Sights - Lassithi Prefecture

Toplou Monastery


History of Toplou Monastery

Description of the monastery

The icon Megas ei Kyrie

The text of Megas ei Kyrie


The icon painter Ioannis Kornaros

Ioannis Kornaros lived from 1745 to 1796. Unfortunately not much is known about his life. But from a manuscript of the icon painter Stefanos Nikola´dis (1817-1907), we know that Kornaros worked in Crete and Cyprus plus in Sinai and perhaps also in Egypt.

In Crete he started his life as a painter at the Savvathiana monastery outside the village of Rogdia a little west of Iraklion. There he painted an icon by the name of "Megas ei Kyrie" (Great Art Thou, O Lord), a forerunner of the final version, which he later finished in Toplou. The original icon still existed in 1854, where Nikola´dis saw it, although half ruined by moist. Unfortunately it has since been ruined completely. Besides painting in the two monasteries, Kornaros painted in the Agios Matthaios ton Sina´ton church in Iraklion.

In the period 1775-1790 we find Kornaros in Sinai, where he both painted his own icons and restored others' plus he contributed to the decoration of the church ceiling in the Agia Aikaterini monastery. Icons from this period also exist in Egypt, but it is uncertain if he has in fact been there himself.

After his stay in Sinai Kornaros went on to Cyprus, were he among other things painted the "Archangel Michael" in 1795. Today it can be seen in the Byzantine Museum in Athens.


The icon Megas ei Kyrie (Great Art Thou, O Lord)


As mentioned before, you find in Toplou - in addition to his icon "Agia Anastasia in Farmakolytria" - also the "Megas ei Kyrie" from 1770. The name of it derives from the prayer to The Great Sanctification of the Water written by Sophronius the Jerusalemite Patriarch, which begins with exactly these words.


The icon, which is painted on wood and has the dimensions 1,33 X 0,85 m, has an inscription at the bottom to the left saying, who the painter was, when it was painted, and who paid for it:

A work by Ioannis Kornaros at the age of 25 years with the help of the Lord's
very most pious Mr Parthenios, monk and abbot, secularly called Kafouros, in the
fifth year of his abbey

To the right there is another inscription:

A gift of prayer from God's servant, the believing Dimitrios, his wife and their children.

The icon belongs to the category of icons, which depict many persons. These are often painted separated from each other. But on "Megas ei Kyrie" all the motifs are rather woven into each other and at the most separated by the water streams, which are the general element of the icon. Even though there are icons that resemble Kornaros' (for example in the Benaki Museum in Athens and in the Tretjaskov Collection in Moscow) it is still unique by - around the four central motifs - depicting the various scenes mentioned in the prayer. That Kornaros is the first to depict The Great Sanctification of the Water makes it interesting too.


Description of the icon.


The icon consists of 61 selected scenes from the Old and the New Testament. The four central motifs described in the icon are from the top The Holy Trinity surrounded and praised by the heavenly flocks (Gloria). Under this follow the baptism of Jesus, the Virgin Maria with the Infant Jesus encircled by Adam and Eve, and at the bottom is Jesus' arrival to the land of the dead. To the left and the right of these motifs are scenes from the Old and the New Testament. The central theme of the icon becomes in this way the baptism itself - at the top encircled by the heavenly and at the bottom by the earthly. It is exactly consistent with the prayer "Megas ei Kyrie", which belongs to the group of prayers with relations to the religious celebration Theofaneia (also called Epifaneia or Fota) on the 6th of January and celebrating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river and the appearance of The Holy Trinity during the baptism.

Kornaros' way of painting follows the Byzantine tradition with loans from the West, which is also known from for example Michail Damaskinos, Theofanis, Emm. Tzanes, Theodoros Poulakis and other Cretan icon painters from the 16th and 17th century. Is has to be remembered that Crete at that time was subjugated Venice, and that Kornaros derived from a Venetian-Cretan family. The depiction of The Holy Trinity, the angels around this, the baptism, the arrival to the land of the dead and many of the smaller depictions are loans from earlier painters (not least from Georgios Kastrofylakas, who to all appearances was his teacher) and not Kornaros' own, but he alone must be given the credit for the working out and the composition of these loans in an incredibly beautiful way. It is also his work to insert lines from the prayer "Megas ei Kyrie" next to the particular motifs.

The icon is also remarkable by depicting themes, which are not sanctioned by the Orthodox Church. The zodiac is normally not seen in church paintings, and the icon also personifies the four elements of nature.


Families Kornaros and Metzos


Two big and rich families - Kornaros and Metzos (DeMezzo) - lived in the eastern Crete during the Venetian Period. Both families derived from Venice, but in the course of time they became completely assimilated in Crete.

The Metzos family lived inside the country where they among other things had a large property (known by the name of Ekato Portes = The 100 Doors) in the village of Etia, about 20 km south of Sitia. Today the area is preserved, and a thorough renovation has begun. The family built a big mansion in the village as early as at the end of the 15th century, but unfortunately it was destroyed at the end of the 19th century.

The Kornaros family had possessions in large parts of Crete. In a document drawn up by Sitia's notary in 1581 is written that an inhabitant of the village of Skopi by the name of Marinos is selling and handing over a piece of land situated in Piskokefalo to the noble Mrs Zampia, princess after the noble prince monsieur Giacomo Kornaros. Zampia who was a daughter of Ioannis Metzos, was the mother of Andreas and Vitzentzos Kornaros (the poet of the great medieval work Erotokritos). In a document from 1582 the son Andreas Kornaros hands over to his cousin Cornarola F. Kornaros a part of the village of Thrapsano. In his will from 1611 is written that he makes his brother Vitzentzos the heir of his luxurious house, his big book collection and his village Thrapsano. If Vitzentzos is not alive, the inheritance is to be passed on to his niece Caterusa.

According to the Crete-researcher Stelios Spanakis, the grave of the Kornaros family is at the Agios Georgios church in the village of Paraspori, but I did not succeed in finding it.


The collected photo series from the monastery

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