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Material Memory: The Church of St. John in Keria, Mani


The Mesa or Inner Mani lies at the southernmost point of the Mani peninsula of Greece. In this region, stone structures, medieval and modern, domestic and ecclesiastical, are barely distinguishable from their rocky surroundings. Stone, quarried in this region from antiquity through the Byzantine period, was used both as building material and as carved ornamentation for churches and homes. When carved for use in a church, stone held particular importance for the families and communities that banded together to support the construction. This symbolic value can be seen in its reuse, over generations, in local churches. While many buildings incorporate the remains of decorative sculpture to enliven wall surfaces, one church in the region, St. John in Keria, which incorporates an unusually large number of ancient and medieval dressed stone and carved reliefs, forms the basis of this thesis.

The thirteenth-century church of St. John is one of four churches in the modern village of Keria. Sculpted reliefs from earlier buildings, both ancient and medieval, are immured on the west, south and north walls of the church. Columns, capitals and carved relief sculpture are also in second use inside the church. Like the stonework, the monumental decoration also belongs to several phases of the building’s history. In this thesis, I examine the immured sculpture and the monumental decoration of St. John in Keria as well as the alterations to the fabric of the church in the centuries since it was built. In exploring not only the life of the building itself, but also the lives of the individual stone carvings before their incorporation onto the walls of St. John, I consider the community’s sustained relationship with their past, from the thirteenth century to present day.

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