Are you ready for another trip to beautiful Crete? This time we are going to visit the Monastery of Arkadi. This place is famous for one of the many tragedies which befell the island during Ottoman rule. In 1866, 943 Greeks, mainly women and children, had sought refuge at the Monastery. After three days of fierce battle with the Turks, they decided to rather kill themselves by igniting barrels of gunpowder, than to fell into the hands of the Turks. It is quite impressive to walk into the ruined gunpowder magazine. You can read more about the tragedy and the monastery's history here. Not mentioned anywhere, the monastery used to house a famous workshop for the embroidery of ecclesiastical textiles for the Greek Orthodox church! And these beauties have recently returned to Arkadi. Freshly conserved and beautifully presented. Officially, you are not allowed to take pictures. However, I explained to the guard that I am an embroideress myself and that I re-create historical vestments. It was then ok for me to take as many pictures as I liked!
But first things first. The embroidered vestments of the Orthodox Church are very different from the ones we are used to in the West. We mainly have chasubles, copes and dalmatics, they have epigonation (rhomboid piece of luxurious material suspended from the waist at knee-level), epimanikia (detachable cuffs used to bind the wide sleeves of lower vestments), epitrachelion (stole), orarion (narrow band of cloth wound around the upper body of the deacon) and phaelonion (chasuble) with polos (medallion applique sewn onto other vestments). Yes, that's all Greek to me too :). Secondly, these vestments date to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Thirdly, the monks who made them, signed their work. How amazing is that?
The style of the embroideries and the techniques used, differ from Western European goldwork embroidery of the same period. But there are parallels. Especially the use of floral motives is seen in both traditions in this period. Apparently, the use of padding is also a Western influence as the Byzantine tradition does not make use of it. Apart from fine gold and silver threads, the embroiderers also used semi-precious stones and silk in their embroideries. Crimson silk was preferred for the background. Faces were stitched by appliqueing a lighter silk and subtly stitching facial features on top.
Moni Arkadi is well worth a visit for embroidery enthusiasts! The embroideries are well displayed in good light and have excellent caption texts in Greek and English. Besides, there are larger texts on the recent conservation and style of the embroideries. And best of all: the museum shop sells a booklet on the matter! The booklet is in Greek, English and German and has pictures and descriptions of all the embroideries on display, with a basic introduction. Pictures are ok, but not always splendid and the booklet is a little outdated regarding the current display. However, it is a good booklet for reference and at €3,00 it won't break the bank for most of us. The title is: Drandakis, N.V., 2000: Ecclesiastical embroidery at the monastery of Arkadi, ISBN: 960-86722-0-1.
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Jessica M. Grimm
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