Saturday 11 April 2015

Good Friday in Greece - Megali Paraskevi


We decided to spend the evening of Megali Paraskevi, Good Friday, in Plaka, as there is a large number of Byzantine churches in the area.

Plaka is the oldest neighbourhood of Athens, a labytinth of small streets clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis

which also affords good views of Lycabettus Hill.


It's a residential area


full of bars and restaurants

some beautifully restored neoclassical buildings

with a vibrant night life.


and where antiquities sit comfortably next to the bars

 or can be seen under glass.

 Our first stop was the Byzantine church of Agia Katerini, St Catherine's, built in the 11th century. Its Epitaphios is meant to be one of the most beautiful in the city. (You will find more information on Epitaphios and how Good Friday is celebrated in Greece, here ).  It was extremely crowded and we couldn't get anywhere near the church so we decided to move on to another church.

When we got home we found out that Alexis Tsipras and his family had commemorated Good Friday here, and you can see more about this here .

The next church we visited was the church and monastery of Agios Dimitrios, built in 1600

reaching far above the heads of the devout, I managed to get this photograph

we moved through the church to the back exit and entered the small courtyard where the cells of the monks are.

This little church is the annexe to

the church of Agios Nikolaos Ragavas, built during the 11th century. It was the first church in Athens to have a bell installed after the War of Independence against the Turks in 1821 and it was the only bell to ring out for Easter in April 1833. The bell was also the first to ring out after the city's liberation from the German occupiers on October 12, 1944.

The queue of people trying to get in was long.

The church of Agion Anargyron, better known as the Metochi tou Panagiou Tafou was our next stop.
The crowds were overwhelming even before we could get a glimpse of the church.

We managed to go down the steps and the crowds were even denser.

The church was built during the first half of the 16th century on the site of an ancient temple of Aphrodite and functioned as a nunnery at first.

This is where the Holy Fire that arrives from Jerusalem on a special flight is first deposited and then distributed to all the churches all over Greece (you can find out more about this here )

Moving towards the courtyard was very slow

and once we arrived, things got tricky - it took us ages to move towards the church

and this is the closest we got. And then, nothing. We were stuck. We could not move in any direction. Even after we decided that we were going to give up, we could not do a thing. Stuck. We could not get out. By then it was 9:00 and we knew that the Epistaphios would start moving and people would light their candles - packed like sardines we knew how dangerous this could be. Visions of when I was a child when a woman's hair caught fire from the candle of the people behind her came to mind. We were hot, sweaty, and slightly panicky. It took us absolutely ages to move towards a smaller gate and get out.

We heard later that even though most processions started between 9:00 and 9:30, this church's  Epitaphios could not get out for the crowds. It was delayed by at least one hour.

Our next stop was a tiny church, Katathesis tis Timias Zonis tis Theorokou and Agios Spyridon,

its Epitaphios had already moved off so the little church was relatively empty

the frescoes are in desperate need of restoration

We passed another church on the way

as well as people standing in street corners or sitting on steps, holding their lighted candles waiting for an Epitaphios to come their way so that they could join in - sensible people who had not tried to get into a crowded church.

By then we'd had enough of crowds and needed some space. We sat here and had our evening meal - still very crowded, both the taverna and the streets, but at least we had our own, allocated space.


After midnight things got a bit calmer.

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