Sunday 24 November 2013

Athens: Ag Aikaterini (Αγία Αικατερίνη)

At Xerofondos and Galanou  Sts, Plaka  tel: 210 322 8974. Open daily from 8:00-1:00 and in the evening when services are scheduled.

Set lower than street level in its own square Ag Aikaterini is a late 11th century tetrastyle cross-in-square church originally dedicated to Agioi Theodoroi  according to an inscription on the large cylindrical ancient column piece which supports the altar. The original church is somewhat dwarfed by a new addition on the west, north and south sides. The Athenian dome (not as beautiful as some) and apses are easy to investigate from street level. The cross shaped roofing and the brick pattern helped Byzantine experts date the building.

It got its present name in 1767 when it became a dependency of the famous Monastery of St Catherine in Sinai. St Catherines or Aikaterini it remained until 1882 when the local residents, in need of a parish church got this one  by simply occupying the building until the church agreed. This occupation of buildings until demands are met (κατάληψη in Greek) is quite a national tradition and all too common these days for political reasons.  The monks who were locked out of their monastery were reluctant to go. When they did, they left the tall palms in the courtyard as reminders of their home monastery. The name Ag Aikaterini remained

The large plastered and colonnaded building that wraps three side of the original church is a twentieth century add-on, an eyesore to purists but loved as a background to the weddings and baptisms that have become the hallmark of the church today.  St Catherine’s large sunken courtyard with royal palms and olive trees make it a very pretty setting for such festivities.
 Attractive remnants of a Roman bath built by the emperor Hadrian can still be seen on the southwest side of the courtyard

The interior is attractive and the bird on the tulip shaped pulpit is definitely a dove – no ambivalence here. The icons in the iconostasis are all encased in beautifully wrought silver created by Athenian silversmiths in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

They say its choir is one of the best in the city. Try to take in a Sunday morning service and check that out for yourself. 

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