Research programme

Main objectives of the research programme “Immured vessels in Byzantine and Post-Byzantine churches of Greece: An online corpus” are the location of the churches of Greece decorated with clay vessels on their façades, the recording of these objects, their analytical documentation and the preservation of the respective material through its registration in a common database.

75 years ago, G. Ballardini, a pioneer scholar of Italy’s medieval glazed pottery, first underlined the need of a systematic engagement with the “bacini” through the formulation of a “Corpus dei bacini” of Italy, for reasons concerning primarily the rescue of the relevant information and secondly the realization of the importance of the objects themselves in regard to the history of Italy’s medieval glazed pottery[1]. As he noted: “La storia delle arti decorative e quella dell’architettura acquisterebbero così una fonte meravigliosa di nuovi insegnamenti: l’Italia ancora una volta dimostrerebbe come sa curare, difendere e studiare questi esimi campioni dell’arte dei padri, che hanno dato un fascino speciale ai suoi vetusti edifici”[2]. Several decades had to pass for the launch of a systematic recording of Italy’s immured vessels, as exemplified by the monograph of G. Berti and L. Tongiorgi regarding the vessels immured in monuments of the area of Pisa[3], which was followed by many studies on other areas of the Italian peninsula.[4] It is only recently, however, that the recording of the relevant information became more systematic through computing. The studies of S. Gelichi and S. Nepoti for Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Friuli, and O. Mazzucato for Lazio are typical in this respect[5]. Nevertheless, the information concerning vessels immured in churches of Italy is fragmented, as there is not any common shared application for the concentration of the numerous relevant materials. Therefore, it is not easy to make comparisons between the various locations so as to better understand the differentiations observed in this decoration practice, neither for a more systematic investigation of issues associated with the period of greater or lesser diffusion of this practice or the variety of the pottery types encountered to each area.

In Greece, despite scholars’ increasing interest on the subject, following the location of the first related examples during the first decades of the 20th century[6], hardly any effort has been made for an overall investigation of immured vessels on one or more regions and the consequent data recording using digital technology.

This research project attempts to answer to this need by gathering data on vessels immured in churches of various regions of Greece in a common database. That way all information are listed in the same system through specified database fields, making it easy to get compared both by a professional researcher and by a non-specialist.

In addition to the key objectives mentioned above, equally important are other objectives resulting from the systematic treatment of the sample and relating to the better understanding and the interpretation of this kind of decoration of churches. They relate to either the specific, i.e. pottery, or the general, i.e. each monument and the vessels’ link to it.

First of all, engaging with these objects provides very important information on the medieval and early modern glazed pottery encountered in Greece and hitherto has been proven helpful in dating the churches[7]. Concerning the glazed pottery, given that so far there are only a few published data from excavations, especially from the 13th century onwards, even more as regards to the regions of Attica and Crete, the study of immured vessels is of utmost importance. Most often we come across a unique evidence for the specific types of pottery in these areas, which sheds light on their contacts with the major pottery production centers of the Mediterranean during the late Middle Ages and the early modern times.

As for the correlation of vessels with the monuments, the study of immured vessels in the large sample of churches already gathered allows safer comments concerning the actual practice. Therefore it favors investigating issues relating to the architectural types of the churches where this is eminently found, as well as to the vessels’ ability to serve as a chronological index of the monuments, to the variation from place to place of the period in which the practice occurs most often, to the mode of the immurement, to the positions of the vessels, to their layout in relation to other ornaments, to their significance (decorative, symbolic or otherwise), thus satisfying specific objectives of the programme.

Indicative, some first differences between the mainland and Crete relative to the first occurrence of this practice have already been noted, the earliest example of this kind being vessels dating back to the 11th century in mainland[8], whereas in Crete this practice appears to start later on, from the 13th century onwards[9]. Differences between the two regions also concern the architectural types of the monuments in which the vessels are immured and the most common positions and layout of the latter.

Upon completion of the systematic recording, subgroups of churches will occur which are adorned with common types of pottery and it is likely they can be related to one another based on their architectural characteristics and their architectural and painting decoration[10].

Within the framework of the 12th International Congress of Cretan Studies, held in Heraklion (21-25.09.2016), a particular workshop was organized with the participation of collaborating archaeologists from the Ephorates of Antiquities of the island, entitled «Movements of objects, dissemination of practices through the study of the immured vessels in churches of Venetian Crete». During this workshop the preliminary results of the programme, regarding the island of Crete, were presented.

From the aforementioned presentation it becomes obvious that the study of “bacini” has still many hidden aspects that need to be further investigated, so the data collection on a website aims to facilitate further efforts.



Ballardini 1938: G. Ballardini, “Per un «Corpus» dei bacini di ceramica dei nostri antichi monumenti”, Faenza 25 (1938), 3-16.

Berti, Tongiorgi 1981: G. Berti, L. Tongiorgi, I bacini ceramici medievali delle chiese di Pisa, Roma 1981.

Blake 1980: Blake H., “The bacini of North Italy”, in: La Céramique Médiévale en Méditerranée occidentale, X-XVe siècles, Valbonne 11-14 Septembre 1978, Paris 1980, 93-111.

Bouras 1965: Ch. Bouras, Βυζαντινά σταυροθόλια με νευρώσεις, Athens 1965.

Gelichi, Nepoti 1996: S. Gelichi, S. Nepoti, “I “bacini” in Emilia Romagna, Veneto e Friuli Venezia Giulia”, in: Atti XXVI Convegno Internaznionale della Ceramica, “I Bacini murati medievali. Problemi e stato della ricerca”, Albisola, 28-30 maggio 1993, Firenze 1996, 51-66.

Mazzucato 1996: O. Mazzucato, “Situazione dei “bacini” nel Lazio – 1993”, in: Atti XXVI Convegno Internaznionale della Ceramica, “I Bacini murati medievali. Problemi e stato della ricerca”, Albisola, 28-30 maggio 1993, Firenze 1996, 161-182.

Sotiriou 1942: G. A. Sotiriou, Χριστιανική και βυζαντινή αρχαιολογία, τόμος Α΄, Χριστιανικά κοιμητήρια, Εκκλησιαστική αρχιτεκτονική, Athens 1942.

Τsouris 1996: K. Tsouris, “Glazed Bowls in the Late Byzantine Churches of North-Western Greece”, Archeologia Medievale 23 (1996), 603-624.

Yangaki 2010: Α. G. Yangaki, “Εντοιχισμένα πινάκια σε εκκλησίες της Κρήτης: μια ερευνητική πρόταση”, in: Μ. Andrianakis, Ι. Tzachili (eds.), Αρχαιολογικό Έργο Κρήτης 1, Πρακτικά της 1ης συνάντησης, Ρέθυμνο, 28-30 Νοεμβρίου 2008, Rethymnon 2010, 827-840.

Yangaki 2013: A. G. Yangaki, “Immured vessels in churches on Crete: Preliminary observations on material from the prefecture of Rethymnon”, Δελτίο της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας, per. Δ΄, vol. ΛΔ΄ (2013), 375-384.

[1] Ballardini 1938, 11-12.

[2] Ballardini 1938, 12.

[3] Berti, Tongiorgi 1981. See also the study of H. Blake on “bacini” of North Italy (Blake 1980, 93-111).

[4] See the respective section in the site. See also: Yangaki 2010, 827-840 and Yangaki 2013, 375-376.

[5] Gelichi, Nepoti 1996, 51-66 and Mazzucato 1996, 161-182, respectively.

[6] For more details see the section: “History of the Research”.

[7] See the section “History of the Research”.


[8] Sotiriou 1942, 411; Bouras 1965, 73 note 318; Tsouris 1996, 614.

[9] See in detail, with related bibliography: Yangaki 2010, 829.

[10] Yangaki 2013, 383 (online at: [accessed: 10/3/2015]).