Monday 25 November 2013

Athens: The Mitropolis: (Ἡ Μητρόπολη) The Cathedral Church of Athens

( In the large Plateia Mitropolis down from Syntagma Square; open daily)

Popularly known as the "Mitrópolis", this large, three aisled basilica is the cathedral church of the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece. As such, it is the site of state funerals and the church politicians and visiting dignitaries attend when in the city.

I need a picture!

Construction was begun in 1842 by Bavarian, Greek, and French architects with King Otto and Queen Amalia laying the cornerstone. The city literally incorporated its past into this church. Much of the building material used was debris (spolia) from 72 ruined or razed city churches. Spolia was not hard to find.  Athenian churches had been destroyed by time, by war, and by the new state eager to create wide boulevards and lay bare the city’s ancient monuments. Still, it was an important symbolic gesture as the cathedral rose, phoenix like, from the ashes in post independent Athens. Unfortunately any effort to identify these bits is high-jacked by the rather boring plastered façade.
  The Mitropolis (40 by 20 metres and 24 metres high) was completed in 1862. Those who know say it incorporates both neo Byzantine and neo classical elements. I find it hard to fully appreciate but the interior of the church is imposing and worth a look.  The relics of the unlucky Gregory V the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1821 are here. The Sultan had blamed him for his inability to suppress the Peloponnesian uprising of that year and had him dragged from church during the Easter Service and hung in full liturgical regalia on the gates of the Patriarchate in Constantinople. As a further insult, his body was then dragged through the streets and thrown into the Bosphorus. In folk tale fashion, a Greek sailor rescued it from the waves and after many adventures his relics were brought here. The Greek Church had declared him a saint in 1921 as an Ethnomartyr (Εθνομάρτυρας), a martyr of the state.

Relics of Gregory V

The transfer of these relics to Athens made an ecclesiastical point as well. Somewhat like Constantine transferring the bones of St Andrew to Constantinople to give his new Rome a tangible Christian connection to the apostle, so the transfer of Gregory’s relics was a statement of the continuity of Orthodoxy.

One of Athens home grown saints is here, the notoriously cranky Ag Philothei who was martyred by the Turks in 1559. Her bones are visible in a gold reliquary.
The  marble square in front of the Mitropolis is quite grand and absolutely treacherous during rain. On its east side are two statues. The one tucked away on the south is Saint Constantine XI the Ethnomartyr, and last Byzantine Emperor. Some accept him as an Orthodox  saint and some say he is not. Perhaps that is why he is set a little apart. The second and more prominent  is a statue of Archbishop Damaskinos who was Archbishop of Athens during World War II as well as Regent for King George II and Prime Minister of Greece in 1946. The cathedral is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Mother of God '(Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου; feast day: March 25)

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