Tuesday 31st Oct 2017
I just returned yesterday from a trip to Greece, Athens and Thessaloniki. My husband, Anto and myself have been planning this trip for quite a while but it had to be postponed a few times over the last year. I am writing up the last day of our stay, firstly as I think our members and readers will find the information I gleaned useful. I will post some more blogs on Thessaloniki and Athens later this week and I’ll write up a more detailed account of the journey for the next Newsletter.
I had decided, on this visit to Athens to look up some of the small byzantine churches of Athens having read the excellent blog “My Unusual Journeys” by Kanstantina Sakellarion. So,we began the morning with a visit to our local church, the Church of St John the Forerunner,
St John the Forerunner Church
Dome of St John the Forerunner
next door to our hotel in Falirou St, Koukaki, Athens. It’s not one of the small churches but quite modern, beautifully decorated with byzantine style frescoes and some lovely icons on wood, impossible to resist as one passes! . Having spent the last 2 weeks with me in both cities, Anto says “There is even churches on the way to a church!”
The next stop was the 12th century Panagia Gorgoepikoos Church, dwarfed by the Mitropoli, Athens Cathedral right beside it.
We then headed for Agios Nikolas Rangavas, Church in Plaka, on the advice of Andreas Sampatakos, a restorer of wood, whom we had meet in an exhibition, “Templon, Holy figures, invisible gates of Faith, 20th and 21st Century” Templon Exhibition in Thessaloniki. He had told us to visit this much loved and important early byzantine church and to speak with Maria Chatzidakis who lectures on the conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art in TEI, Athens. She was there with her students when we arrived and very kindly took time out to show us this 11th century church, which was built on an older temple. She showed us the conservation work that is being done on the frescoes (mainly 20th century) within the church. The initial church was absolutely tiny but had been extended over the years. In Athens, Maria said the churches were much smaller than in Thessaloniki as in the early centuries of Christianity, Athens was still the centre of the old religion. After the 11th century the churches began to be built bigger. The church is a beautiful spiritual space and even though the icons are not in the style our Association work with, the church is certainly worth a visit.
St Nikolas Ragavas
Maria and myself
We moved on to Agia Dynami Church, which is situated at the entrance to the Electra Metropolis Hotel. It’s a fascinating place. The church is right under the columns of the modern hotel.
I was touched by the respect the Athenians showed for their heritage, unlike in Ireland where we bulldozed Woodquay, (one of the largest Viking Settlements ever uncovered) to the ground and built office blocks on top of it. Having once more lit our candles and venerated the icons therein, we headed for “The Ant and The Cricket”, to meet Eva Vlavianos for lunch. Once again, we were very fortunate to be visiting Athens when Eva was back there, a real blessing. After a lovely, tasty lunch Eva and myself headed for the excellent bookshop, Philokalia, 36 Voulis St, Syntagma, Athens. I bought a few books on icons of course (in English) and Eva bought some theology books. Thankfully the bookstore will send the books by post back home.
Eva browsing in Philokalia bookstore
Eva and myself
Our next call was at the end of Ermou St. We passed the next small 13th century byzantine church, Panagia Kapnikarea, which was nearly destroyed to make way for progress but thankfully saved and restored by Athens University. So now the very busy commercial street of Ermou continues around this oasis of peace.
Eva brought me through the flea market to the amazing workshop of, Kyriakos Kiafas, Christodopidou 4, Monastiraki Tel. / Fax: 2103242048 who makes traditional furniture and beautifully carved icon supports, both gessoed and ungessoed.
Workshop of Kyriakos Kiafas,
More images from Kyriakos Kiafas workshop
He too will post any orders to Ireland. I chose a small triptych as I had carry on luggage only for my return flight.
A big thanks you to Eva for all she did for us and all she gives to us. I always feel blessed when I spend time with her and she made a good day perfect.
Having left Eva, I couldn’t resist going to see the last small byzantine church on my list, Agios Ioannis stin Kolana, (Saint John around the column) which was pretty close to where we parted, but it was closed
Agios Ioannis stin Kolana
I guess I’ll just have to come back again to Athens!
P.S. The other two small byzantine churches I had on my list are Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris (St Dimitri the Bombadier) on Filopappos Hill and Agios Georgios tou Vrachou (St George of the Cliff) in Anafiotika. I had visited both these churches in the first few days in Athens.