The remains of ancient Stiris may well have disappeared below the magnificent monastery of Hosios Loucas, dedicated to saint Loucas of Stiris, who died here in 953. The large church (or catholicon) dedicated to this saint, dates to 1011-48 and encompasses some of Greece’s most splendid mosaics. The smaller church against which the catholicon was built (the church of the Theotokos), is much simpler in execution. The larger church was built around 1022 by emperor Romanos in honour of Loucas’ prophecy from 941, that the island of Crete would be freed from the rule of the heathen Saracens by an emperor called Romanos. Twenty years later, Loucas was proved right, and a period of recovery of the power of Byzantium (known as the Macedonian Renaissance) dawned, made possible by a series of energetic soldier-emperors. To celebrate this success the emperors built on top of the ancient chapel of saint Barbara (where rest the bones of saint Loucas) a grand new church. The design of this church, a domed octagon, constituted an example for many later Byzantine churches. The mosaics and the architecture make this church one of the most important mediaeval buildings in Greece, equalled only by the monastery of Dafni at Athens.
Hosios Loucas, Theotokos-church
The oldest church of the complex of two churches in the monastery is that of the Panaghia Theotokos (Saint Mary, Mother of God), dating from around 950. It is about 60 years older than its neighbor, the catholicon. This church has a modest dome supported by 4 columns. Of interest is the decoration of the outer walls, built in a sort of cloisonné technique, in which the rows of natural stones are surrounded with red bricks.
Hosios Loucas, Catholikon
It is not known who built the large catholikon, the conventual church of the monastery of Hosios Loukas. It seems clear that the luxury execution of the church, with marble plates and precious mosaics, is due to the growing fame of the grave of saint Loucas. The dome, with a diametre of 9 m., is one of the largest domes of monastical churches in Greece and the striking mosaics from the 11th century, with large quantities of gold, can only be compared with those in the monastery at Daphni (which unfortunately remains inaccessible to the public due to earthquake damage). At Hosios Loucas the dome is carried by eight piers arranged around the perimeter of the naos (nave).
In the mosaics of the catholicon we may observe the decorative scheme of most byzantine churches. Above all other mosaics dominates the figure of Christ Pantokrator (Ruler of the World), embracing and protecting from his high position all the faithful; in this church this central mosaic has been lost long time ago and was replaced by a fresco. The lowest decorative band usually consists of dozens of saints, receiving the faithful in their middle. Together with the many icons in a church, they admonish the believers never to forsake. The vaults just below the central dome usually show scenes from the life of Christ, the Annunciation of Christ, his Birth (often in a cave, which in Greece is regularly used as a stable), the Presentation in the temple, his Baptism and his Transfiguration (a theme which is almost unknown in western churches, but is based on Matthew 17:1-9 where it is said that Jesus took with him to the mountain some disciples to pray; on the mountain he transformed into a figure of a clear, blinding light, while the dead prophets Moses and Eliah appeared beside him), the Crucifixion, the Deposition from the Cross, the Lamentation for the Christ by Maria (Pietà), and the Resurrection of Christ (together with the rescuing of Adam). The apse is always kept for saint Mary with the infant Christ, while the dome above the apse usually carries the Wonder of Eastern. As the Wonder of Eastern, the Birth of Christ and the Blessing of the bread at the holy service all three were seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, these depictions all refer to the wonder of the Saviour who became Flesh and to the Eucharist. Finally in the narthex, the vestibule of the church, where the monks gathered at night to pray, so as not to make it necessary to light the whole church, where also were acted the services for the dead, we find more saints, but also scenes with the apostles (the footwashing, poiting out to the monks their duty of servitude) and the resurrection, meant to console the family at the services for the dead. The entrance from the narthex to the church is blessed by a christ sitting in majesty.