Tuesday 26 November 2013

Athens: Pantanassa, Monastiraki Παντάνασσα, Μοναστηράκι

Alas, not always open although they say open daily in mornings, and so worth a look inside. Tel: 210 3213038 (Its Feast day is Aug 15)

Dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin, hence its name Pantanassa (Queen of All), this church is impossible to miss as you exit the Metro in Monasteraki Square (and this is a good time to remind you to use Google images.(Try Pantanassa, monasteraki to see more images. (An image search works for the famous Greek churches and some of the obscure ones as well).  Pantanassa started out surrounded by a monastery and then lost its out-buildings. Not all of its history is known. At some point it was a dependency of the large Kaisariani Monastery on Mount Hymettos.  It was a convent in the 1700s, but from 1690 on it became the area’s parish church and remained one of Athens’ ten parish churches after the Revolution. It was nick-named the little monastery, hence the name of the square around it -  Monastiraki.

Pantanassa would be the oldest standing Byzantine church in Athens’ centre if  it dates from  the 7th or 8th century.(1)  as some say. It is a three-aisled, basilica, barrel vaulted in the higher central aisle and cross vaulted in the side aisles. The elongated elliptical cupola over the central aisle is attractive and quite unusual, as if a standard basilica roof somehow acquired a “dome gene” and began a metamorphosis but didn’t quite make it. Byzantinologists like to put it this way: the church reflects in its elements the transitional style between the timber-roofed basilica of early Christianity and the later Cross-in-dome of the mid-Byzantine period.

When Pantanassa was a monastery with monks and outbuildings intact, it functioned as a workhouse of sorts. They looked after the old and homeless who, in their turn, worked for the institution and its businesses. It was wealthy, owning the surrounding shops and leasing them to merchants. When it was a nunnery, Patanassa made camocato - a rich heavy silk fabric used for ecclesiastical garments, and enough ambas, the rough material that clothed the poor, for the area to have been called Ambatzidika at the time.
Pantanassa was a commercial hub. In 1820, its belongings stretched from today’s Ifestou Street to Athenas Street and up Ermou to Aiolou. The atmosphere was probably pretty much like Monasteraki today. 
In the 19th century Pantanassa acquired a miracle working icon, that of Ag Thekla, a local saint. Her own church had been destroyed and Ag. Thekla, needed a new home. She came bringing quite a lot of inherited property with her as well.

 Stories abound about this church, and the latest one is perhaps the best.
In the 1990s the church’s icon of Mary began to weep. This was exciting news in the media and long line ups of the faithful ensued to venerate the icon. The calmest character in the drama was the priest. When surrounded by reporters and asked to comment on the miracle, he did not deny the possibility but suggested that damp might have something to do with it.  Surely this lack of fanaticism but bent towards hope is one of the secrets of Orthodoxy’s success.

The church has just been handsomely renovated.  The wall paintings are recent and so is that bell tower added in the 1900s.

Useful when it was a parish church and nice enough per se, but wildly out of sync with the church’s façade.

I have seen the inside several times but maddeningly never when I had my camera handy. So that part will have to wait.

(1) Some date it to the 11th or12th based on analyses of its capitals. Wars and time destroyed records so a lot is educated guesses. 

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