Litochoro is a town located at the base of Mount Olympus, on the western shore of the Thermaic Gulf. "Hidden" in the picturesque alleys of Litochoro, the small Chapel of Saint Solomone is really very small for the great history it carries. There are many features and peculiarities that make it unique. The magnificent frescoes inside, which testify to the antiquity of the building. Its history and contribution during the years of Ottoman rule as a secret school. Saint Solomone to whom it is dedicated, is a Saint who is not widely known. And finally, the shell of the sea turtle, which is in a showcase of the Narthex. These make it one of the most remarkable chapels of the wider area. For all these reasons, it has been designated since 1992 as a historical monument, by decision of the Ministry of Culture (ΦΕΚ461/Β/15-6-92).
From the street, it is difficult to distinguish it, as its external appearance is simple and discreet, reminiscent of a house rather than a chapel. It consists of the main Temple and the Narthex, which was added much later, in a rectangular plan with dimensions of only 12 × 5 meters. The main Temple, especially small, like a house room, with the low ceiling, is awe-inspiring with the impressive murals, which try to resist the wear and tear of time.
Built During the Turkish Occupation
The chapel was originally a wooden-roofed church with only one room. Its original height was lower than it is today, as it is a building from the period of Ottoman rule - according to some sources it was built in 1504 and the Turks did not allow a great height for churches. Initially it had only one small window in the niche of the sanctuary, because for security reasons during the Turkish occupation, they imposed the low entrance and the small windows in the buildings.
Just 50 years ago, the Narthex was added, thus increasing its area, while the walls were rebuilt. The floors were paved with cement mortar and the height of the main temple was increased by 50 points, while two small windows were added on the south side.
The Shell of the Sea Turtle
Entering the Narthex, the one thing that immediately distracts you, is the huge shell of the sea turtle in a showcase on its north side. The shell was donated to the church by a sailor from Litochoro, who wanted to thank Saint Solomone for her blessing at a difficult time in his life.
Since then, the shell was connected and identified with Saint Solomone, with mothers placing babies in it in order to receive the blessings of the Saint, while at the same time it served as a crib. When, over time, it began to wear out, it was placed in a showcase, always remaining there, inextricably linked to Saint Solomone, faith and popular tradition.
Metochion of the Monastery of Saint Dionysios in Olympus
The small chapel was founded and remains part of the Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus. It was built in memory of Saint Nicholas of Vounenis, a Saint venerated in Thessaly, a fact that is evidenced by the fresco on the lintel of the entrance of the main church. For unknown reasons and chronology, it was renamed the Chapel of Saint Solomone, a Saint of the Old Testament (and a protector of children, as she herself had many children).
Frescoes from 1500 AD
Entering the main Temple, despite its small size, immediately inspires awe. You can see the frescoes on the west and north side, but also in the niche of the sanctuary, with paintings of Saints in a single and uniform design and color. They date from the 16th century, beginning of the 17th century, a fact that testifies to the age of the building. The frescoes are obviously damaged over time and in many places began to disappear, with the plaster underneath collapsing.
It is worth observing carefully the fresco on the lintel of the entrance of the main church, which depicts Saint Nicholas of Vounenis, to which the chapel was originally dedicated.
There are specific sources which testify that this particular chapel functioned as a secret school. As stated by Father Kallinikos of the Monastery of Saint Dionysios: "Athanasios G. Adamopoulos in his book 'Pages from the old Litochoro' (published by the Municipality of Litochoro, 1995, p. 43) refers to the existence of a secret school in this Temple, during the Turkish occupation. It is based on oral tradition, but also on an indirect testimony of the professor of medicine of the University of Athens, Ioannis Olympiou (1802-1869), who states that in his childhood in Litochoro, he was educated by a learned monk. We also know that in the old Monastery of Saint Dionysios, there was a school, in which Nikotsaras, the thief of Olympus, attended, with a monk Anthimos as his teacher. Therefore, it is very possible that some people or some monk, from time to time, delivered lessons in Litochoro, in this part of the Monastery, where there was relative security."
Who Were Saint Solomone, Eleazar and the Seven Maccabees?
Saint Solomone was a Jew and was killed with her seven sons, the Seven Maccabees, during the persecution of the Jews in 168 BC by the King of Syria, Antiochus, when they refused to break the Mosaic Law and eat the forbidden food (pork) that he offered them.
This was preceded by the martyrdom of their 90-year-old teacher, Eleazar, who applied the law he taught them to the fullest, with the result that Antiochus threw him into the fire. Inspired by the sacrifice of their elder teacher, the seven brothers held the same courageous stand toward the king when he called them before him. Enraged then, Antiochus killed them one by one with wheels, fire and spears. When their mother Solomone saw this, she threw herself into the fire, and together they received the crown of martyrdom.
Saint Solomone celebrates every year on the 1st of August, a day when many believers come and a Divine Liturgy is performed by the Monks.
If one wants to visit it and pray, the church is located on the western borders of the city of Litochoro, on Dia Street, while the Narthex always remains open during the day.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.