Church of the Saviour

Thessaloniki, Greece

The Church of the Savior is one of the 15 Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki that were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988.

Archaeological investigation and restoration work following the 1978 earthquakes, in which the church was badly damaged, have brought to light new evidence that has led to a radical review of our knowledge of the structure. The original position of the holy altar has been discovered, and a small lead reliquary that was the church's enkainion. Two inscriptions incised on the reliquary inform us that the church was dedicated to the Virgin. This contradicted the generally accepted view of scholars at the time that the church was to be identified with the monydrion of Kyr Kyros mentioned in a chrysobull of the emperor John V Palaiologos, issued in 1364 and now in the Vatopedi Monastery. Some scholars, indeed, regard this monydrion as the chapel of a major monastery complex, which they identify with the Monastery of Kyr Joel.

Work on the church also revealed its original architectural form, the rare type of the inscribed tetraconch church. The discovery of two graves beneath the floor of the north and south apses, and of others in the narthex and around the church, have led to the soundly based suggestion that the structure was a funerary monument. Finally, investigations in the dome have revealed a coin placed in its structure, on the basis of which the church has been dated to about 1350; more importantly, they have revealed the hitherto unknown wall-paintings in the dome.

The ground plan of the church consists of a square with a tetraconch inscribed within it. The exterior of the sanctuary apse is semihexagonal in form. The narthex, which is appended at the west, was added during work on the church in 1936, replacing an earlier, though not Byzantine, narthex. The nave is covered by an eight-sided dome, relatively tall for the size of the monument, which is articulated by rows of arches and brick half-columns, the typical hallmarks of Palaiologan church-building in Thessaloniki. The base is of rubble masonry, with courses of bricks above the semidomes over the apses, laid entirely with mud. The church was definitely not converted into a mosque during the period of Turkish domination, possibly because of its small size, or because it stood in the Christian district of Panagouda, in the grounds of a private dwelling.

The wall-paintings uncovered in the dome, beneath a thick layer of soot, are arranged in three zones. At the pinnacle of the dome is depicted the figure of Christ, ascending triumphantly in a glory held by angels. His Ascension is watched by the Virgin and the Apostles lower down, and depictions of the sun and moon and personifications of the winds are added, in accordance with the established Byzantine iconography of the subject. Eight prophets are depicted between the windows of the dome, and at its base is unfolded the Divine Liturgy, in the type and image of the Heavenly Liturgy. Thus, though Christ appears in a Theophany, he is flanked not by angels, but by church fathers, deacons, chanters, and the faithful. These wall-paintings are dated to the period 1350-70, and their art is valuable testimony to the hitherto un-known artistic output of Thessaloniki in the middle of this century, revealing through its repertoire the spiritual concerns of the intellectuals of the city.

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Founded: 14th century
Category: Religious sites in Greece

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