December 4, 2009

The Holy Shrine of Saint Barbara in Athens

As of the 20th of April 1949, under Law No.957, the holy Shrine of Saint Barbara in the Aigaleo district of the Municipality of Agia Varvara is under the ownership, jurisdiction and administration of the Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece. Proceeds from this holy shrine are always donated to various missionary and social needs.


The temple as we see it today was built in 1904, and its architectural style is that of a three-naved basilica. The central nave honors the name of Saint Barbara. The right-hand nave is dedicated to the Glorious, New Martyr Phanourios, while the left-hand nave is dedicated to Saint Mavra. Both of these chapels were consecrated by the late Metropolitan of Athens, Theokletos I.

The Holy Sanctuary of the temple is also named "DISCOVERY", or "EURESIS", as it denotes the exact spot where the miraculous icon of St. Barbara was discovered. We have no historical information on the year in which the first church was erected; it is said that it was the remnant of an older monastery that was dissolved and destroyed. The only authentic historical information that we have on the existence of a church is the year 1774, that is clearly inscribed on the mural icon of St Barbara inside the Holy Sanctuary.

We have assumed the existence of a church prior to the year 1774, given that the hagiography of the mural icons is not usually concurrent to the actual building of the edifice. Unwritten tradition that has been preserved by Christians to this day, maintains the existence of a church in this area for over 1000 years; this would make it almost as old as the neighboring Monastery of Daphni.

The tiny church that existed in the location that the present church now stands was practically lost, on account of its abandonment for so many years. It had been buried under 80 cm of earth and stones, and was being used as a sheep pen. This conclusion was reached, by observing the extent of the damages to the murals. This also explains the differing depth of the central nave of the present church.


How and when was the icon of St. Barbara discovered? In a wondrous way. About 100 years ago, a shepherd had been using the little church as a pen for his sheep. One night, he saw a young woman in his dream, who said to him: "This place that you are using as shelter for your sheep is mine, and you must stop desecrating it." The shepherd paid no attention to the dream, and did nothing about it. After several days had gone by, he started to lose one sheep each day. The young woman then re-appeared in his dream, and said to him: "Tomorrow, two people will come to this place. You will accost them, and ask them to dig the ground on the right-hand side of the entrance." Indeed, the next day two women - Marigo Koula and Angelica K. Tsambazi - came from Piraeus to that place to gather herbs. These were the women for whom was reserved the great blessing of discovering the miraculous icon of St. Barbara; an icon measuring 37 x 26 cm., which to this day is guarded within the Shrine and is acknowledged as a holy relic and a boast for every Christian.

News of this event spread throughout Greece, and from that day hence, the faithful swarm to this Saint's grace, to pray and to ask for her intercessions and her intervention.

A large volume would be hardly enough space, to record the miracles and signs that the pious faithful have preserved during the 200 or so years of this Shrine, not to mention the innumerable dedications and offerings that are daily brought here by pilgrims, with faith, reverence and a thankful disposition.


The sacred relic of Saint Barbara was brought to Venice during the reign of the Doge Pietro II Orseolo (991 -1009). They were brought to Venice by Maria Argyropoula - considered by John the Deacon and Andrea Dandolo to be the daughter (or perhaps even the very sister) of the emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII - but, as surmised from the surname, was probably one of the future emperor Romanos III's sisters, who had been married to the Doge's son, Giovanni. Their marriage was officiated in the "imperial chapel" in Constantinople by the Patriarch, and the emperors themselves participated in the ceremony as "best men", carrying the bridal crowns.

Giovanni, who was accompanied by his brother Otto, received the title of "Patrician", while his spouse managed to secure from the monarch the privilege of taking with her the holy remains of the Great Martyr Barbara. Back in Venice, they were placed in the "chapel of the duke" ( i.e., Saint Mark's ).

Giovanni Orseolo's stay in the Bosporus was an extensive one, and it was there that the only child was born to the royal couple, between the years 1002 and 1004.

Giovanni died of the plague in 1007. Later, in 1009, during the reign of the Doge Otto Orseolo, two more of Pietro Orseolo's children - Orso the Bishop of Torcello and Felicita the Mother Superior of the Convent of Saint John the Evangelist in Torcello - managed to transfer the holy remains of the Great Martyr to the chapel of that same convent , where it continued to be witnessed in the 18th century, by Corner.

During the times of Napoleonic destruction, the holy remains were translated to the Church of Saint Martin on the island of Burano, where they continue to be guarded to this day.

On Sunday, the 1st of June 2003, a delegation of the Church of Greece's Apostoliki Diakonia arrived at the city of Venice, Italy, on a military aircraft assigned by the Greek Government, to receive a section of the sacred remains of the Holy Great Martyr Saint Barbara that are guarded there, pursuant to the courteous response of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Venice Mr. Angelo Scola to our Church's pious request.

The holy relic of the Great Martyr Saint Barbara will repose permanently in the Shrine of Saint Barbara, which belongs to the Apostoliki Diakonia and is situated in the Attica Municipality that bears her name, by His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos, during the "door-opening" ceremony of the Holy Temple, to take place after completion of its overall renovation, in the month of October.

From Apostoliki Diakonia website, which contains more information on this Holy Shrine.

                                                         The Miracle of Sophia Bella

A young girl named Sophia Bella from Athens suffered a severe sickness which left her right arm paralyzed. Her parents took her to many physicians, but nobody could help her.

On the night of February 14, 1899, young Sophia saw a young woman come into her bedroom saying: "Tomorrow morning get up and play the piano."

"But how shall I play?" she said. "Can't you see my hand, that it is paralyzed?"

"I am Saint Barbara!" said the young woman, who then disappeared.

On February 15 Sophia awoke with joy. Her hand was no longer stiff and unable to move. It once again had warmth and movement. She ran immediately to the piano and began to play. Her parents in the next room heard the piano and went to go see who was playing. There they beheld the miracle! Their daughter Sophia was playing with both hands. This miracle became widely known throughout Athens immediately.

The parents of Sophia, in gratitude to Saint Barbara, had a golden hand made which they placed next to the miraculous icon of Saint Barbara in Athens as a testimony. In the Holy Shrine of Saint Barbara, this miracle is inscribed on the iconostasis, which says: "Sophia L. Bella. Having suffered from an incurable condition, on February 14 1899 was healed by the Saint. The iconostasis, the oil lamps and the enclosure were piously offered."