Research programme

The 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 information collected through its registration in a database able to be used by all.
75 years ago, G. Ballardini, a pioneer scholar of Italy’s medieval glazed pottery, first underlined the need of a systematic approach to the bacini when he formulated a Corpus dei bacini of Italy, desiring primarily to rescue the relevant and vulnerable information and secondly prompted by his realization that the objects themselves were of significance in 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 yet to pass before the launch of a systematic recording of Italy’s immured vessels, as exemplified by the monograph of G. Berti and L. Tongiorgi on the vessels immured in monuments in the area of Pisa [3]; this was followed by many similar studies on other areas of the Italian peninsula [4]. It is only recently, however, that the manipulation of the relevant information became truly systematic and flexible, through the application of computers. The studies of S. Gelichi and S. Nepoti for Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Friuli, and of O. Mazzucato for Lazio are typical in this respect [5]. Even so, the information concerning vessels immured in the churches of Italy is still fragmented, as there does not exist any commonly shared location where the numerous relevant materials are held and concentrated. Therefore, it is not easy to make comparisons between the various locations so as to better understand the differentiations observed in this decorative practice. One cannot undertake any systematic investigation into the geographical extent or timings of the waxing and waning of this practice, or assess the variety of the pottery types encountered in each area.
In Greece, despite scholarly 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 in one, let alone more, regions. Approaches to recording the discovered data using digital technology are nigh absent too.
This research project attempts to answer to this situation, by collating data on vessels immured in churches of the various regions of Greece onto a common database. Thus, all would be held on the one and the same system in specified database fields, making parallels easy to find both by a professional researcher and by a non-specialist.
In addition to the key objectives mentioned above, other objectives are equally important: having established a systematic treatment of the sample, a better understanding and the interpretation of this kind of decoration on churches becomes feasible. Internal links may be forged either in a specific manner, i.e. between and about the pottery, or more broadly, i.e. between each monument and the vessels associated.
For the first, appreciating these objects in time and space provides very important information on the medieval and early modern glazed pottery encountered in Greece – this facility has already proven helpful in dating churches [7]. Concerning the glazed pottery itself, and given that so far there are only a few published data from excavations, especially so from the 13th century onwards, and in particular as regards to the regions of Attica and Crete, the study of immured vessels is of utmost importance. Repeatedly we retrieve priceless and unique evidence for the presence of specific types of pottery in these areas, which sheds light on their contacts with the major pottery production centres 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 has allowed more accurate comments to be made on the immuring practice. This success at once encourages the investigation of a stream of questions relating: to the architectural types of the churches where this habit is abundantly found, to the vessels’ ability to serve as a chronological index of the monuments, to the variation from place to place during the period when the practice mostly occurs, to the mode of the immurement, to the positions of the vessels on the structure, to their layout in relation to other ornaments, to their significance (decorative, symbolic or otherwise). All are grist to the specific objectives of the programme.
For example, some immediate differences between the custom as earliest practised on the mainland and in Crete have already emerged: the first example of this kind being vessels dating back to the 11th century in mainland [8], whereas in Crete this practice appears to start later, 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 their most common positions and layout.
Upon completion of the systematic recording, a synthetic approach to the material will be possible and subgroups of churches will become manifest amongst those adorned with the commoner types of pottery. It is likely they can be related to one another based on their architectural characteristics and their architectural and painted decoration [10].

Within the framework of the 12th International Congress of Cretan Studies, held in Herakleion (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[11].
From the aforementioned presentation it was obvious that the bacini have still many hidden aspects to be further investigated. The collection of data on a website will do much 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]).

[11] On these results: ; ;