Church Hopping: Agia LavraArts, Church Hopping, Columns, Featured, Visual Arts — By Stephanie Nikolopoulos on March 25, 2011 at 6:00 am
Victory Hellas! March 25 is Independence Day for Greece. To celebrate, I thought I’d bring you church hopping where it all began….
Church: Agia Lavra (Holy Lavra, “Lavra” essentially meaning “monastery”)
Location: On Mount Helmos, which is southwest of Kalavryta in the Peloponnese, Greece
Built: AD 961; rebuilt 1600; rebuilt again 1850; rebuilt yet again in 1950
History: Greece was a strong empire, impacting language and culture around the world for much of ancient history. Even after Greece fell to Roman rule, Greek thought and influence remained strong. However, in 1453 the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire.
On March 25, 1821, Metropolitan Germanos of Patras raised a revolutionary flag under a tree outside of Agia Lavra, a monastery in the Peloponnese.
“Ελευθερία ή θάνατος” — “Freedom or Death!” — cried the Greeks under Turkish rule.
This wasn’t the first clash between the Greeks and the Ottoman Empire in those 400 years. The Turks burned the monastery, which was built in AD 961, to the ground in 1585. The Greeks rebuilt it in 1600 in a new spot, its present location, but then the Ottoman Empire armies of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt burned the church in 1715. In 1821 Germanos gave an oath to the Greek fighters and raised the flag of revolution. Pasha’s army destroyed Agia Lavra in 1826.
The Greek War of Independence lasted nine years. Finally, in 1829, a small part of Greece was liberated. Slowly, other parts of Greece were liberated as well. On July 21, 1832, the Treaty of Constantinople, which put the Greek borders in writing, was signed, and on August 30, 1832, it was ratified.
Still, it wasn’t until after World War II that other Greek lands were returned to Greece. During that time, 1943 to be exact, the Germans burned down Agia Lavra, killing several monks.
Agia Lavra was rebuilt a third time in 1950.
Exterior design: Over the centuries, the church has had many architects who have undergone rebuilding the structure each time it was destroyed. The present church is made out of light-brown stone.
Agia Lavra contains many semi-circular arches in its monastery. The arches should not be confused with pillars. Pillars, such as the ones seen in the Parthenon, belong to Classical architecture, the style popularized during antiquity. The archways, in contrast, belong to the later architectural style known as Romanesque. Arches, like pillars, represent balance.
The roof of the church is made out of red tiles. While Greek Orthodox churches are known for having a smooth, rounded dome ceiling, which is supposed to symbolize heaven and show that God is with us, the dome-like portion of Agia Lavra has a definite point.
Interior design: The church is still in active use today. It holds icons; holy relics of Saint Alexios, the “Man of God” from Edessa, Mesopotania; and the diamond-decorated gospel of Catherine the Great of Russia.
Also in the museum, which is housed in the church, are artifacts from the war. Among the displays are the revolutionary flag and vestments of Germanos.
Holiday: Every year on March 25, the church performs a reenactment of the raising of the flag in revolution.
Stephanie Nikolopoulos writes about growing up Greek/American on her website: http://stephanienikolopoulos.com.