The Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world still standing. Erected sometime in the 4th century AD, it was originally part of a Roman-era spa when Divodurum, the former name of Metz, was a major military and trade center along the Germanic frontier. Specifically it was used as a pagan gymnasium when Christianity in Western Europe was still in its infancy. It was one of the few buildings in the city to remain standing after the Huns passed through in 451 AD.
Metz was an important cradle of Frankish civilization, with both Merovingians and Carolingians tracing their ancestry to the place. After the conversion of Clovis I to Catholicism, Metz became a Christian stronghold. During the 7th century, the old Roman gymnasium was converted to use as a Benedictine church. During the reign of Charlemagne, Metz was almost chosen as the capital city of the newly founded Holy Roman Empire, an honor which was instead bestowed on nearby Aachen. Neverthless Charlemagne was apparently fond of the old church, and two of his sons were buried in what would later be designated the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains.
Amazingly, the original Roman structure remained essentially intact throughout the Middle Ages. Apparently by the 16th century the old edifice was showing its age, and the Church moved out. It then spent over 400 years in service as a warehouse: a perfectly intact thousand-year-old building, one of the best preserved Roman constructions in the world, was then used for storage. Thankfully, its historical importance was recognized in the 1970s and the basilica was restored. It is now used primarily as a concert hall, a fitting tribute to its medieval musical heritage.
The interior is much less Roman in appearance than the exterior, as the whole place was renovated in the 10th century, and again in the 20th century. Although still designated as a Basilica by the Roman Catholic Church, the building’s use nowadays is for musical functions and exhibitions. It is certainly an ideal place to see Gregorian Chant music performed.References:
The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.
The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.
The church had an unusual shrine called the ciborium, a hexagonal, roofed structure at one side of the nave. It was made of or covered with silver. The structure had doors and inside was a couch or bed. Unusually, it did not hold any physical relics of the saint. The ciborium seems to have been a symbolic tomb. It was rebuilt at least once.
The basilica is famous for six extant mosaic panels, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Byzantine Iconoclasm in 730. These mosaics depict St. Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church (called the founders, ktetors) and with children. An inscription below one of the images glorifies heaven for saving the people of Thessalonica from a pagan Slavic raid in 615.
Thessaloniki became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1430. About 60 years later, during the reign of Bayezid II, the church was converted into a mosque, known as the Kasımiye Camii after the local Ottoman mayor, Cezeri Kasım Pasha. The symbolic tomb however was kept open for Christian veneration. Other magnificent mosaics, recorded as covering the church interior, were lost either during the four centuries when it functioned as a mosque (1493–1912) or in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 that destroyed much of the city. It also destroyed the roof and upper walls of the church. Black-and-white photographs and good watercolour versions give an idea of the early Byzantine craftsmanship lost during the fire.
Following the Great Fire of 1917, it took decades to restore the church. Tombstones from the city"s Jewish cemetery - destroyed by the Greek and Nazi German authorities - were used as building materials in these restoration efforts in the 1940s. Archeological excavations conducted in the 1930s and 1940s revealed interesting artifacts that may be seen in a museum situated inside the church"s crypt. The excavations also uncovered the ruins of a Roman bath, where St. Demetrius was said to have been held prisoner and executed. A Roman well was also discovered. Scholars believe this is where soldiers dropped the body of St. Demetrius after his execution. After restoration, the church was reconsecrated in 1949.