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The enclosed courtyard of Antivouniotissa, the complex’s atrium, lies between the main church building and the two-story structure to its east. On the north and south, the high walls of the narthex are extended and delimit the space, at the same time ensuring its private character. In the northern courtyard rises the bell tower, a solid undecorated construction of simple style. The bell tower, composed of sections separated by two stone cornices, belongs to the perforated masonry type very common in the Ionian Islands. On the main body of the bell tower’s lower wall, another door on Prosforou Street provides access to the complex. On its other two sections may be seen the elegant, lo y arched openings where the bells are installed. More specifically, in the middle there is a two-lobed opening with intervening stone colonnette, and in the upper section, a single-lobed arched opening. The bell tower’s elegance is owed to its width, which narrows throughout its entire height, resulting in the lightening of its overall bulk. The difference in dimensions is compensated for with simple, schematic S-shaped volutes on its side masonry, recalling the stone “volutes” high on the church’s templon (see p. 174), connecting the wider parts of the tower with its narrower upper section. The Altar, Prothesis, and Diakonikon apses are all visible in the courtyard area. The two doors in the western wall of the north and south narthexes permit access to the church and a circular path through the complex.

In the atrium’s small garden, the plants and low stone walls, in combination with the composition of volumes and colors from the surrounding houses, create a vibrant place affording particular pleasure, where visitors may enjoy serenity and the atmosphere of Corfu’s historic center. During the summer months, cultural events are organized in the courtyard. These events, mostly involving classical music, are in harmony with the spirit of the Church-Museum and always wellattended by Corfu’s music-loving public.The so-called “cell”, once the priest’s two-story rectory, is also in the courtyard. Its exterior stone staircase con-cludes in a particularly charming covered veranda, whose roof, supported on five low square pilasters, is an extension of the gabled roof of the rectory. This particular type of covered veranda is called a “bótzos” in the local dialect and forms a characteristic element of Corfiot rural archi-tecture, strongly recalling similar structures, chiefly in central and northern Italy. Beneath the staircase, across its entire width, a vaulted niche has been opened in which a grave is preserved. Two stone lion’s heads supported its arched opening. Important evidence concerning this tomb was drawn from the document-will drawn up by the notary Nikolaos Metaxas (Archives of Corfu, A.N.K., contract Μ, F.199, f.77). According to the will, dated March 20, 1579, Syriga Rizikari, of the family of Georgios Theotokis, desired to be buried in the courtyard of Antivouniotissa in the monument (called “ciburio” in the text of the will) belonging to the parents of her husband, Demetrios Rizikaris, and for a scene of the Dormition of the Virgin to be painted there. Syriga’s wish was fulfilled, since the tomb does in fact have a wall painting with this scene, whose style dates to the late sixteenth century. At the same time, the evidence provided by the document indicates that the tomb was in existence in 1579, and already belonged to the Rizikaris family, one of the oldest owners’ families of Antivouniotissa.

Following the donation of the Antivouniotissa complex to the Greek state and its parallel operation as a muse-um, in 1984 a small workshop for icon conservation was housed on the upper floor of the rectory, and in 1992 the Corfu Office of the 8th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities began operating on its entrance floor. In 1995, this office was transferred to the Old Fortress, where the 21st Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, to which the Museum of Antivouniotissa belongs adminis-tratively, now makes its home. It was at that time that the effort to convert the “cell” into a complementary ex-hibition space began. Funding for this initiative was se-cured through the European Union’s Second Community Support Framework, and the study and realization of the project were then carried out by Corfu’s Office of Byzantine Antiquities. The upper floor was transformed into an exhibition space-sacristy, following the necessary and approved restoration works on its load-bearing elements, floors, roof, and electro-mechanical infrastructure, and the Museum gift shop and reception areas were organized on its entrance floor.
All the liturgical vessels, Gospel Books, and representative examples of priestly and liturgical vestments from the church’s collection were conserved. The display cases were built according to modern specifications, using natural silk and neutral epoxy paints as materials, and fiber-optic lighting for the exhibition space. The main concern of the museographic study was to present the space as compatible overall with the spirit of a sacristy, which in the Ionian Islands, and especially on Corfu, evolved during the post-Byzantine period into a storage space for ritual vessels, priestly and liturgical vestments, icons, and other valuable objects used in worship. Thus on the north wall a niche recalling an altar was created, with display-cases on either side to exhibit the sacred objects directly connected with the Altar Table and Altar it-self. Among the items on exhibit from the sacristy are Gospel Books, chalices, and patens that comprise ex-ceptional examples of local silver- and gold-smithing, vestments, liturgical covers, a gold-embroidered epitaphios, and the antimension of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, bearing the signature of Nikiphoros Theotokis. Finally, the portable icons represent all styles of religious painting in the Ionian Islands during the Post-Byzantine period. With the sacristy’s inauguration in August 2000, the exhibition program of the Museum of Antivouniotissa was finally completed.

 

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