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Daphni Monastery is one of the great masterpieces of the Byzantine empire

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The 11th-century Byzantine monastery, Daphni Monastery is found just outside of Athens. A  World Heritage site, Daphni Monastery is one of the most important masterpieces of the Byzantine Empire, noted for its beautiful interior mosaics. The church has been closed for restoration work since 1999, with no estimated date of completion.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The area originally hosted a Temple of Apollo, from which the name Daphni -- daphne is Greek for "laurel" gets its name. The temple was destroyed around 395 after paganism was outlawed by the Christian emperor. A single column of the temple can be seen near the entrance of the monastery.

A small Christian monastery was built here in the 6th Century, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The monastery was abandoned during the Slav invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries. The monastery was rebuilt on a much larger scale around 1080, when the Byzantine Empire was at its peak. While most of the monastic buildings have been lost, this is the church on view today.

Ransacked by invaders and damaged by earthquakes since its construction, after being pillaged by Frankish crusaders in 1205, it was given to the Cistercians, a western Catholic order in 1211. The Cistercian monks added the cloister and twin arches of the facade in their own Gothic style.

Daphni Monastery was a Cistercian monastery for almost 250 years. Two Frankish dukes of Athens, Otho de la Roche and Walter de Brienne, were buried in its church.

After the Ottoman Turks took Greece in 1458, they returned Daphni to Greek Orthodox monks. Daphni, however was not a functioning monastery during the Turkish occupation, and for a time it was used as an army barracks.

The monastery was again occupied by Greek Orthodox monks from the 16th century until the War of Independence, when it was officially deconsecrated in 1821. The church was again used as a barracks -- and later as a sanitarium between the years of 1883 and 1885.

Structural damage was caused by earthquakes in 1889 and 1897, after which restorations were carried out by the Greek Archaeological Society. The mosaics were cleaned by Italian artisans and the west side of the narthex and the dome were entirely rebuilt, reinforced in 1920.

A more extensive restoration project was undertaken by the Restorations Department of the Ministry of Culture in the 1950s. Restored, the cloister was repaired and the mosaics were cleaned again. In 1960, the walls filling the arches in the western wall of the exonarthex were removed and in 1968 the west entrance to the monastery was cleared.

After another damaging earthquake in 1999, the monastery was closed for restorations - and has remained closed since. There is no estimated date of completion.

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