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The byzantine cemetery-hermitage of Saint Onufrius (Onoufrios) in Methoni, southwestern Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece) Germanidou, Sophia


Agios Onoufrios (Saint Onuphrius) is a rock-cut monumental complex lying on a hill not far from the important medieval castle-town of Methoni (Modon), in the province of Messinia, in the Peloponnese region of south-western Greece. The complex was developed in part of a probably ancient limestone quarry that occupies the slope of the hill. The habitation pattern, that is a previously disused quarry eventually at some time re-occupied for funerary and religious-ascetic purposes, was widespread and common in the soft bedrock landscapes of south Mediterranean. Initially, Agios Onoufrios was formed as a fourth century CE cemetery that included rock-cut tombs, arched recesses purposed for entombment widely known as arcosolia (reminding catacomb formation, extremely rare in Greece), and shaft graves. Other rock-cut constructions such as niches and tables served for funerary-ceremonial purposes. Many centuries later, most probably from the 12th century CE, it was converted to a hermitic settlement. It was probably then and onwards when several modifications took place, in order for chapels and hermitages to be shaped. Alterations were made in the complex such as the construction of interior walls for the separation of the dwelling cells and the religious spaces such as chapels. Niches, apses, recesses were carved and murals were painted so as to cover the new religious needs. Also, channels of harvesting rainwater and storing cisterns were hewn for securing subsistence. As for the naming of the complex, there is a sole reference of the Montagna de San Nufrio in a Venetian document of 1386, supposedly named after a certain hermit Onoufrios that chose to occupy the abandoned site.

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