The Church of Agia Paraskevi in the town of Siatista (in Western Macedonia, Greece) may be the oldest of the numerous (26 surviving) historic churches in the town. It was probably constructed in the 15th century and looks much like a long house with a porch along one long wall. The exterior of this porch is covered in frescos. At one end of this porch is a shrine to the Panagia (or Virgin Mary). We found her decorated with a crown of fresh flowers.

In the Byzantine Museum in the nearby town of Kastoria there are many icons – some very beautiful, but all of historic value – that had been rescued from old churches around the area. One is a primitive nativity scene dating to about 1400. It shows black goats sketched on the side of the mountain, a rather glum Joseph in the bottom left, a puzzling bathing scene of a rather odd baby/old man (the symbolism of which has escaped me), sharp horns on the cow peering down at his feeding trough where the swaddled baby Jesus has taken residence. The three kings appear on the right with crowns that look a little like cotton wool plonked on their heads. Miscellaneous figures (most winged angels) are aligned along the top.

My choice for a Christmas card would be the serene Madonna with her fresh crown of flowers. Wishing everyone a happy holiday. Will return in the New Year.


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