It was noon in the hinterland of Naxos island, in Cyclades, under the heat of July; a tough time to do field research. I had tried to find the much important byzantine chapels along the olive groves around the village of Halki. I was praying for a cool shade. And from afar I saw just beside the road a Byzantine church, built next to a small cemetery. I looked at my maps and my notes. “Yes…” I said, “this is the one…”.
True! This is one of the oldest and most beautiful and important churches of Naxos island (for many scholars this is the most important religious monument on the island!). And it is called Virgin Mary Drosiani (drosia means coolness in Greek). So that was a cool church, indeed…
The Virgin Mary Drosiani church once belonged to an old monastery that was built here. The church was also called Theoskepasti and Virgin Mary Kera. I observed the temple carefully. It has a unique architecture, three bedded domed chapels attached to the north wall and the style of the church is single-nave domed with three niches. The chapels keep a really evocative atmosphere and I saw there many fragments of marble architectural parts, post byzantine reliefs and sculptures. The domes of the two chapels are quite strange as their outside formation is square!
Exciting architecture, however what makes the temple fantastically important are the frescoes. Many scholars say that the paintings that have been preserved here are among the oldest in the Balkans, dating to the 6th century and the first half of the 7th century!
There are other layers of wall paintings – dating from the 11th to the 14th century – on the walls and they all define a set of unique beauty. Among the most important paintings is the rare depiction of Christ in the dome in two forms (younger and elder, a rare example of pre-iconoclastic period) and the depiction of the Virgin Mary as Saint Maria!
I looked around silent. My book says that both representations are found in the period of Monophysitism . I thought it is awesome…
A very interesting fresco of the Virgin Nikopios ( Virgin the Victory maker) is painted in a niche with the Saints Agioi Anargyri. Virgin Mary has a particularly expressive and sweet face .
The old marble altar, the marble candlesticks and some old icons are also preserved in the church. Among them I looked for the interpretation of the strange epithet of the Virgin Mary. Drosiani! Why Drosiani ?
I found it. I mean I found the old image of Our Lady Drossiani, the Virgin Mary that is, which is associated with many legends and traditions. These stories that have survived through the dust of centuries explain the epithet of the Virgin Mary. Some stories say that it was named Drosiani because Virgin Mary refreshed (gave drosia, aka coolness) the place by her grace, brought water and made the plain around Halki fertile and fruitful. Some other stories say that the picture is “cooled ” and sweated , warning the residents of the old monastery for some upcoming danger. I thought about which story is true.The icon, however, was dry. The plain at Halki remains fertile and cool and fruitfull today.
I do not know. But I got the coolness of Virgin Mary Drossiani that afternoon, I lit a candle and took the streets.
The Virgin Marty Drossiani stayed behind and I reentered the heat …
Where am I ?
The church of Virgin Mary Drosiani is located in Naxos. The church is just on the road, between the village Moni and the village Halki, in the plain of Tragaia. The quickest way to get there is by car from the town of Naxos. You can arrive on the island by air from Athens or by ferry from Piraeus.