Hosios Loukas

Hosios Loukas: general

The remains of ancient Stiris are probably disappeared under the beautiful Hosios Loukás Monastery, dedicated to Saint Loukas Stiris, who died here in 953. The large church, dedicated to Loukas, dates from 1011-48 and contains beautiful mosaics. The smaller church attached to it (Theotókos) dates from about 50-60 years earlier and also contains important mosaics.

The entire complex was founded by Romanos around 1011, in honor of the fulfillment of Loukas ‘prediction (in 941) that Crete would be liberated from the Saracens’ domination by an emperor named Romanos. Twenty years later, Loukas’ prediction came true, after which a strong recovery of Byzantium’s power took place among a number of energetic soldier-emperors. To celebrate this success, the emperors built a new, large church on top of the old chapel of Saint Barbara (where the bones of Loukas also rest). The cross shape of the great church has become an example for many later Byzantine churches. The mosaics and architecture combined make the monastery one of the most important medieval buildings in Greece, comparable only to the monastery of Dafni near Athens.

Hosios Loukas, Theotokos Church


The oldest church of the double church of the monastery is that of the Panagia Theotokos (Mary, Mother of God) and dates from around 950. It is therefore about a century older than the adjoining katolicon, and the oldest example of a so-called ‘cross-domed church’ , in which four columns in a square support the central cross vault (with dome). This central space has been given a narthex on the west side (front hall), for which there is another portico. Particularly striking is the decoration of the outer walls, executed in a kind of cloisonné technique, in which the rows of stones by turn are surrounded by bricks.


Hosios Loukas, Katholikon

It is not known who built the great Katholikon of Hosios Loukas. It certainly seems that the very luxurious building with marble slabs and the most beautiful mosaics has to do with the ever increasing fame of the grave of Loukas, which was believed to have been found here. With a diameter of 9 meters, the dome is one of the largest domes of monastery churches, and the mosaic decoration from the 11th century can only be compared to the monastery church in Daphni (the opening hours are limited because of restoration works). Here the dome is supported by eight buttresses, which together form an octagon.

In the mosaics of the Katholikon we can see clearly the standard decoration program of a Byzantine church. The ever controlling figure is always Christ Pantokrator (The All-Controller), who from his high position embraces and protects all believers; here lost and replaced by a fresco. The lowest decoration in a Byzantine church is dedicated to a large serie of saints, who seem to take the believer into their midst. Alternated with icons, these saints are motivating not to forsake. The vaults directly under the central dome usually depict scenes from the life and death of Christ, from the Annunciation, to the Nativity (often in a cave), to the Presentation in the temple, Baptism, the Transformation (a theme unknown in western churches, and refers to Matthew 17: 1-9 where it is told how Jesus took some disciples to a mountain to pray there, transforming into a figure of bright radiant, dazzling light, while the prophets Moses and dead Eliah appeared next to him), the Crucifixion, the Descent from the cross, the Lamentation by Mary, the Resurrection (with the Salvation of Adam). The apse is always reserved  for Mary with the baby Jesus on her lap, while the dome above the apse is decorated with an image of the Easter Miracle. Since both the Easter Miracle, and the Birth of Jesus, as the Blessing of the Bread of the Eucharist, were seen as works of the Holy Spirit, these pictures all refer to the Miracle of the Incarnated Savior and the Eucharist. Finally, in the narthex, the front hall of the church, where the monks gathered at night to pray, so that the whole church does not have to be lit, and where the death services were also held, we also find scenes with the apostles (the washing of the feet, which should remind the monks of their duty of service) and the resurrection from the dead (which should give comfort in the services of the dead). The passage from narthex to church is blessed by a majestic Christ.