Our Lady of Hundred Gates
The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani is one of the most significant Byzantine monuments of Greece and is situated in Pirikia, the capital of Paros island, a short distance from its port; east of the old town of Paros. It is one of the oldest Christian temples to be found in Greece. It's formal name is Katapoliani from kata and polis which mean "towards the city"; or towards the ancient city. Its official, and more common name, Ekatontapyliani, is a creation of seventeenth century scholars who, wanting to give it more worth, named it like the ancient hundred gates of Thebes in Egypt. The church commemorates its main feast day on August 15.
Many stories circulate regarding the construction of the temple. The more common identifies St. Helen as the founder. On her way to the Holy Land to find the Holy Cross, her boat docked in Paros. Near the port, there was a small temple, and inside this temple she prayed and made a vow that if she should find the Holy Cross, she would build a large temple on that site. She did find the Holy Cross and fulfilled her vow by building the temple. Another story mentions that St. Helen could not fulfill her promise and instructed her son, Emperor Constantine the Great, to do so and he fulfilled her wish. A third version narrates that no temple existed on this site prior to the sixth century. However, Emperor Justin wanted to strengthen the religious sentiment of the island and built the temple.
About 1962, the church was renovated by the renowned professor and academic Anastasius Orlandos. His research proved that the rightful constructors were indeed Constantine and Helen. He also proved the existence of a temple dating from the fourth century. Professor Orlandos commenced refurbishments of the church which required seven years to complete. This was achieved by 1966.
Enclosure and courtyard
The entire enclosure is surrounded by a 8.5m high walled fence which has a perimeter of 252m around this large property. The main courtyard in front of the church, measures about 42m by 34m, and is enclosed on the north, west, and south by two rows of cells. These were constructed during different periods and were completed by the seventeenth century.
East of the courtyard, behind the gardens, are five unenclosed tombs from the nineteenth century. These belong to a notable, wealthy and noble family from Paros who contributed significant financial assistance to the refurbishments of the church and who were also extremely pious Christians. Manto Mavroyenis, an 1821 War of Independence heroine of Paros, was also buried there in 1848.
A few pillars and a marble foundation, are remnants from a marble building with arcades from the fourth century, which formed the atrium of the temple. This is part of the impressive facade of the temple once a worshiper has passed the big three-foiled gates.
Many tombs are in this section of the temple; amongst these are Nicholas Kondilis (1681), Nicholas Voutzaras (1617) and George Mavroyenis (1870). These tombs are of historical importance and the final resting place for those who are considered important people who gave generously for the restoration and renovations of the temple.
The main temple is about 30x25m and is an outstanding piece of architecture; the unison of its interior design creates a feeling of size, antique atmosphere and inner harmony. In the centre, is a cross-shaped temple with a colonnade in the north, south and west. There is a second level (the gynaeceum) with a series of square pillars. These are also shaped in the cross to form the four vaults in the middle and the "cross-vaults" on the sides. The four vaults cross at the dome, which is held on all four spherical triangles and also by four very big columns.
On the two of the four spherical triangles, six-winged seraphim are painted on them and there is only one other church in the world with this exact same painting of six-winged seraphim on spherical triangles and that is in St. Sophia of Constantinople.
The northern and western vaults had fallen during an earthquake that shook the church in 1733. These have since been rebuilt.
Images of the Main Temple
- Chapel of St. Theoktiste of Lesbos
- See St. Theoktiste of Lesbos
- In the northern wall of the temple is the small chapel of St. Theoctiste. There is an enclosed tomb that once contained the relics of the saint.
- Chapel of St. Nicholas
- This chapel measures 19x15m and is situated north of the altar of the main temple. It is the oldest chapel, not only of the entire church but of the whole island. Many archaeologists believe that this is the spot that St. Helen prayed before venturing to find the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
- Chapel of the Holy Unmercenaries Ss. Anargyron
- Chapel of St. Philip
- This chapel (8mx2.5m) is to the south of the Chapel of the Holy Unmercenaries and is connected directly with it, though it has a separate ceiling.
- Chapel of St. Theodosia
- Chapel of St. Demetrios
- The "Praying Virgin" (circa 15th Century)
- The "Pure One" (circa 16th century)
- The "Holy Trinity - St. Zion"
- The "Panagia Eleousa"
The old monument gate
This gate was brought to the northern wing of the complex by Professor Anastasius Orlandos during the restorations of the central gate of the narthex. The monument gate is rich in marble decoration and consists of two bizarre columns with a corniced pediment and anthemium at the top. These columns are supported on cubical bases with two human comical forms sculpted into them. These forms form the basis of the legend associated with this gate.
- "... From the second decade of the twentieth century men like George Soteriou and Anastasius Orlandos revealed the presence of numerous Early Christian basilicas throughout the modern boundaries of the Greek state. [W. Bowden, Epirus Vetus, 22-24; W. H. C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity, a History. (London 1997), 204-205, 244-245.] The uniformity of these buildings confirmed in the mind of these scholars the relative uniformity of a Christian Greek culture within and perhaps even beyond the boundaries of the modern nation-state during fifth century. Moreover, the emphasis reading architecture in Greece as evidence for the development of the Christian liturgy not only established a historical connection between the Early Christian liturgy in Greece and its Middle Byzantine successor but also placed Greece firmly within the liturgical history of both Constantinople and the broader Orthodox world. Thus, the architecture and liturgy of Greece sought not only to define the ancient roots of Greek Christian culture, but also to tie it to the culture of the Orthodox Eastern Mediterranean at the very moment when Greek territorial ambitions had been stifled after the disastrous Asia Minor campaigns of the early 1920s. The terms of debate established by Soteriou and Anastasius Orlandos persisted even as the discipline of Early Christian archaeology passed into the hands of scholars with rather different political views like Demetrius Pallas ..." (from Why Hybridity Matters for the Study of Early Christian Greece by Bill Caraher in The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.)