The Basilica of Agios Stefanos.

by Archimandrite KONSTANTINOS MANIOTIS - Chief of the central church of Kefalos

Translated by Sissy Tsantsaraki

 In the beginning of the 4th BC century, with the Mediolana decree, the faith in Christianity declared free and equal with other known religions. This was a real triumph for Christianity. The people had now, though, more praying and pastoring needs because the number of the Christians had been raised and their worship could be enriched. This fact, made them create the first, new and impressive churches, especially in the Palestine area in the beginning (from King Great Constantine and his mother Saint Helen) and in the Holy-Land - Rome- Constantinople area later. These churches were named “Basilicas”, which means all over the world, the church where the King Christ is beloved.

The main characteristics of this kind of church are the line of its length combined with a big depth and height. On the island of Kos, which exists in this area, we can see a lot of Basilicas. The most impressive and well-kept, is based in Agios Stefanos bay, opposite little “Kastri” island. In fact, it is a complex of two Basilicas, built on a rock in a perfect condition.

They were found by the Italian professor “Laurenzi” and were rebuilt between 469 and 554 AC and between the two big earthquakes that took place on the island. The second one, actually, was fatal for the Basilica.

The south Basilica which is 22, 85 X 15, 50 meters, is the biggest and the oldest of the whole complex. To built it, people used red, local porous stone. If we see the basement, there must have been a  domed pillar,  which led to the “Ethrio”. Ethrio, (photo n. 17) was a big rectangular yard, in front of the Basilica’s face, which was surrounded by big granite pillars that were repaired. The Ethrio was used for practical, social and operational needs, especially before the addition of the “Narthikas” in the church. (Narthikas is the first room of the church, where we can usually light our candles and see the first icons. In this room, in the old times, the Christians that had not been baptized yet were listening to the preaching and watching the service up to a certain point).

 In the center of Ethrio there are ruins of an old source. Its water was used for drinking or cleaning the body and soul, that was happening symbolically.

After the “cleaning” the people were entering in Narthikas. The rest of the people, who had to be taught first, or had done something bad, or were in seine, had to stay in Ethrio.

Because of the lack of space, the Ethrio of Agios Stefanos is built bendy. Its floor is lower than the Narthikas’ floor and the main church’s. So, people sculptured stairs along all the east side of Ethrio.

Descending these sculptured stairs, we enter in Narthikas, a long and narrow room. The people shouldn’t be able to watch straight what was happening in the “Iero” (the holy place where only the priests are), so they could enter to Narthikas from the left or the right side doors only.

In the centre of the floor of Narthikas, there is a mosaic with two peacocks in the space between the central circle and the square which is around. We can see also in the centre of the complex an eagle with open wings and many other birds in different poses that fill in this circle. (photos n. 19, 25, 26).

Passing Narthikas we enter through the three gates the main church, the place where all the faiths were gathering for the service. On the main entrance’s floor there is a mosaic sign. (photo n. 27).

The main church is rectangular and ends in the arch of the Iero. It is separated in three spaces with pillars. The middle one is larger than the side ones. The pillars       are made by white marble and have Ionian capitals (photo n. 20). The space in between the pillars was added with marble places, some of which we can see today.

The middle space was built higher in order to have more light coming from the side and the middle space’s windows. In the middle space there was a marble pulpit, a part of which, we can see today with its stairs. (photo n. 21).  The floor is decorated with a mosaic filled with united wheels. (photo n. 22).

The Iero is separated from the rest of the main church by the ruins of the Templo (the icon-screen) and is slightly higher, because it is a place only for the priests.  In the middle of it, there are marble ruins of “Holy Table” (photo n. 23) which was probably the base where its four legs were based. It is rectangular with an embossed place on its side.

Around the “Holy Table” there are ruins of the “Sinthrono”. The chairs where the priests were sitting having the Bishop in the centre. The Sinthrono has a special meaning because it is showing the great teaching importance of the Bishop who is symbolizing the Christ himself.

Through a door, on the north side of the temple, close to the Narthikas, we enter another Basilica, which bends on the first Basilica’s north wall. (photo n. 15). It is separated in three spaces too, not only with pillars but with rectangular built bases also, which is the only difference between the two Basilicas.

It’s Sinthrono and the basement of the temple is in a good condition. The floor is decorated with a mosaic filled in with geometric and plant complexes.  (photo n. 18). At the back of the Iero of the second basilica, at the northeast side of the whole complex, we can see the ruins of the “Baptistirio”. The place where the people were baptized  after the teaching procedure.(photo n. 24).

It is almost square, 10,55x 9,45 meters inside. There are corridors around it and is connected with three doors that lead to the north, west and south side of it. The walls are 0,58 m. In the four corners of it, we can see four square pillars, built       0,42x0,42 m. which were basing the low sculptured dome. The floor is covered by marble places,  and  the corridors by mosaics filled  with eight-ray stars  showing geometric shapes, plants and birds. There are also wheels with the shape of chain,    and wavy line. (photos n. 25,26)

The complex of Baptistirio is communicating with the big Basilica through a door,  which  opens to the east side of its wall, and with the little one through another door to the east side of its north space.

The font  we can see is not unfortunately in good condition.  It is built with stones and has marble inside and outside. Inside in the bottom is square, in the middle has eight corners and at the top had probably the shape of a cross. From this cross, we have the west side left today, where we can see two stairs 0,20 and 0,37 m. high. The top of the font is  0,22 m far from the floor. It is  0,22 m thick. Its depth was 0,82m.

Besides the Baptistirio, the complex has also other spaces. Through a deep corridor along the south side of the main temple, people could pass from the Ethrio to the right side room of “diakoniko” and the additional rooms next to the Iero. The diakoniko was a special room, where the people could leave the bread, wine, honey, candles (which are necessary for the ceremonies). These were transferred for the Communion to the Holy Table, which was in front of the Iero. The room that is next to the Iero was used as storage  for the equipment of the temple.

Apart the Basilicas of Agios Stefanos, there are also in the north sides of mount Zini, the old Christianic Basilica of Kamari. (photos 28,29).

It has also three spaces. The middle space is separated from the others by  two lines of ten columns each one. This middle space ends to a  half-circle arch, at the east side. At the northeast corner of this temple there is an additional half-circle arch building. At the west side of the temple we see the Narthikas which communicates with the spaces with separate entrances. The front wall of the  Narthikas is double. We can see first the inside wall and then the outside which was made to support the inside one. The outside one goes on to the south side of the temple, is the south outside wall of a corridor that goes along all the south side of the temple.

The floor is decorated  by a multicolored mosaic in a triangle frame. The inlays  are in round lines. (photo n.30).  We can see mosaics also in the side spaces. There are four types of these mosaics.  The three of them are purely geometrical. The fourth one has circles showing worship objects  and symbols ( artoforia, fish, anchors etc). It is very impressive to see the double axe in  circles, which is a well-known Mycenaean symbol and is never found in a Christian temple again.  A stone with a sculptured cross on a circle having  on its sides the letters A and  Ω (the first and the last letter of the alphabet) and a plate with ancient inscription are very remarkable. ( photo n.31).

Apart these, there are   lots of other monuments, smaller but not always in a good condition allover   Kefalos. This fact  shows that from the beginning of the fourth century there was a very flourishing and well-organized,  pious Christian community in the area. These monuments are a very precious, cultural and spiritual inheritance for the people of Kefalos.

 Archimandrite KONSTANTINOS MANIOTIS - Chief of the central church of Kefalos

Translated by Sissy Tsantsaraki





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