A Day of Churches in Thessaloniki, northern Greece

A Day of Churches in Thessaloniki 

This post also appeared in Greek in the ThessPress here: https://www.thesspress.gr/religion/item/173752.html

I first came to Thessaloniki while attending a semester abroad in Athens during college. I was studying politics, languages and religion and we came to Thessaloniki as part of the course on the Theology of the Orthodox Church I was taking. I remember walking along the waterfront promenade, up to Aristotle Square, and seeing many churches.  Our professor, a British classicist telling us the history of the Rotunda, which had been badly damaged in an earthquake the year I was born and was still being repaired, scaffolding covering the walls. 

My welcome to Thessaloniki, the imposing Patriarch, martyr and Metropolitan/Bishop Aimilianos Lazaridis of Grevena in Aristotle Square
My welcome to Thessaloniki, the imposing Patriarch, martyr and Metropolitan/Bishop Aimilianos Lazaridis of Grevena in Aristotle Square

I didn’t know it would take me 18 years to return – now as a hobby travel blogger focusing on religion. The city welcomed me with warmth and although the omnipresent Nescafe frappes haven’t changed, there is now much more delicious gelato! With a smart phone in hand the city is easy to navigate but I nevertheless circle the major churches and monasteries on a paper map and made my way from my hotel near Antigone Square, and head off into the city.

First stop is the 11th Century Church of Panagia Chalkeon located below the street level surrounded by a well-manicured park. Several people eagerly await the arrival of the priest, and again I can see just how alive and relevant the church remains in the daily lives of Greeks.

The Church of Panagia Chalkeon (Greek: Παναγία τῶν Χαλκέων) 11th Century

Next stop is the Church of St. Demetrios, patron Saint of the city. It was first built on the site of ancient Roman baths in the 5th Century over the site of his martyrdom in 306 AD. The namesake’s relics are worshipped here, with many devout Orthodox streaming past the small shrine housing the remains, taking cotton swabs from a bowl outside, dipping them in holy water and touching the shrine, then dabbing their children on the forehead with the swabs.

flowers outside St. Demetrios Church

I sit in the pews, taking in the powerful smell of incense and watching the elderly greek women chatting with one another; despite the large groups of tourists streaming through there is a humble and reverent tone in the air. It feels alive, despite the old and even ancient settings, people are still drawn here. 

ChuHagios Demetrios (Greek: Άγιος Δημήτριος), is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki

Noticing summer heat I headed upwards through the winding streets, stopping for an espresso and kalouri breadstick snack, which gave me the kick I needed to keep winding my way under the midday sun to the small old church of the Friar Saint David (Ieros Naos Osiou David) with its mosaics from the around 480 AD, one of which is unique in representing Christ without a beard (I didn’t get a picture).

above the altar
entry to the Church of Hosios David (Greek: Όσιος Δαβίδ), a late 5th-century church
entry to the Church of Hosios David (Greek: Όσιος Δαβίδ), a late 5th-century church

The view from the courtyard of the church, with its bell and Greek flag flying over the bay were well worth the hot walk.

bell-tower and Greek flag
view over Thessaloniki from Hosios David Church

I continued uphill another 5 minutes to find the Vlatadon Monastery (which has been in continuous use since its founding in the 14th Century) with its lavishly decorated chapel, and equally pretty peacocks in an enclosure overlooking the city and sea below. 

the peacocks of the Vlatadon Monastery

I walked back down to the port via the still standing Roman and early Christian Eastern Wall, happy to have seen a good portion of the city, and looking forward to more, but after a much-needed cold drink. 

Vlatadon Monastery Church from the side facing the sea
some friendly Romanian tourists helped me take a photo on the top of the Eastern wall

I am interested in religion in all its forms and manifestations. I like to learn about how it shapes culture and our lives.

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