Church of “Christ” (Transfiguration of Christ) in Askra

1. General remarks

The church of Christ was built on the homonymous plateau, in an idyllic site within vineyards, with the mountain range of Helikon on the horizon. It lies between the sites of Pyrgaki or Keressos, where an ancient tower stands, and Paliovoro, with the remains of a medieval tower in its southwest side. On the foot of Paliovoro, 19th-century travelers also record the remains of the older site of the Palaiopanagia settlement.

The church, which was lying in ruins until the end of the 1960s, was known to the inhabitants of Askri as the church of the Resurrection of Christ. After the church was cleaned out from vegetation, initially from the locals, it was revealed that its wall-masonry survived in a sufficient height and, more precisely, up to the height of its vaulting. The surviving data allowed the creation of a reconstruction drawing, after a detailed recording, and subsequently its restoration, for which was used in large parts the building material form the fallen pieces of the church. The overall aesthetic result is satisfying enough, although a few building errors are observed, located mostly on the bend of the roofs above the cross arms and on the dome.

2. Church description

The church of Transfiguration belongs to the architectural type of the transitional cross-in-square domed church and has a rectangular ground plan. To the west of the church there is no narthex, while, to the east, it ends into three semicircular apses. In the central apse, larger in width and height from the lateral ones, a brick-framed double-light window is opened. Two more single-lobed windows, of smaller dimensions, on the upper part of the transversal cross arms, light the church interior.

The church of Christ is built with roughly dressed stones with a single zone of brick stones applied to most of the horizontal joints. Brick stones or successive zones of pebbles (vesala) are applied on the vertical joints, without any regularity. Material from ancient buildings has been also used for its building. Among them is included a rectangular block, embedded in the west side of the northeastern dividing wall. It is decorated with the depiction of a kylix, which has been scrapped off, and the inscription .ΧΑΡΕ. on its upper side. Another inscribed, marble block has been embedded in the north wall of the west cross arm.

The dome has been fully restored following the examples of other churches of the same type. In the tall, cylindrical drum four single-lobed windows open, corresponding to the four cross arms. Its support is secured through arches, which step on long walls, as it happens in this version of the cross-in-square type. Small, arched entrances which open on these walls, serve the communication of the four, rectangular lateral compartments with the vertical arms of the cross. The cross-shaped core, as well the lateral compartments, which are roofed in a lower level, are covered with semicircular vaults. For their construction a wooden frame was used, as it is attested by the beam holes, namely square recesses, used for its support. These are found on the springing of the vaults, in relatively close distance from each other.

The only entrance is opened in the centre of the west wall and is decorated with a bricked arch which occupies the whole width of the lintel. As lintel a reused rectangular member has been used, while the doorposts are formed by the wall-masonry. This entrance was found blocked, during the cleaning and uncovering works, making the church interior inaccessible. Probably, the blocking of the entrance was enforced due to security reasons which arose because of the church’s state of preservation and sealed the end of its function.

In its interior a few pieces of the wall decoration survive. Two layers are discerned, of which the second one can be placed chronologically to the end of the 12th or the 13th century. One of the fragments preserves an aged, bearded male figure with a halo. The face is rendered in a three-quarters posture, looking westwards, with its gaze turned upwards. Maybe it is Adam from the scene of the Resurrection of Christ.

The restoration works included the formation of the church's surrounding area, in order to free the monument from the deposits, to create a stone bench, running along the three sides of the church, in order to protect it from moisture, as well other supplementary works.

In its surrounding area there are no traces of other buildings or pottery, a fact that leads to the conclusion that this particular church never functioned in the past as a monastery katholikon, but only as one of the many countryside chapels built in that area. The only active monastery in the Valley of the Muses was in earlier times that of Saint Nicolas, to the southwest of the church of Christ. Only the church survives from this monastery, around of which remains of other buildings are discerned.

Based on its architectural type, its wall-masonry and the proportions of its cross arms, the church of the Transfiguration or church of Christ goes back to the second half of the 9th or the beginnings of the 10th century. A dating in the 10th century seems more probable, since the length of both the dividing walls in east and west has been reduced and the walls have the shape of a pilaster, although their ground plan still preserves rectangular proportions.