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The church of St Mary of the Castle
Facing up the length of the Street of the Knights from its lower end is the grand church of St Mary of the Castle, or of the Panaghia tou Kastrou (open daily, except Mon, 8.30– 3). The façade is militarily bare in design, although its central, corniced panel was probably decorated in the 15th century with a mural of the Virgin Mary as Protectress of the Castle, flanked by Saints and Knights of the Order.
The church was first raised in the 11th century as the Panaghia tou Kastrou, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Rhodes , on an inscribed cross-in-square floor-plan—a design not particularly common on Rhodes . Within the first decade of the Knights’ arrival in 1309, its damaged and probably un finished structure was almost entirely rebuilt as the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary, referred to in a Papal Bull of Pope John XXII of 1322. The interior was transformed and the barrel-vaults of the aisles and crossings given Gothic elegance and verticality by the ribs of cross-vaults and the inclusion of a clarestory of pointed windows. The interior is luminous and airy: originally there was stained glass—visible as late as 1826 when it was drawn by the Belgian artist, Witdoeck—which modified its light. After 1522, a minaret, mihrab and porch with three cupolas (west front) were added and the building was used for Islamic worship as the ‘Enderum Cami’.
Inside the mostly unadorned interior of the church are areas of paintings of two kinds: those decorating the church itself, and those brought here for safety from elsewhere.
In the first group are patches of 13th century, Byzantine wall-paintings of saints and martyrs, which have been retrieved from under the Turkish whitewash on the pillars of the eastern arch. In a markedly different, Western style, is the late 14th century figure of St Lucy on the west wall, which dates from the Hospitaller period. The pale fresco tints and the modelling of her eyes and brows are probably the work of a North Italian artist, close to the circle of Altichiero.
The second kind of paintings displayed here are the detached wall-paintings which are of two separate origins: the first, to the north side are Byzantine wall-paintings from the monastery of St Michael at Tharri. These include two late 12th century figures of Church Fathers, and a series of early 17th century paintings from the drum and dome of the catholicon, which are grand in scale and clear in style. These were removed in 1972 during restoration to the building so as to reveal layers of earlier painting in situ beneath. The second group, in the southeast corner, are late 14th century paintings salvaged in 1984 from the tiny, dilapidated church of Aghios Zacharias on the island of Chalki (see p. 260). These are in poor condition, but a dramatic Christ Harrow Hell, in which the Saviour wrests Adam from Limbo, is of considerable stylistic quality.
An area to the north side of the church exhibits a collection of fragments and marble elements from carved, Byzantine templon screens. Sections of mosaic floor are also displayed: the fine ‘cosmatesque’ panel of inlaid polychrome marbles in the centre, comes from the excavation of the Early Christian basilica on Heimaras and P. Mela Sreets in the west of the city (see p. 149).
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.