CMZE - Abbey Church Excavation

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Project Abbreviation: 

CMZE

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Project Date: 

Tuesday, June 1, 1993 to Sunday, August 31, 1997

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Project Description: 

 

The main church building has a plan with a rectangular protruding apse, single side aisles, and six large piers which supported the vaulting.  The walls are made of blocks of stone enclosing a rubble core, and many of the blocks are reused from the ancient city of Stymphalos, located at a distance of just 2 km.  The carved capitals are well preserved, as are the component parts of the ribs and parts of the arcade separating the nave from the side aisles.  There is a mixture of styles present, as the masonry construction is Greek in technique yet the sculpture is western in style.

Initial investigations checked whether the church was built over the site of a pagan temple, as suggested by earlier reports concerning the monastery.  A small sondage adjacent to the interior northern wall found a surprisingly shallow foundation for the church wall and no sign of any earlier construction.  A similar deep cleaning in the apse itself also produced no evidence of an earlier building.

A preliminary investigation of the site published by Anastasios Orlandos in 1955 shows a building with no narthex and no cloister.  However, the presence of an obliquely placed column and capital on either side of the western façade suggests that these elements could only be there for the purpose of supporting the vaulting of a narthex.  A trench was placed in the southwest of the western façade to look for a narthex wall.  The results showed no evidence for a narthex .  A doorway was located and to the south of that were the charred remains of posts which supported a the roof of a refectory.  The fallen arch suggests earthquake damage, and at floor level two small keys were found, possibly from a chest or box, and a pharmaceutical weight identical to one found in excavations of Frankish levels at Corinth.

Work in 1994 led to the rediscovery of the so-called “Greenman,” a sculpted boss that may have been positioned somewhere in the church.  It was known from photographs and a description in Orlandos’ notes but had not been located by the team until it was found in the museum at Sikyon which had been closed for the previous ten years due to earthquake damage.

Several architectural aspects of the building were examined.  Orlandos’ study proposed clerestory lighting for the church, but studies of the remaining blocks prompted an initial reconstruction of the walls with no clerestory lighting.  Also noted on the northeastern side of the church was a stone base for a bell tower.  Since bell towers in Cistercian monasteries were restricted to locations where the monks might have difficulty hearing the call to services, the presence of a tower here suggests the area of land under cultivation was quite extensive.  The chief obstacle to hearing calls was probably the wind.  In 1996, a thick piece of bronze was found in a secondary context which may be part of the monastery bell.

The 1955 plan of the church shows a building with buttresses on the north side but none on the south.  The southern walls are thicker, but the lack of buttresses suggests the presence of a cloister fulfilling the same structural purpose as a buttress would.  A trench was opened to find evidence of a cloister, which not only located an external supporting wall but also two skeletons, one completely lacking its skull.  There is no sign of violence to the remaining vertebrae to suggest the head had been cut off, and the situation remains unclear.  One metre to the north was the skeleton of an infant who was likely less than ten months of age.  Substantial amounts of ash and charcoal were found around the bodies but there were no signs of charring on the bones.  Later excavations located four more skeletons, all of which date to a period after the monastery had ceased to function.

To the east of the church are several enigmatic features.  One is a tomb, which was robbed in the past and was cleaned and examined by the team.  It is hypothesized that this was the burial site of the founding abbot.  At the southeastern corner of the church there are several large blocks lined up in a row.  A trench to the west of these blocks produced a coin of St. Martin of Tour, confirming the foundation date of approximately 1225 CE.  The blocks define the southern wall of the corridor from the as yet unidentified dormitory to the door at the eastern end of the church where monks entered for night prayer.

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Project Website: 

http://www.thomasav.com/Media/zaraka.html.