March 29, 2021

The Church of Saint Athanasios in Thessaloniki and the Greek Revolution of 1821

The Church of Saint Athanasios is located in the center of the city of Thessaloniki, southeast of the Church of Acheiropoietos, at the junction of Egnatia Street with Sokratous Street.

According to an inscription above the southern entrance, the church was built in 1818. It is a three-aisled wooden-roofed basilica with a nave, an architectural type that was widespread in Macedonia during the Turkish occupation and especially in the 19th century.

However, one of the tragic events of the Greek Revolution in Thessaloniki, which is associated with the church, and remains unknown in the collective memory of the city, is what happened in the then newly built Church of Saint Athanasios.

Here is how the historian Apostolos Vakalopoulos describes the dramatic event: “Even more tragic was what happened inside the Church of Saint Athanasios. There, as in other churches, the Turks had imprisoned many Greeks. Most of them were old women, old men and children. There they were left without food and water. And when, after forty days, they opened the doors, they found themselves in front of a terrible spectacle: A few hundred corpses decomposed and eaten by mice were lying on the slabs. Such was the stench throughout the district, that the inhabitants of the area were forced to move away from their homes for a few days."

Further Details About the Church

A church dedicated to Saint Athanasios is mentioned in a letter of Ecumenical Patriarch Matthew to the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Gabriel in the 14th century. A church dedicated to Saint Athanasios is also mentioned during the Turkish occupation. In 1569 the church was dedicated to the nearby Monastery of Vlatadon by the Metropolitan of Boeria Theophanis Malakis, along with the properties that belonged to him. This donation caused friction between the parishioners of the church and the Monastery of Vlatadon. The dispute refers to a firman of 1634, which states that the church belongs together with the Monastery of Vlatadon to the Iberians as well and the parishioners were trying to recover it. The controversy continued into the 18th century and ended in the civil courts. The court of Constantinople in 1715 stated that the church belongs to the Monastery of Vlatadon. A sigil of 1791 of Neophytos VII states that the monks paid 100 grosis a year to the Metropolitan for the Church of Saint Athanasios. The Metropolis continued to have financial claims for the church in the following years, as it itself had fallen into financial hardship.

The church was damaged by fire in 1817, which according to the archive of the Monastery of Vlatadon did not take on large proportions. After the disaster, the reconstruction of the church was financed by the parishioners, but the monks did not contribute. The church was completely rebuilt, and was completed on November 15, 1818, at a cost of 68,477.16 groschen. At that time the parish of the church had begun to increase in size and wealth, being in a Greek quarter and close to Greek schools. During the Greek Revolution it was used as a prison for civilians. The interior of the church continued to be shaped in 1845 and in 1860 a bell tower was built, which was later demolished. The parish use of the church was abolished in 1912 and the church was used by refugees, resulting in damage. The church was restored in the period 1967-68.