To the north of the theatre of the Agora of Thessaloniki, on the ruins of the great Roman baths of the city, on the site where "most blessed Demetrios", an officer in the Roman army, was imprisoned and then beheaded in 303, stands the church dedicated to the memory of the martyr, saint Demetrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, from whose relics myrrh flows. According to the "Martyrdom of the saint", the martyr was secretly buried there and "since many signs and healings took place at this place" the Christians erected a small chapel there in 313. In the mid-5th century, Leontius, the eparch of the Illyrian prefecture "erected a most venerable church to the martyr", after he had been cured of an illness by saint Demetrios. It was then that the ciborium was constructed and this was considered the home of the saint. In about 620, Leontius' basilica was burned. The bishop of Thessaloniki, with the eparch Leo and the assistance of the citizens and of foreigners, immediately restored the church in its original form, retaining elements which survived from its predecessor. A magnificent five-aisled basilica was thus erected, with a transept, narthex and galleries. In its ground plan and on the roof, the sign of the cross is described. In the north-east corner, there is the tomb of the saint, on the spot, it is believed, it occupied in Early Christian times.
The form of the church today is the result of restoration which began after the great fire of 191? and was completed in 1948. All the remaining parts from the phases of the 5th and 7th centuries were retained and the rest were rebuilt in their original form.

The church was decorated with marble, mosaics and wall-paintings, but the fire of 1917 deprived it of its former brilliance. Marble revetments and opus sectile from the 5th and 7th centuries have survived piecemeal in the narthex, in the central aisle and on the arches of some colonnades. The columns and the column capitals come both from the original 5th century basilica and from ancient buildings in the city. The marble iconostas, the episcopal throne within the sanctuary and the pulpit have been reproduced in their original form. The tomb of Lukas Spantunis, a leading citizen of Thessaloniki, lies in the north-western part of the central aisle and is a typical product of Italian Renaissance, dating from 1481.

Eleven mosaic compositions of a commemorative nature have survived on the west wall of the central aisle and on the two pillars of the sanctuary. They date from the 5th, 7th and 9th centuries. The mosaics with a) the offering of the children to Saint Demetrios and b) the saint with the angel date from the mid-5th century and belong to the older basilica of the eparch Leontius. The mosaics of the northern colonnade, dedicated to Saint Demetrios and the Most Holy Mother of God also belonged to this period, but were destroyed in the fire of 1917. All that remains is a part of the saint in supplication and a peacock, and these are on show at the Museum of Byzantine Culture. The mosaics on the southwest pillar belong to the 7th century: a) Saint Demetrios with the founders of the church; b) the saint with a clergyman; and c) Saint Sergius, as do those on the north-western pillar: Saint George with two children; and d) the saint in supplication. The depiction of the Most Holy Mother of God and Saint Theodore, on the same pillar, dates from the 9th century. The representation of Saint Demetrios with four clerics, on the western wall of the central aisle belongs to the 7th century.

Only a few compositions have survived the almost total destruction of the wall-paintings which once adorned the church. The most important of these is the so-called "historical" wall-painting on the south wall which dates from the beginning of the 8th century and most probably depicts the triumphal entry of Justinian II into Thessaloniki in 688.

In 1493, Saint Demetrios was turned into a mosque, with the name of Kasimiye Ҫamii. Devotions to the saint were restricted to the north-western portion. The church was restored to Orthodox Christian worship in 1912. In 1917 it was destroyed in the great fire in the city. After the fire, the restoration work was begun, which ended in 1948.

THE CRYPT


Below the transept of the church lies the Crypt that is the eastern part of the Roman bath-house, where in the byzantine years sprang holy water and myrrh of saint Demetrios. The site is used today as a museum and houses an archeological collection. At the centre of the special reverence paid to the saint was the semi-circular space in the middle, with five niches and a triple cistern where, according to tradition, "the eternal rivers of healing myrrh" sprang in the years of the Palaiologan dynasty. Entry for the faithful was directly from the road to the east of the church. After the church was turned into a mosque, the use of this site was abandoned and devotions to the saint were performed in the north-west part of the church, while the crypt was filled in, only to make its re-appearance after the fire of 1917.

THE CHAPEL OF SAINT EFTHYMIOS

In the Middle Byzantine period, the church of Saint Efthymios was attached to the south end of the sanctuary of the basilica of Saint Demetrios. This was a small, three-aisled basilica with a raised nave and archaic features which place its construction at about the end of the 9th-beginning of the 10th centuries.

In 1303, the church was decorated with wall-paintings, the expenses being met by general Mihail Glavas Tarhaneiotis and his wife Maria. The artist filled the surface with two zones of continuous wall-paintings, in miniature, in which are depicted full-length saints and scenes from the Twelve Feasts, the life and miracles of Jesus. Scenes from the life of saint Efthymios adorn the north wall, while liturgical subjects take up the surfaces of the sanctuary. Despite the great damage the wall-paintings have suffered they breathe the spirit of Palaiologan Renaissance. The cubism of the figures, the dynamic movements, the proportions of the bodies, the features of the faces, the intensity and concern in the eyes all argue the work of a talented artist of the stature of Manouil Panselinos, as has been claimed, or at least of a colleague from the artistic environment of Thessaloniki at the beginning of the 14th century.

Saint Demetrios (Hagios Dimitrios)
Saint Demetrios (Hagios Dimitrios)
Saint Demetrios (Hagios Dimitrios)
Saint Demetrios (Hagios Dimitrios)
Saint Demetrios (Hagios Dimitrios)