Iconostases seen in their landscape

New sights in the Greek landscape are more intriguing than the roadside shrines known as iconostases. Karolos Trivizas and his wife Elli Dimitriou fell under their spell some years ago and began photographing them. «Iconostases and the Greek Landscape,» just out from Kalentis Press (in Greek and English), is the product of their lasting fascination. As Trivizas explains in a brief text accompanying the color photographs, «the term ‘iconostasis’ originally referred to icon-bearing screens which divided the sanctuary from the nave. Later the term was expanded to define any space or structure intended to hold free-standing religious icons.» In their latter form, iconostases can also be found outside churches, and are familiar to most of us in their roadside incarnation. Iconostases are usually built in memory of someone killed in a road accident, but they may also commemorate other events – either happy or sad – affecting a family or a whole community. Occasionally they are erected in fulfillment of a pledge or to indicate that there is a church or monastery in the vicinity. The book does not deal with the content and religious significance of iconostases, but focuses instead on their typology and extraordinary variety. ‘A toy church!’ Readers who have never seen an outdoor iconostasis might try visualizing what Nicholas Takas – the 5-year-old son of the book’s translator into English, Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife – did when he exclaimed at the sight of a roadside shrine, «Look, a toy church!» Supported on a base, each iconostasis is built along the lines of a miniature church, which might range from a fully fledged reproduction of an elaborate Byzantine basilica to the simplest of chapels. Trivizas believes the various features show how important each shrine was to its anonymous builder. Most commonly seen by the roadside, they can also be found in towns and fields, on hillsides and beaches, carved into rocks or nestling in hollow trees. It is their harmonious coexistence with the Greek landscape which captivated the authors and which they have documented in the photographs – the work of amateurs, as Trivizas insists – but richly evocative nonetheless. Whether perched over ravines, supported by slender metal legs on a snow-covered hill, standing four-square on solid Doric columns or incorporated into a chalice-shaped structure, the iconostases pictured in the book are an integral part of their surroundings. A further incentive to photograph as many iconostases as possible, writes Trivizas, «was to capture these unique structures before they disappeared – many fall victim to constant roadworks.» The result is more than a record, it is a tribute to those distinctive structures.