A Day of Churches in Thessaloniki, northern Greece
August 9, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The view from the courtyard of the church, with its bell and Greek flag flying over the bay were well worth the hot walk.
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.
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.