Sunday, 24 November 2013

Athens: Ag. Ioannis (Saint John) the Theologian (Άγιος Ιωάννης o Θεολόγος)


At the corner of Erectheos St. and Erokriton St. in Plaka.
Arrange to see it’s interior with the priest or a volunteer from Ag Nikolaos Rangavas – tel: 210 322 8193, or politely try Kyria Maro at number 9, opposite its north wall.


This church is dedicated to St. John the Divine of Patmos, the author of Revelations.It is small distyle cross-in-square church with an Athenian dome, and one of the few Byzantine churches that has managed to keep its walls intact, - the exterior is all original - easy to see too because the north wall is on a tiny Plaka laneway.


The bottom part of this wall consists of red tile enclosed rounded stones with some very well placed larger white slabs. Above that is the cloisonné masonry that we have come to expect in churches of this era.
The windows of the dome have an attractive double row of bricks. Note the severe style of the rounded marble around the doorway, a nice counterpoint to the more elaborate arch of bricks above, a motif that is repeated over the north window (see above picture) as well.

There is a small narthex. The two columns inside are of Roman in origin.
Roman capitols


Restoration is in progress, albeit slowly, and some of the original frescoes are being restored after having been covered up by coats of paint. They are 13th century, later than the church but that was not uncommon, - first the building, then the decoration whenever painting teams came available. The ones you can see are original. Experts call them a provincial style, but I rather like the St George who is riding into eternity on the arch of the prosthesis of the sanctuary (north side). We know it is St George because he always rides a white horse (St Demitrios’ is red).

Not my best effort!

This church may even have been dedicated to St George for a time. It was not uncommon for churches to have changed their patron saints over time. Apparently St. George, St. Nicholas, and the Panagia (Mary) were saints popular in the Islamic world and, during the Ottoman occupation, many churches rededicated to these saints because the church was more likely to be left intact. It didn’t always work.
The church has a small narthex and a rather horrible wooden iconostasis, while it performs its function well enough, is slated to be replaced by a new marble one in the style of the era, incorporating bits of the original that were lying in pieces in the church.
No one really knows the history of this church. That it was built after 1081 is certain because of a coin found imbedded in the roof, but it does have one claim to fame during Greece’s struggle for freedom. The Italian Morosini was in Athens in 1697 leading an all out attempt (which failed) to storm the Acropolis and wrest it from the Turks. (1)  He used the small courtyard of this church to place the cannon that blew a good deal of Parthenon to smithereens – not so surprising because his view of the acropolis would have been completely blocked. He was shooting blind. 


(1) The historian K Zisios is my source

 





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