Another Example of the Shared Architectural-Liturgical Roots of East and West: Hagios Demetrios in Thessaloniki

Continuing on with our periodic considerations of the commonalities we can find between Christian East and West, today I wanted to draw your attention to the church of Hagios Demetrios (St. Demetrius) which is located in Thessaloniki, Greece. The first church on this site dates to the fourth century but this particular structure was constructed in the early seventh century. From this point it functioned as one of the most important shrine-churches in Thessaloniki, dedicated to the martyr St. Demetrium. However, after the Ottoman conquest the church would be converted into a mosque around A.D. 1490 and it wasn't to be returned to Christian use until 1912. only to be ravaged five years later in a great fire that destroyed much of the city of Thessaloniki. Fortunately, restoration works were undertaken and this brings us to the building we see before us.

Due to the historical circumstances noted above, the church includes a mixture of ancietnt and more modern works. The apsidal art is one of the later works, as is evidenced by the iconographic style in which it is done (it also appears to be painted, not mosaic work) though it certainly echoes quite beautifully the themes and subjects we are familiar with in paleochristian works and meshes quite nicely with the rest of the structure.  

The works found around the triumphal arch are very clearly of the later Greek style and would appear to be dated to the twentieth century.

As we pan downward, we reach the balustrade turned iconostasis, behind which would be the altar (or 'holy table' as it is called in the Christian East): 

Panning to the left, we see an ancient ambo used for the proclamation of the gospel:

A detail of it taken from the side reveals some of the beautiful carvings which include peacocks -- a popular symbol in paleochristian art:

Lining the nave are beautiful columns of marble with Corinthian capitals. Above we see an open-trussed timber roof in basilica style.  A gallery level (a common Byzantine / Eastern Roman feature) is also present.

Looking toward the narthex we see the Roman latticework on the windows and railings, we can also gain a sense of the marble revetments that once clad the walls:

By now you should be starting to think to yourself that this all seems quite familiar -- and you would be correct. The ambo shown above reminds of us so many we can find in paleochristian and early medieval churches in the Latin West as well, as does the general basilica layout, the beautiful columns, the open timber ceiling, the apsidal arrangement, the transennae found throughout the church, and of course the balustrade separating the sanctuary from the nave.

On the subject of the balustrade, to show once again how similar these first millennium era churches of the East and West are frequently found to be, we will pick up on our exercise of doing some 'digital renovations' by removing the icons that have been installed into the balustrade.  First though, here is the balustrade as it stands today in the form of an iconostasis:

Here it is as it would appear with these later elements removed -- and one will surely see how we once again end up with a church that could as readily be situated in the Latin West as it is the Greek East, suitable for either the Roman liturgy or the Byzantine. 

The only element missing from the ancient paleochristian model is the ciborium which would sit over the altar.

Before we leave this church, I'd be remiss to not mention some of the original mosaics which have survived, such as this  from the seventh century which depicts the martyr Demetrius with the founders/patrons of the structure:

Another, this time of St. George:

Finally, just a few more:

An absolutely spectacular church that reminds us of the shared inheritance of the Byzantine East and Latin West.

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