The church of Agios Petros, the oldest of the ten Byzantine monuments at Megali Kastania, is the most important example of the so-called Helladic school of Byzantine architecture in the Messinian/Exo Mani.
It’s a cross-in-square domed church of the four-columned variant that dates back to the third quarter of the 12th century. A narthex, in the form of a porrticus, was added to the west side of the monument in the mid-13th century; the impressive three-storey bell tower was constructed in 1813, according to a carved inscription.
A substantial part of the sculptural decoration of the monument is almost intact, including the capitals of the columns, the frame of the western door and its marble templon screen.
Four phases can be identified in the painted decoration of the church. The first and second layers date back to the Byzantine period, while a third, post-Byzantine phase (18th c.) can be seen in the conch of the prothesis. In the postwar years, part of the frescoes suffered a botched overpainting, most of which was removed during their recent conservation. The second layer of paintings, preserved to a greater extent, represents the main phase of the wall decoration of the monument. On the basis of stylistic and iconographic criteria, it can be dated to the second half of the 14th century and reflects the trends of monumental painting in the region Mystras during the Late Palaiologan period. Three layers of wall paintings, all of the Byzantine period, were revealed in the narthex during the recent conservation work.
In a poor state of conservation until 2012, the church faced serious structural and construction problems, while its narthex was in danger of immediate collapse. In 2012, the study for the restoration of the monument and the conservation of its paintings was prepared by the scientific staff of the 26th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities. The church was restored in 2013-2014 thanks to the care of the Council of Architectural Heritage of the ELLINIKI ETAIRIA, Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage, under the supervision of the Director of the 26th EBA, Evangelia Militsi-Kechagia. Restoration work was carried out by Mnimeiotechniki Ltd., under the supervision of the architect Stavros Mamaloukos and the archaeologist Michalis Kappas. The conservation of the wall paintings was untertaken by the art conservator Giorgos Moustakis. The completion of the entire project, whose total cost was 433,400€, was made possible thanks to the generous donation by Thanassis and Marina Martinos.
The work performed included the consolidation of the walls and vaulting by injections of grout and the installation of a system of stainless-steel tie-beams, the limited reconstruction of damaged sections of the facades, the reconstruction of the roof with handmade tiles and slates, the consolidation of the door frames, the floor and the marble iconostasis, and the restoration of the damaged marble partitions of the windows, incorporating their original existing fragments. Moreover, additional extensive work was undertaken in the landscape of the monument in order to improve its surrounding area, while retaining works were carried out along its south side. The careful cleaning of the frescoes contributed to the discovery of many scenes that were covered by a thick layer of limescale, highlighting the importance of this unique Palaiologan group of paintings.
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