THE MADONNAS OF RHODES
Source: Unique Destination Magazine
The church is located at the eastern end of the Knights Street, in the Medieval Town’s Collage. The temple was the metropolitan church of the Byzantine city and during its construction, the principles of Byzantine architecture were applied. The original core of the building was probably built in the 11th century and belonged to the type of cruciform domed church. After the capture of Rhodes by the Knights of St. John, the Byzantine church was repaired and took the form of a three-aisled Gothic basilica with a transverse aisle. It was their cathedral.
The coats of arms of the Great Magistrate Helion de Villeneuve and Pope John XXII, which are preserved in the central pylon window of the arch, advocate for the dating of this phase in the years between 1319 and 1334. The eastern side of the church touches the sea fortification and is formed externally in a tower with rectangular battens. On the west side, above the main entrance door, a large, rectangular frame is preserved, which used to host a painted composition, lost today, with the theme of the Virgin Mary with Saints and Knights. During the Ottoman domination, the temple was converted into a Moslem temple. Thus, very little was preserved from the original frescos of the church. Worth mentioning are the Virgin Mary, the pairs of Saints in the northwest pavement (2nd quarter 14th century) and the figure of Saint Lucia on the south wall, probably a work of Western European painter (2nd
half 14th century).
The Church of the Virgin of the Burgh is not an intact temple. Nevertheless, it is at first glance obvious that it is a brilliant monument. It is the proof of the existence in Rhodes of a particular ecclesiastical architecture, which was developed during the period of the Knights of St John, and of which it is one of the few surviving samples (the other is the Virgin of Filerimos). The traces of the church until the time of the island’s Italian occupation are somewhat vague, as over the ages six houses had been erected inside. There are no traces suggesting that during the Ottoman domination the site had been transformed into a mosque, a practice that was very common.
The Italians expropriated the houses and demolished them, keeping only the parts that belonged to the temple. The temple was undoubtedly used to serve the needs of the catholic faith, as deduced from its form and its characteristics. It was probably one of the first buildings that the knights built. Balducci argues that the temple turned into a Western cathedral dedicated to Saint Catherine in about 1480, when the Virgin of the Castle ceased to be the cathedral of Rhodes. The Virgin of the Burgh is a typical example of the Knights’ architecture, and although its dimensions are smaller than corresponding temples in Europe, it well responded to the needs of the Catholics of the city of Rhodes. Its historical significance becomes even greater given that the rest of the city’s purely western temples no longer exist. Some have been totally destroyed, such as St. John of Kolaki.
The Madonna of Filerimos
The temple of Panaghia tis Filerimou is situated in an idyllic landscape overlooking the hill that dominates the bay of Trianta and the city of Ialysos. The location seems to have been particularly attractive from the past. At the very same site there existed an ancient temple of Athena, which, with the advent of Christianity, was converted into a paleo-Christian basilica, with three aisles, a narthex and a tripartite sanctuary. The temple is known because it hosted a famous pilgrimage, the icon of Filerimos. It is an icon of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, which according to the folk tradition it is attributed to Apostle Luke.
The icon was transferred to Rhodes in the thirteenth century, probably from Jerusalem, and was placed on the Filerimos hill until 1523, when the island fell into Ottoman occupation.
It was then transferred from the Knights to France and from there to Italy, Malta and Russia, where it remained until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Since 2002, it has been hosted at the Blue Chapel of the National Museum of Montenegro. Apart from the ancient and early Christian temples, three extra building phases are distinguishable in the temple, since the period of the Knights. The temple has undergone very heavy restoration interventions during the Italian occupation of Rhodes, between 1912 and 1948. Of particular interest is the northern chapel. The cruciform ribs are attached to the bracelets decorated with the coat of arms of the Knights and the cross of Great Magistrate Pierre d’ Aubusson (1476-1503). The decorative elements bearing these coats have no particular artistic value and must have been performed by local craftsmen, or stonemasons from Crete.