Aghios Dimitrios Church, Thessaloniki
Agios Demitrios (Saint Dmitri) was a third century Christian scholar who was martyred by Galerius and whose ghost has apparently appeared at several key battlesites. The significance of Agios Demitrios has led to the construction of Greece's largest church on his birthplace in Thessaloniki. The church was converted into a mosque by the Turks, who plastered over its interior walls. When these were uncovered after the return of the church to the Greeks, it was discovered that the church also possessed the finest mosaics in Greece. The interior of the church is quite impressive and deserves more than a bit of time. Somtimes it can be a bit difficult to fully take in the beauty of the artwork, as this is a popular stop for bus tours (there were two, one from Bulgaria and the other from Poland, when I was there). Nevertheless, inside you will find exquisite icons and lots of gold, as well as the relics of Agios Dimitrios. It is a common practice for believers to kiss the case containing his relics and also to slip sheets of paper with prayers into the cracks.
It is said that at 1912 when people in Thessaloniki fight to become independent they saw Saint Dimitrio on his horse riding accross the walls of the city. That gave them power and win!
Agios Dimitrios church is a very old church built around 300AD. Outside the church is the tomb of Saint Dimitrios. A legend says that after the martyric death of Saint Dimitrios there was a great smell coming out from his tomb. Since then Agios Dimitrios is called Mirovlitis (= the one who smells good).
Agios Dimitrios is a basilica church. In the interior there are Byzantinum monuments and older than that. You could also visit the crypt, discovered at 1917, which now is a museum.
To the north of the Roman Agora is the principal church in Salonica, Aghios Dimitrios (St Demetrius). This five-aisled basilica was built over a Roman bath-house (remains of which can be seen on the north side of the church) and a Roman road (seen from the crypt, which contains a small lapidarium). Until the ninth century it was known as the "church by the Stadion". Investigations after 1917 confirmed the tradition that the Emperor Galerius caused a Roman officer named Demetrius to be imprisoned and executed here in the year 306. Thereafter Demetrius became the town's principal saint and patron, and pilgrims came from all over the Byzantine Empire to visit his tomb.
The church was originally built in the fifth century, and its main features were preserved in a seventh century rebuilding made necessary by a fire and in the reconstruction of the church after its destruction in the great fire of 1917. During the Turkish occupation it was converted into a mosque, the Kasimiye Cami.
Notable features of the interior of the church, the largest in Greece (43m/141ft long), are the finely carved capitals of the antique columns in varicolored marble, the huge wheel chandelier in the central aisle, the small mosaics on pillars in the apse and the large marble tomb of Loukas Spantounis (d. 1481) on the north wall of the narthex.
In 1980 the relics of St Demetrius were brought back to Salonica from the Italian town of San Lorenzo in Campo. They are now preserved in a sarcophagus in front of the iconostasis.
The crypt of Aghios Demetrios has been an archaeological site since its discovery
in 1918. After 1950, some of the sculptures that survived the great fire of 1917,
were transfered by S. Palakanides in the area of the fountain in an effort to remodel
the whole place. In the years 1985-1988, excavations were conducted in the north
part of the Crypt, and its remains were restored. An exhibition was organized,
including the excavation finds as well as the antiquities that were rescued from
the catastrophic fire. A pamphlet on the exhibition has already been published,
but a proper guide book to the museum is now in preparation. The museum
contains early Christian sculptures of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries found in the church,
Byzantine sculpture from the church, dated to the 11th-14th centuries, and various
excavation finds (coins, pottery), dated to the 5th-14th centuries. The most important
exhibits of the museum are: The fountain of the holy water and holy oil, which is
connected with the cult of Saint Demetrios. Three phases are distinguished,
dated to the 4th, 6th and 12-13th centuries, respectively. The reconstructed ambo
(pulpit) of the church, dated to the 6th century. In the 7th century it was built in
the wall where it is still exhibited. Two small early Christian pillars from the sanctuary.
Dated to the 5th century A.D. Fragments of the decorative elements of a burial
monument. Dated to the 14th century. Architectural sculptures (columns, parapets etc.),
belonging to the first architectural phase of the church. Dated to the 5th century
A.D. Mosaic votive inscription. It was part of the decoration of the church that was
destroyed by the fire in 1917. Fragments of icons of the Holy Virgin. They were
part of the relief decoration of the church, dated to the 11th and 12th centuries.
Fragments from the altar ciborium. Dated to the 13th century A.D. Fragments of
middle Byzantine sarcophagi. Corinthianizing capitals from the first architectural
phase of the church.
The Church of Saint Demetrius is the main sanctuary dedicated to the patron saint of Thessaloniki, dating from a time when it was the second largest city of the Byzantine Empire.
The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath that used to stand there before. A century later, Bishop Leontios had this small oratory replaced with a larger, three-aisled basilica. The church was repeatedly gutted by fires, and eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629-634. This was the church much as it is today.
The basilica is famous for six extant mosaics, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Iconoclastic policies in 730. These mosaics, depicting St Demetrius with the church's founders or children, represent the only major sample of this art surviving from the Dark Age that followed Justinian's death. An inscription below one of the images glorifies heavens for saving the people of Saloniki from a Slavic raid in 612.
Other magnificent mosaics that used to cover the church interior perished either during four centuries when it functioned as a mosque (1493-1912) or in a great fire of 1917. Black-and-white photographs convey some idea of what a priceless monument of early Byzantine craftsmanship was lost during the fire.
Following the 1917 catastrophe, the church had to be restored for decades. The excavations, conducted in the 1930s and 1940s, brought to life some interesting items that may be seen in a museum situated inside the church's crypt.
St Demetrius church is dedicated to St Demetrius, the patron saint of the city.
The original church was built in 413 on the site of a chapel dedicated to the 'myrovlites' St Demetrius. The church was restored several times and completely rebuilt in 1948 according to the original plans.
The church contains important mosaics depicting the life of the saint. And it preserves the remains of St Demetrius in a special reliquary.
The underground crypt of the church, that used to be Roman public baths. Down there took place the martyrdom of St Dimitrios. Today the Crypt houses a small museum of articles found in and around the church. The entry is from inside the church, a marble staircase to the southeast part.
Saint Dimitrios was born in 280 AD in Thessaloniki and died a martyr to his Christian faith about 303 AD.
When Constantine the Great gave an end to the persecutions of the early Christians (324 AD), a small church was built at the place of his martyrdom, near the ruins of the old Roman baths and near the stadium of the city. As thousands of pilgrims were coming to genuflect there, in 413 AD a big church was built, overlooking the entire city. This church, with some restorations and extensions, survived until the 3-days big fire of 1917 that destroyed the centre of Thessaloniki. Later it was rebuilt keeping exactly the same style.
Saint Dimitrios is the patron saint of Thessaloniki. In 1912, during the First Balkan War, the Greek army entered the city on the day of his memory: the 26th of October, offering double glee to the Greek population of Thessaloniki.
Some architectural elements and artistic mosaics of the old church have been preserved in the new church.
Here there are the relics of St. Dimitrios. Under the church there is the so-called crypt of St. Dimitrios, not really a crypt, in Roman times it was a normal building, but because of destructions the city is built on a higher level today. Here St. Dimitrios was kept as a prisoner by the Romans.
This is the place, where I was this Eastern (2006) and the feeling was unbelievable. All people in Greece believe in God sincerely and the atmosphere in the church was magicly.
Visit the church which is 10 minutes walk up hill from the city centre.You'll get connected with the spirit of the city.It's a wonderful church!
Here is a night view of the church, the west side entrance. The church is open all day and every day and the entry to the Crypt Museum is free.
An old photo of the church, just after the 3-days big fire that destroyed the centre of the city (August 1917).
A wall-mosaic of the 12th century AD in the interior of the church:
Saint Dimitrios is blessing the kids.