The Church of the Holy Apostles in Athens: Exploring More Architectural Commonalities Between East and West

In another article published in September 2023, we looked at the church of Hosios Loukas in Distomo, Greece and discussed some of the strong similarities that can be found in Byzantine (i.e. Eastern Roman) churches of the first millennium with their comparable Western Roman counterparts; similarities that can help to highlight for us the common roots and shared ancestry of these two halves of the Church.  Today we wish to present our readers with yet another example of this architectural-liturgical synergy and, like Hosios Loukas, it too comes from the period known as "Middle Byzantine" art and architecture. The church in question is the Church of the Holy Apostles (Agioi Apostoloi) located in the ancient agora of Athens, Greece.

Construction of the Church of the Holy Apostles is dated to around the tenth century and comes in the popular Byzantine form of a cross set into a square.

Hanging corona lampada such as these frequently turn up in descriptions of the early Roman basilicas

It is worth commenting that the icons you might see in these photos are from a much later vintage than the church itself, coming from the seventeenth century, and, as such, they really do not form a part of our considerations for this particular article.

The main point of interest is the presbytery, altar and balustrade (or "templon" as it is called in the East).

In terms of the altar itself, it comes in the smaller proportions that were common in both East and West in the first millennium. As is often the case in the East, the altar (or "holy table") comes in a table-like form, however this is not unique to the East strictly speaking as these types of altars, in addition to sarcophagus shaped one's, could likewise be found in the West during this period. 

Next we have the marble balustrade, or templon, that separates the presbytery from the rest of the body of the church. 

As you'll see, it has ornamental carvings but there are no icon panels inserted into it as there would be in the case of an iconostasis proper. This -- and the iconostasis itself -- wasn't a development that came about in the Christian East until later on in the second millennium. The arrangement that can be seen here is in fact the survival of the earlier one and will no doubt remind many of our readers of similar arrangements that can be found in churches such as the Basilica of S. Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, S. Maria Assunta in Torcello or others. From these one can understand how we would eventually get to the Western "rood screen" and the Eastern iconostasis, but what we see here and in the other mentioned churches shows us a more truly first millennium approach (though in its very earliest incarnations, it would likely have been more akin to an altar railing in height). 

Finally, here are some slightly broader views of the church which will give you a better sense of its architectural and liturgical footprint. One point worth noting here too is the use of Roman transennae for the window treatments. 

As we noted in our article on Hosios Loukas, what is especially noteworthy and telling about churches such as these is that they could as readily used for the Roman liturgy as they can the Byzantine.

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