The Byzantine church Archangel Michael, which is located in the village of Episkopi in Kissamos in the region of Chania, is an extraordinary old-Christian Temple-baptistery of the 6th century A.D.
It is also named Rotunda due to its rare architectural style, is well-maintained and unique in Crete. It is an around-central, rectangular building with a big dome centrally, which externally is grown to a step tiered way.
The Byzantine church Archangel Michael is also called Rotunda
Internally the Temple is composed of many departments which communicate with the central circular space. At the northern department of the sanctuary there is the built Holy Altar. There are 2 fonts in the shape of a cross, one embedded in the mosaic floor and an even bigger monolithic one in the narthex.
East of the central Dome sticks out a semi-cylindrical arch of the sanctuary with a gradational finish and a large bivalve window, surrounded by two dome-covered spaces, the Chapel of Prothesis and the Diaconicon.
West of the Dome, there is a dome-covered narthex, followed by a patio and on a higher level the complex closes with a series of rectangular spaces, which extend to the north side. In the Chapel of Prothesis there is a built Table of Prothesis in front of a niche on the Eastern wall.
The Temple has remarkable mosaic floors with a decor of vine branches, ivy leaves, fishes, scales and a frame formed of intersecting semi-circles, which can be dated to the second half of the sixth century, a period during which the entire complex was constructed
On the mosaic floor of the Diaconicon there is an embedded cruciform baptismal font. An even bigger cruciform baptismal font, which can be found on the narthex in our days, is said to have been originally placed in the nave.
The frescoes decorating the walls
Another important element is the frescoes decorating the walls, which have survived fragmentarily in four or five layers. Of these, the initial, with the depiction of the Ascension and parapets on the dome, of St Matthew in the narthex, of St. George with the votive on the Diaconicon and an archangel from a reconstruction of The Virgin Mary in the altar, is dated in the 7th century and is considered work of unparalleled quality.
The second layer, which occupies the Chapel of Prothesis and the continuous arcade, includes crosses of precious stones with antennae ending in “apples”, on pedestals, through arches, which imitate polychrome marble revetment. The dating of decor during the Iconoclasm, is enhanced by the type of literature on the many inscriptions referred to the Cross, or to believers. This view is confirmed by the fact that the decor was then covered by a thin layer of white plaster, which in turn was covered by the later 12th century wall painting.
The next layer of painting is associated with the operation of the church as a Cathedral and is an excellent set of Komnenian art in the late 12th century. The iconographic program includes low slender figures of saints, the Ascension in the arch of the sanctuary, scenes from the Passion in the big dome and other scenes from the Gospels and the Virgin Mary round the side compartments.
The next two layers from the late 13th century and early 14th attempt to replace the monumental performances of the 12th century in places that were destroyed.
The performances of the 14th century are associated with the famous painter Michael Veneris.
The Rotunda as Diocese of Kissamos
From the 9th to the 19th century the Rotunda was used occasionally as the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Kissamos which was transferred inland and that’s why the village was named Episkopi (Diocese). The Bishop’s palace was built in the western part during the Ottoman occupation.In that place stayed out and fought against the Turks the martyr Bishop of Kissamos Melchisedek Despotakis, member of the Society for the Liberation of Greece (Filiki Eteria), who was hung by the Turks on the maple tree in Splantzia Square of Chania in 1821.
At the south side, left to the west, are the remains of the Bishop’s residence.
The Rotunda, the Holy Byzantine Church of Archangel Michael, is an extremely significant monument because of its antiquity, special style, exceptional wall paintings and history.
Celebrations in the Church, where of course everybody is most welcome
- The “Blessing of the Fruit of the Earth” is celebrated in the Holy Church of Rotunda on the eve of the first Sunday of the Assumption (1rst Sunday of August) every year. This is a very popular event among the locals and also visitors with hundreds of attendants, it takes place from 19.00 till 21.30 hrs (ca.)
- At the name day of Archangel Michael on November 7 in the early morning hours
- At the name day of Melchisedek on December 14 in the early morning hours
Useful information (last updated in 2020):photography is not allowed inside the church
Opening hours of the Holy Church of the Archangel Michael : A very friendly lady from the village Episkopi opens the church voluntarily. In summer, she can be found here daily (except Sundays) from 10.00 till 13.00 and from 16.00 till 18.00 hrs.
Entrance fee: free
Groups or special requests: As this church is a very rare monument of its kind, we can help you to organize a visit with adequate guidance, for groups or special requests also outside of the mentioned opening hours, also in winter. Please contact us for further details.
How to find this byzantine church: