Infobox World Heritage Site
Name = Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika Church of Agios Dimitrios
State_Party = GRE
Type = Cultural
Criteria = i, ii, iv
ID = 456
Region = Europe and North America
Coordinates = coord|40|38|N|22|57|E
Year = 1988
Session = 12th
The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios ( _el. Άγιος Δημήτριος), is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of
Thessaloniki, dating from a time when it was the second largest city of the Byzantine Empire. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and ByzantineMonuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sitesby UNESCO since 1988.
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, a prefect called 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. It was the most important shrine in the city, probably larger that the local cathedral, whose very location is now unknown.
The church had an unusual shrine to the saint called the
ciborium, a hexagonal roofed structure at one side of the nave, made of, or covered with, silver. This had doors, and inside a couch or bed. Also unusually, there were no physical relics of the saint, and the ciborium seems to have operated as a symbolic tomb. It was rebuilt at least once.Robin Cormack, "Writing in Gold, Byzantine Society and its Icons", 1985, George Philip, London, ISBN 054001085-5]
The basilica is famous for six extant
mosaicpanels, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Iconoclasticpolicies in 730. These mosaics, depicting St Demetrius with the officials responsible for the restoration (called the "founders") or children, represent a rare example 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 pagan 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 that in 1917 destroyed much of the city, including the roof and upper walls of the church. Black-and-white photographs and good watercolourcopies give an idea of what a priceless monument of early Byzantine craftsmanship was lost during the fire.
It took decades to restore the church following the Great Fire of 1917. 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. The excavations uncovered the ruins of a Roman bath where St. Demetrius had supposedly been held prisoner and later executed. A Roman well was discovered too and it is believed that it's the same well that the soldiers who executed St. Demetrius dropped his body later. The church was finally restored and reconsecrated in 1949.
* [http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/2/eh251.jsp?obj_id=1671 Hellenic Ministry of Culture]
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