Panagia Potamitissa has been the metropolitan Church of Nisyros since 1837. Dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is celebrated on the 8th of September and the 26th of December, the feast of the Synaxis of the Mother of God, as it was then when, in the past, immigrants of the Nisyrian Diaspora visited the island. It is located in the center of the settlement of Mandraki, on the left of the road that leads from the Town Hall Square to the monastery of Panagia Spiliani. The appellative Potamitissa (which has prevailed over the rare appellative Potamiotissa or Potamiani), which characterizes not only the church but also the Parish and the neighboring square, relates to the fact that the river – a stream actually – that was formed when the rainwater, flowing from the top quarter of the town, discharged into creeks near the site of the present church, before reaching the sea. The church was built in the middle of the 19th century at the place of an older and smaller church. According to tradition, in the middle of the 16th century, the area was covered by a dense reed bed, which surrounded a hermitage, where a small icon of the Nativity of the Virgin was kept. The new Episcopate, also known as “Graia” (old lady), was built on the spot. The temple holds a significant place in the religious consciousness of the habitants of Nisyros. Apart from its importance as a sacred pilgrimage of thousands of worshipers and its connection with several miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary, this was the place that contributed to the awakening of national consciousness, as, during the Turkish occupation, the authorities of the island held here all the meetings concerning the struggle for independence.
From an architectural point of view, it belongs to the type of single-nave rectangular basilicas that are covered with post-Gothic ribbed cross-vaults. The churches of this particular style, with clear influences from the western architecture, are mostly known as the temples of the “Dodecanese type”, as they are found exclusively in the area of Dodecanese. In fact, this type appeared and evolved in the middle of the 18th century, first in the city and afterward in the countryside of Rhodes. Later it spread rapidly to most of the Dodecanese islands and opposite, to the Greek Christian settlements on the coasts of Asia Minor. The Dodecanese type of temple was widely used in Nisyros. It is attested by the total of six cross-vaulted churches built during the 19th century.
Although the exact date of construction is unknown, Potamitissa was inaugurated shortly before 1837, according to a document in the archive of the Holy Monastery of Spiliani. Until then, the parish churches were smaller temples built by donators. The present Episcopate is said to have been built by George Symaios-Master, who is also said to have built the central church of Nikia and the katholikon of the monastery of Kyra in Emporio. We have more chronological data of the building in later restorations: the pronaos, which was originally the courtyard of the building, where the bell tower stood, was added in 1860. The new bell tower was erected in 1906, while the Gynaekonitis (the women’s section) was in 1908. In 1980 the original gravel floor of the church was paved with slabs of marble. Nowadays, the only section which is preserved is the pebbled floor of the pronaos or narthex, decorated with geometric patterns.
The decoration of the church with frescoes was gradually completed. It was painted for the first time by the hagiographer S. Zygiannis in 1920 with renaissance style frescoes, in three horizontal zones that surround the whole church. A second, incomplete phase of hagiography was painted in 1930-1931 by the monk hagiographer K. Saloukakis, probably as renovation work. The third and most recent phase, which lasted between 1984 and 1990, was painted by the hagiographer Irini Vlachou Tzortzaki with the help of her husband, Ioannis. The layer of the older frescoes was almost completely destroyed when it was covered with a new one. The technique of the frescoes is influenced by the tradition of Manuel Panselinos, the painter of the Protaton of Mount Athos, and Fotis Kontoglou.
The wood-carved, Russian-style, iconostasis of 1863 is decorated with embossed dragons and flowers. At the left of the Sanctuary Door, we can see the main icon of the church, an iconographic depiction of the Virgin Mary Hodegetria (Our Lady of the Way) as stated in the inscription “ΜΡ (Mother) ΘΥ (God) Η ΟΔΗΓΗΤΡΙΑ (Our Lady of the Way) “. The icon is silver-plated. An inscription at the bottom of the icon informs us that it was silver-plated in 1784, by Ioannis Anagnostis, a well-known Nisyrian technician, whose works have been found in Rhodes, Karpathos, and Tilos. It is a high-quality, possibly 17th century, icon. The rest of the icons in the Episcopate are mediocre paintings of western style, created probably by the same painter in the middle of the 19th century. An exception is the icon of John the Baptist to the right of the Sanctuary Door, a significant, possibly 18th century, work. Homonymous, portable, smaller icons have been placed in front of the steady icons on the iconostasis. “Η ΜΕΓΑ ΣΠΙΛΕΟΤΙΣΑ” (which means “the Great Lady of the cave”) is inscribed on the icon case which contains a silver-plated icon of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and a silver icon of the Virgin Mary. It also mentions the year 1834.
Mandraki, Nisyros, Postal code 85303
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