On entering the town, the low form of the church of the Panaghia, marked by an ornate bell-tower in local ‘poros’ limestone, is visible almost immediately on the left. The present church, of Latin-cross form with octagonal drum and cupola, was restored and enlarged in 1489 by the Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson, whose coat of arms is clearly visible above the entrance to the church: the original foundation is much earlier, possibly 12th century. An ancient altar is immured into the upper south wall, and two further altars have been reused as benches for seat, to left and right of the west door. The low and broad interior of the church is one of the most completely and homogeneously decorated interiors in the Dodecanese. The floor is a fine example of chochlakia work (black and white pebble inlay), providing both tactile and aesthetic pleasure. The complete programme of paintings (restored in 1927) which cover all the interior walls is by Gregory of Symi, signed and dated 1779 in an inscription on the lintel in the north transept. The wooden iconostasis and bishop’s throne are of 1620 by Ignatius of Lesbos. The disposition of the paintings throughout the church follows the classic iconographic topography for a building of this form: the Pantocrator in the dome; the four Evangelists in the pendentives; scenes from the Life of Christ in the upper nave; interceding Saints below at shoulder level to the congregation; and the Last Judgement (in this church, particularly worthy of note) over the west door—to be seen by the faithful as they leave for the evil of the world outside. The pictures lack some of the mystical grace of early Byzantine painting: by the 18th century, Greek painters were beginning to feel the influence of the more literal and narrative traditions of Western painting. This clarity of conception does however mean that the biblical scenes are easily identifiable. Only the lower register on the sides of the main nave bears scenes which are less familiar, because they represent the 24 stanzas of the Acathist Hymn in praise of the Mother of God. Visiting the Church Museum (open daily Apr–Oct), gives the possibility of seeing the finest and earliest wall-paintings of the complex, over the outside door of the funerary chapel of the north transept. According to the inscription, these date from 1674. A beautiful image of the -Virgin ‘Hode ghetria’ (of ‘Guidance’) centred over the door, is framed by a standing priest (right), and a remarkable scene of the -Righteous Man’s Death (left), in which the dying man, lying down and draped in a blanket, receives the Eucharist from an angel while David (crowned) plays a dirge on a viol accompanied by other angels with various, stringed, musical instruments. The whole scene is of a work of high quality. Below is a more damaged scene of the Sacrifice of Isaac. The museum itself contains a fine embroidered epitaphios and a small collection of liturgical objects: in the open-air courtyard, are fragments of a classical frieze. Of particular interest in the streets of the old town are a number of small and venerable Byzantine churches; and many fine Patrician mansions in a unique vernacular architecture. A brief overview of these two groups follows.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.