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Basilica of Saint Demetrios Toumpouri, Marina


The cross-transept basilica dedicated to saint Demetrios the Myroblyte (the myrrh-gusher), located in the centre of the city of Thessaloniki (Northern Greece), was considered a major pilgrimage. It is believed that it was built by the Roman governor named Leontios in the third quarter of the 5th century CE, following the transfer of the cult of Saint Demetrios from Sirmium (present day city of Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) to Thessaloniki. The first church on the site was constructed in the early 4th century on a complex of Roman buildings, including a bath that was incorporated in the crypt, under the sanctuary. This was the place where, according to tradition, the saint was imprisoned and martyred. The crypt became since the early Christian period the main place of worship of the martyr, and was related to the belief that myrrh flowed from his wounds. Pilgrims were therefore entering the small semi circular room with the ciborium in the middle, for receiving the miraculous myrrh. The 5th-century church was burnt between 629 and 634 but was restored immediately thereafter, under the care of the bishop of Thessaloniki and Leo the eparch, as mentioned by the mosaic inscription that accompanies the depiction of the saint and the two individuals. The 7th-century church retained the precedent form of the basilica, reincorporating large parts of it as well. Fire destroyed again the monument in 1917, which was rebuilt with original materials and fragments. The basilica has five aisles separated by four rows of columns with two pairs of large piers interposed amongst the columns of the central aisle. The church also includes a three-aisled transept at the east, galleries, and low clerestory windows. Each wing of the transept is separated into three parts by a Π-shaped colonnade. The cenotaph of saint Demetrios was placed in the chapel incorporated into the north-west end of the north aisles. To the southeast corner of the basilica was added a small three-aisled chapel dedicated to saint Euthymios. It was frescoed in 1303, at the behest of protostrator Michael Glavas Tarchaneiotis and his wife Maria Palaiologina. The program of the chapel is typical of the period, with scenes from the Dodekaorton, the miracles and teaching of Christ, and episodes from the life of saint Euthymios. Apart from the sculptural decoration of the capitals, the cornices, the impost blocks of the pilasters, the intrados of the tribelon and the wings in a variety of forms and styles, parts of the original marble revetment and the panels of opus sectile are still preserved on the walls. The basilica also contains the marble funerary monument of a wealthy merchant and notable of the city of Thessaloniki, Loukas Spantounis, buried there just after 1481. The mosaic decoration of the basilica was not destroyed completely by the fire of 1917. Fragments are still preserved on the two large piers at the east of the sanctuary and the west wall of the nave. The mosaic panels were not created as a part of an iconographic program, but were commissioned independently; some of them dating from before the 7th century fire, some date from the period of reconstruction that followed the fire, while the latest ones are 11th-century creations. They depict saint Demetrios orans with donors and in other cases they commemorate the saint’s actions and miracles. The 9th-century mosaic panel depicts the Virgin and a military Saint in an attitude of supplication with Christ blessing from the heavens. Two more fragments of mosaics were detached and are currently displayed at the White Tower of Thessaloniki. The basilica was also decorated with frescoes destroyed during the fire of 1917. The ones that have survived depict scenes from the life of saint Demetrios. On the south wall survives a scene depicting a mounted emperor (identified as either Justinian II or Basil II) entering the city. On the second pier of the colonnade, south of the central aisle was represented in the 11th century venerable (Osios in Greek) Loukas Steiriotis, a 10th-century saint. On the first pier of the same colonnade was depicted between 1360-1380 saint Ioasaph with a church father. A Deisis (Christ flanked by Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist) and Christ enthroned painted in the 14th century were uncovered after the restoration of the monument, following the fire of 1917.

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