The monastery of Daphne-Mahaffy John Pentland-1890
Daphni (or Dafni) is an eleventh-century Byzantine monastery eleven kilometers (6.8 miles) northwest of central Athens in the suburb of Chaidari. It is situated near the forest of the same name, on the Sacred Way that led to Eleusis. The forest covers about 18 km2 (7 sq mi), and surrounds a laurel grove. “Daphni” is the modern Greek name that means “laurel grove”, derived from Daphneion (Lauretum).
The Daphni Monastery is said to have been built at the site of the ancient temple of Apollo Dafnaios. Fortified and surrounded by high defensive walls, only two entrances lead to the perivolos, where the Monastery’s main church is located, the imposing “Katholikon“.
Daphni monastery the “katholikon”.
Other structures, including the monks’ chambers and the dining room, are also located here. Like most of Athens’ Byzantine buildings, the monastery’s Katholikon dates from the 11th Century, and has been restored multiple times during its thousand years of existence. Fortunately, many of its exquisite, original mosaic decorations have been preserved.
Over the centuries, the Monastery gradually fell into disrepair and, by the late 19th Century, it had been abandoned by the monks, subsequently being used as a public mental hospital. Today, however, this fortified monastery is included in the Unesco World Record of Cultural Heritage.
the Daphni monastery mosaics
The interior of The Daphni Monastery has an elegant interplay of spaces and light with the windows at the base of the dome illuminating the vertical space above; as the space becomes taller, it also become brighter. This graduated light enhances the radiant gold-ground tesserae used to create the remarkable quality of the mosaics.
In Byzantine theology, the church building was a symbol of the Christian universe, intended to reflect the splendor of heaven. A standardized program in Byzantine churches established the order in which the representations were arranged. The most sacred characters were depicted in the dome and the apse, while below, the dome scenes were arranged from higher to lower levels relating to their level of religious importance.
Daphni monastery the mosaic “Christ Pantokrator”
Visitors to the church are immediately drawn to the most important and famous of the mosaics: Christ Pantocrator (Lord of the Universe) watching over all from the crown of the dome. He is depicted with a stern face and a threatening gaze with only his head and shoulders shown. This medallion is recognized as representing high artistic quality and as “one of the greatest creations in art”.