Tuesday, September 27, 2005

September 27, 2005: Thessaloniki

I've had enough time in Thessaloniki now to get over jet lag, get acquainted with the town and settle into life on the road. There is so much to see in just this "small" town (of over 2 million) and surrounding areas that I've kept myself busy as I've prepared to head to Romania. I don't have as many pics as I'd like to include now because it's been rainy on and off over the last week and a half, but I've staked out the sites and know how I will shoot most of them when I come back through to the Holy Land in a month. I did include a pic at night from the balcony where I've been staying at Moses'.

First and foremost the town is the same one that St. Paul the Apostle writes to in Thessalonians in the New Testament, so it is one of the last surviving Biblical cities, steeped in both ancient and Christian history. On an average day, walking to meet friends for a coffee (which is what you do socially in Greece), picking up provisions, or visiting an office to handle something which requires overly complex/inefficient bureaucratic systems (also something apart of daily life here), you will walk by the ancient ruins of the city's Roman markets, hippodrome (arena for horse races), or old city wall, interspersed with shops and apartment buildings. There are many ancient sites the city can boast of that I'll leave historians or travel books to cover better than I could. What I spent more time seeing where the churches. The city's primary religious treasure is the relic of St. Demetrios housed in a beautiful church bearing his name. He's considered the protector and patron of the city and its people, having been seen appearing above the city (e.g. during barbarian sieges and invasions) and in the city (e.g. saving people from imminent death during earthquakes). He was martyred in one of the city's Roman prisons (early 4 th century), upon which the altar of his church now sits (see photo), and his relics are known to literally stream myrrh at different times. The most recent occurrence was on his feast day in the late 90s when so much myrrh streamed from his tomb that they had to mop it up. (I have a cotton ball soaked in this myrrh from my first trip in 2001 that is still fragrant and moist…this breaks the laws of science & nature!) I've included a photo from his reliquary as well with iconography depicting his martyrdom.

The cities next important treasure is the relic of St. Gregory Palamas, who ended his illustrious life of monastic asceticism, writing, and defending the faith as the Archbishop of the city. His relics are also housed in a church bearing his name and kept in a beautiful reliquary (similar to St. Demetrios') available for veneration. I didn't have my camera with me that day, but I hope to send one when I get back. The last major treasure of the city that I spent time at (there are more, just haven't gotten to them this trip yet…) was Hagia Sophia, an 8th century church which boasts much of its original mosaics. This church also houses the relics of a recent 20th century Archbishop of the city that has been canonized, St. Basil. I don't know much about him though.



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