Rock-cut church of Santa Cristina

Date: Frescoes decoration dating from 959 to the third quarter of the eleventh century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Description: A small subterranean rock-cut church dedicated to St. Christine at Carpignano, in mainland southern Italy, was most likely a family chapel. It was decorated with Byzantine frescoes between 959, the date inscribed on the earliest image, and the third quarter of the eleventh century, when Byzantine rule in Italy ended. The space was repeatedly enlarged and frescoed, and many of the images are accompanied by inscriptions that name the patrons and artist.

The oldest painting at Santa Cristina, reproduced here, is an enthroned Christ between Mary and Gabriel in the Annunciation at the south edge of the east wall. The date is known from the accompanying Greek inscription: "Remember, Lord, your servant Leo the priest, and his wife Chrysolea and all his family, Amen. Painted by the hand of Theophylact, painter, month of May, second indiction, year 6467 [i.e., 959]." On the pier (left of the photograph), an unidentified bishop saint (probably Nicholas) stands between St. Theodore and Christine. The paintings resemble Byzantine frescoes in Cappadocia, such as Old Tokalı Kilise.

Among the final images are those in a funerary arcosolium at the west edge of the north wall. In the soffit of the arch are the Theotokos and Child and St. Nicholas, who seem to bend protectively over the dead boy, Stratigoules, who is commemorated in the long lament in metrical verse painted on the back wall on both sides of St. Christine. The Greek text tells us that the family owned servants, the boy attended school, and the father held a modest title, but what comes across most strongly is parental grief. The father created a compelling visual and verbal space of mourning and commemoration in which his child is protected by powerful saints who are exhorted to "place my very dear child in the bosom of the great patriarch Abraham" (Luke 16:22–23), where he will enjoy the reward of eternal life among the righteous in paradise while awaiting the Resurrection.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 6
Image Credits: Linda Safran

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