Saint Panteleimon


Saint Panteleimon church at Bitzariano
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The Byzantine church of Saint Panteleimon in Bitzariano (or Pigi) is considered to be one of the oldest Christian temples in Crete. It is built in a beautiful natural environment and is located about 3 km near the small town Kastelli in the province of Pediada. It belongs to the architectural type of the three-aisled vaulted basilica, with its three aisles dedicated to Saint Panteleimon, Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi), and Saint John (Agios Ioannis).

The initial phase of this important mid-Byzantine building dates back to the second half of the 11th century. From the initial phase of the building, parts of the south wall and the east wall are preserved with three semicircular arches with the central one being the largest. The south wall has four arches, two of which are on the east side of the original temple and the other two are dated in a reconstruction phase that took place in the 12th century. The remaining walls and the roof date back to the 13th century. Much of the upper part of the west wall had collapsed as early as the late 19th century.

It is speculated that in ancient times the site was used as an Asclepieion or a Holy Spring. The pillars and the lower part of the masonry come from marble elements of an earlier Roman or Byzantine building, as well as crosses and inscriptions from Byzantine reliefs from ancient Lyttos. Inside, there are two rows of arches that separate the aisles. These dividing arches rest on columns without capitals except for one of the columns that have the peculiarity of being made exclusively of four Corinthian capitals, placed one on top of the other.

The church was decorated with murals, many of which survive to this day in three layers. In the second half of the 11th century, the icon of Saint Nicholas in the eastern part of the south wall and the frontal depictions of Christ and Saint Panteleimon on the front of the eastern pillars are dated. The end of the 12th century includes the depiction of Saints Arsenios and Efthymios belonging to the reconstructed western part of the south wall and Saint John the Baptist (Agios Ioannis Prodromos) in the niche of the sanctuary of the southern aisle. In the third layer of frescoes (13th century) belong the representations of the Holy Communion (Melismos) in the central arch, the Communion of the Apostles higher, and the enthroned Virgin Mary among archangels. The south wall depicts in turn the full-size figures of Saint Anne breastfeeding the Virgin Mary, Saint George, Saint Theodore, an Archangel, a military saint, and again Saint George. Finally, two guardian Archangels are depicted on either side of the main entrance.

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Additional Info

  • Location: Heraklion Prefecture
  • Type: Church
  • Accessibility: Paved road

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