The temple of Saint Nikolaos in Tsepelovo

• Zagori • Paths • Tsepelovo • History • Saint Nikolaos • Saint John

Many wonder – and particularly the visitors – why in a mountainous village the central church have the name of a Saint that is considered protector of seamen. The explanation of course is very simple.

Tsepelovo’s residents travelled a lot and decided to give in this church the name of a Saint that would protect them during their travels.

It is an imposing building of big dimensions with structured stonework that constitutes a marvellous sample of Epiru’s church architecture of the 18th century. It belongs in the type of three-aisle Vasilica with dome. The temple’s typology is supplememted later by the two-storied loft and the loggia in which it exists the main entry of the temple. Exactly above the loft can be seen certain pictures, propably from the main temple church banners, old books and one iron chest, that by many is considered the “Giannioton chest” (the chest of Ioannina’s habitants). However this part of the temple that is also remarkable, has not been restored completely and for this effort we would want the support and the essential help of all institutions that have the ability, in order to bring in to the light and to present another … splendid piece of the temple.

This type of big wooden roof or vaulted Vasilica with dome dominates in Epirus as in all northern Greece from the 18th till the 20th century. This is due to the economic wealthiness of the residents in the plenitude of materials that the region offers and also in a volunteer turn in the roots of Christianity. The temples of this type that we meet in almost every settlement in Zagori externally are lean but their interior assembles all the wealth and the variety of the time.

The older report on the existence of the temple (1708) is met in the engraved sigh of the wooden door that constitutes the main entry in the loft. The plate on the southern wall inform us that in 1753 extensive renovations in the temple were made. Next to the plate is found the lintel picture of Saint Nikolaos.

In 1760 the sovereigns of Tsepelovo undertook the expense for the manufacture of the gold-plated woodcut temple and the pictures of the church. This work was assigned in the famous team of painters of that time, Anastasio and his sons Ioanni and Georgio from Kapesovo. In 1764 their work was completed, as we are informed by the sign that is saved in the right part of the temple. From the initial pictures of the temple today are rescued only the twelve pictures from the upper part and the picture of the enthroned Virgin Mary with the infant Christ, that is found today in the right part of the temple and brings the signature of Ioanni, son of Anastasio, and chronology 1760.

Nineteen years after the construction of the temple, the sovereign from Tsepelovo Vasilios Rados, who is also included in the sponsors of its’ construction, took the initiative and having and the economic support of Tsepelovo’s habitants begin the wall painting of the church which was completed in 1786. This work is assigned in another known team of painters from Kapesovo, that is constituted by the monk Athanasio, his sons Ioanni and Georgio and the priest Anastasio, the son of Ioanni.

The multiform architecture of the temple was utilized by the development of a complete iconographic program. It can be realised an artistic blending and style of faculties as well as the assimilation of older iconographic models, elements that attribute in the monument a catholic importance, that exceeds the narrow geographic and chronological limits.

The uniqueness of the temple’s iconographic painted décor, which is considered the most brilliant building of Orthodoxy of the region, is due to the good economic situation of donors. They wished a “rich work” in order to reflect their economic wealthiness and robustness. It should not of course be neglected the most important factor, which is the big experience of the painters in the peculiarities of painting a wall, but also their deep knowledge in the technique of portable pictures.

In nimbus of saints and martyrs they used leaves of gold as well as in big surfaces, like Christ’s clothes and Angels. What also impresses the visitor is the balanced chromatic total that submits with its’ magnificance as it exists studied distribution of green and red that dominates and of the blue colour of backgrounds.

The vertical walls of the temple are seperated in three zones. In the upper zone exists whole-body forms of Saints, in the middle prophets are alternated in circular frames and scenes from Christological circle, which are also developed in the upper zone.

In the central dome dominates the form of “Almighty”, which follows models of portable pictures and in the wider drum the picture of Christ as the “Big Archpriest”. The drums are supplemented with the depictions of seven Ecumenical Sessions that constitute infrequent type of iconographic output in temples of this time.

In the central aisle is developed a divine attribution of “Ainon” and in the unique part of the arched roof, in the western side, an important stylistic output of the enthroned Virgin Mary with the infant, emanating from iconographic models of portable pictures, framed with battalions of Saints and Angels, which are supplemented with scenes from the Old Will.

The first circle of the southrner aisle is dedicated in Saint Nikolaos in the name of who the temple is honoured. The eastern in Christ as “Emmanouil”. In the northner aisle of the westerner circle is depicted to the Virgin Mary, in the central the representation of “Second Presence” and in the eastern the Christ as the “Big Parliament Angel”.

However in all these years that passed, the layer of candles’ soot and the smoke from the stove erased little by little the splendour of colours and faded the forms on the walls making them unobservable. As it was expected the course of Saint Nikolaos followed the fate of most of the monuments of this time. The visitors and the researchers passed almost inciriously.

In 1992 however the love and the passion of Sofia Doume Empiricou, for her homeland, her surpness and the unfulfilled debt towards her father Georgio Douma had as a result her generous sponsoring – and it is an honor for all – found imitators Tsepelovo’s residents and not only from there. Thus began the maintainance and re-establishment of the wall painting and the temple, which with their completion delivered the lost marvel of pictures of Saint Nikolaos “rebirth” to all of us: to the residents of Tsepelovo, to the visitors and to the students, who now is certain that they will watch with more attention and interest not only the monuments of the 18th century but also all the monuments that need our love and interest.

Congratulations also to the conservers of work of art, Mrs Apsasia and Mr. Chari Leoni, who showed grate zeal and love, as they made splended work and they famed with their contribution one of the most important buildings of this period, a real marvel of Orthodoxy.

It deserves to be remembered with love and respect Sofia Douma Empiricou, who with her generous offer will be added in the list of Epiru’s benefactors, that famed the culture and the history of not only their homeland, but also our country. If only life and the work of these people would find imitators all of us, as we owe to rescue and to fame the monuments of our culture “As we fought for Thee”.