυζαντινή Ἐπιγραφή ἐκ Νςαξου", Byzantinische Zeitschrift 16 (1907), 286-288. Reference works: Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 39, 860. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 50, 771.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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