Altar at Church of St. Pogos and Petros

Altar at Church of St. Pogos and Petros

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Pope Peter

The year 284 was the year Diocletian became emperor, and ordered the longest and fiercest persecution the Christians ever experienced. He remained in office until 305. The Copts who lost their lives under Diocletian, were over eight hundred thousands. Then in the wake of his atrocities Diocletian became blind and mentally deranged. Ironically, when his own people deserted him, an old Christian woman nursed him. By so doing, she obeyed our Lord who commands us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.

To keep alive the memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for their faith, the Coptic calendar commenced with the year 284 A.D as its starting point. The Copts follow the same calendar system of the ancient Egyptians. The Coptic year begins on September 11th and has twelve months of thirty days each, and a short month of five days (or six days on leap years.)

During the celebration of the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul, Sophia entered the church. Deeply in her heart, she asked the Lord, before his holy altar, to give her a child. That night she saw in a vision two old men dressed in white telling her that her prayers were answered, and she would be given a son, and he would be called Peter, after the apostle, for he would be a Father of a whole nation.

In due time Peter was born and when he was seven years old, his parents offered him to the patriarch Abba Theonas, just like the Prophet Samuel had been offered. He became like the patriarch's own son, and was consecrated by him first as a reader, then a deacon, then a priest. He grew up to be learned, chaste and upright, and in due time his knowledge, wisdom and understanding earned for him the surname of "Excellent Doctor of the Christian religion".

When the patriarch Abba Theonas was dying, he counseled the church leaders to choose Peter as his successor. Thus Peter, the son of promise, became the father of a nation and the seventeenth successor of St. Mark in the year 285 A.D.

The years in which Abba Petros guided the church were years of excessive stress. Storms raged from outside, in the form of the most terrible persecutions the Christians were subjected too, and storms from inside in the form of the Arian heresy that was equally dangerous to the Christian faith. Like the able captain of a ship, Peter did his utmost to cope with both storms.

The persecutions that were unleashed against the Christians when Abba Petros became patriarch were those ordered by Emperor Diocletian. They lasted over ten years and did not end until the Patriarch himself was martyred. Since he was the last one to lose his life for the faith under Diocletian, he is called to this day in church history "The seal of the Martyrs".

The tortures and executions were carried on day in and day out, year in and year out, without respite. The Copts who lost their lives in this seventh persecution, and suffered under Diocletian, were over hundred thousands. During the fourth year of the persecutions, Abba Petros felt it necessary to pass special regulations concerning the acceptance of repentant apostates back into the communion of the church. So, he drew up fourteen canons which came to be considered as veritable monument of church disciplines. One of the principals set in the canons was that a Christian could be baptized only once. The truth of this principle was confirmed by an incident which took place at the time.

A Christian woman who lived in Antioch had two sons whom she had been unable to baptize because their father had obeyed the Emperor and gave up his faith. Quietly, she boarded a ship to Alexandria and took them with her. While yet off shore, the ship ran into a storm, and she was afraid that her sons might die without having been baptized. So, she wounded herself, and with her blood made the sign of the cross upon the foreheads of her two sons, and baptized them in the name of the Holy Trinity. However, the ship arrived to Alexandria, and she took them to church to have them baptized with other children. When their turn came, and Abba Petros attempted to immerse them in the Holy Water, the water froze. He tried three times, and the same thing happened. The Patriarch in surprise asked the mother, and she told him what she had done on the way. He was astonished and glorified God, "Thus, says the church that there is only one baptism ".

When Diocletian realized that after so many years of persecutions, the Christians of Egypt were not exterminated, but were increasing in number because of the heroism of the martyrs, he became very angry. He ordered that the religious leaders be arrested and tortured, thinking that by doing so, he would break the spirit of the people. Six of the Bishops were arrested but as no amount of torture would induce them to renounce their faith, they were martyred. When Abba Petros heard of their martyrdom, he fell on his knees and offered thanks to God for having kept them steadfast until the end.

Finally, it was decided that it was Abba Petros' turn. The Emperors soldiers laid hands on him and led him to prison. When news of his arrest went around, a large crowd of his devoted people gathered together and went to the prison in one big mass and there clamored for his freedom. Hearing their loud shouting and fearing that their behavior might bring calamity on them, Abba Petros decided to interfere. He told the officers if they granted him the opportunity to speak to them and pacify them, he would immediately give himself up so that there would be no more trouble on his account. The officers complied and led him to where he could address the crowd. In words of compassion and assurance, he spoke to the multitudes and pleaded with them to depart in peace. They obeyed him. After they dispersed, Abba Petros signalled to the officers that they could now take him as he was ready.

On the way to be executed, he was asked if he had any special request to make. He replied that he would like to be allowed to visit the church of St. Mark. His request was granted, and he was permitted a few minutes there. He went in, knelt in prayer and fervently asked God to accept his life as a ransom for his people. Soon after he ended his petition a voice was heard saying "Amen".

The soldiers then led him to be executed. For a while no one dared raise a hand against him, for they beheld his face like that of an angle. Then one of the officers took out twenty five pieces of gold and said, "this I will give to the one who dares behead this sage". The sight of gold made one of the soldiers take courage and strike the Saint's head off.

Having beheaded him, the soldiers went away, leaving him where he fell. Soon after that, the faithful heard the news and came rushing in tears, and carried away the remains of their pleased Patriarch and buried him in St. Mark Church. The martyrdom of Abba Petros inaugurated a period of peace, that is why he is called "The Seal of Martyrs".

May the prayers and supplications of St. Petros be with us.

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Cave Church of St.Peter Antioch,Syria

Antioch on the Orontes, also called Syrian Antioch, was situated on the eastern side of the Orontes River, in the far southeastern corner of Asia Minor. Three hundred miles (480 km) north of Jerusalem, the Seleucids urged Jews to move to Antioch, their western capital, and granted them full rights as citizens upon doing so. In 64 B.C. Pompey made the city capital over the Roman province of Syria. By 165 A.D., it was third largest city of the empire

The Cave Church of St. Peter,القديس بطرس”بطرس أو بيتر هو الذي يعرف أيضا بار يوحنا أو بن يوحنا في الأرامية والعبرية، سمعان بطرس الذي يعني الصخرة، بيترا وبطرس (اليونانية : Κηφᾶς)، وكيفا (كيفا وسيفاس כיפא تعني أيضا الصخرة) وسيفاس في الأرامية، والاسم الأصلي شمعون أو سمعان وفي اللغة العربية اخذ اسم بطرس الأكثر شعبية عند المسيحين العرب.”(also the Grotto of St. Peter)is an ancient cave church with a stone facade, located just outside Antioch. Syria.انطاكيا, سوريا

1983 the church was declared a holy site by the vatican.

01 MAR 2008 cave and church closed due to structural concerns

Interior view looking towards entrance. Photo © Dick Osseman."christian architecture in syria"

This cave is widely believed to have been dug by the Apostle Peter himself “ Simon Peter (Greek: Πέτρος, Pétros, “stone, rock” [1] c. 1 BC – AD 67), sometimes called Simon Cephas (Greek: Σιμων Κηφᾶς, Symōn Kēphas Aramaic: Šimʕōn Kêfâ‎ Syriac: ܫܡܥܘܢ ܟܐܦܐ, Sëmʕān Kêfâ) after his name in Hellenized Aramaic, was a leader of the early ChristianNew Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Peter was the son of John or of Jonah, and was from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee. His brother Andrew was also an apostle. Simon Peter is venerated in multiple churches and regarded as the first Pope by the Roman Catholic Churc h Church “ .

as a place for the early Christian community of Antioch to meet, this cave was used for secret meetings of Antiochene Christians a voiding persecution , It was also the place where they were first called “Christians.”

Whether or not this is so, St. Peter (and St. Paul) did preach in Antioch around 50 AD and a church had been established in Antioch by as early as 40 AD.

Antioch became a major center for planning and organizing the apostles’ missionary efforts, and it was the base for Paul’s earliest missionary journeys. Famously, it was the inhabitants of Antioch that first called Jesus’ followers “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

The attractive stone façade of the church was built by Crusaders, who identified the grotto during their rule of Antioch from 1098 to 1268.

Tunnel. Photo © Dick Osseman."christian architecture in syria"


The interior of the grotto church is austere and simple. The only permanent furnishings are a small altar, a single

back of the church tunnel, Cave Church of St. Peter, Antioch

statue, and a stone throne. On the walls are the barely discernible remains of frescoes, and on the floor can be seen some traces of mosaics. In the back of the church is a tunnel that leads into the mountain interior, popularly believed to be a means of escape in times of persecution.

The cave is reached by going up the stone steps, on the right a relief in the mountainside with a veiled person who looks over the city and most probably dates back to the 2nd century BC. The cave is hidden by a forefront and facade, built by the Crusaders. In the cave there is a small altar, part of a mosaic floor and some fresco’s.

Lately [2008] huge parts of the cave collapsed. The possibility of further collapses means a serious danger for the security of visitors, and caused the closure of the cave by the Turkish authorities.

W orship services are still held in St. Peter’s Grotto, especially on the Feast Day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29) and on Christmas.

Cave Church of St. Peter, Antioch

Cave Church of St. Peter, Antioch

Cave Church of St. Peter, Antioch

Cave Church of St. Peter, Antioch "christian architecture in syria"


St. Peter's is a church built in the Renaissance style located in the Vatican City west of the River Tiber and near the Janiculum Hill and Hadrian's Mausoleum. Its central dome dominates the skyline of Rome. The basilica is approached via St. Peter's Square, a forecourt in two sections, both surrounded by tall colonnades. The first space is oval and the second trapezoidal. The façade of the basilica, with a giant order of columns, stretches across the end of the square and is approached by steps on which stand two 5.55 metres (18.2 ft) statues of the 1st-century apostles to Rome, Saints Peter and Paul. [9] [10]

The basilica is cruciform in shape, with an elongated nave in the Latin cross form but the early designs were for a centrally planned structure and this is still in evidence in the architecture. The central space is dominated both externally and internally by one of the largest domes in the world. The entrance is through a narthex, or entrance hall, which stretches across the building. One of the decorated bronze doors leading from the narthex is the Holy Door, only opened during jubilees. [9]

The interior dimensions are vast when compared to other churches. [5] One author wrote: "Only gradually does it dawn upon us – as we watch people draw near to this or that monument, strangely they appear to shrink they are, of course, dwarfed by the scale of everything in the building. This in its turn overwhelms us." [11]

The nave which leads to the central dome is in three bays, with piers supporting a barrel vault, the highest of any church. The nave is framed by wide aisles which have a number of chapels off them. There are also chapels surrounding the dome. Moving around the basilica in a clockwise direction they are: The Baptistery, the Chapel of the Presentation of the Virgin, the larger Choir Chapel, the altar of the Transfiguration, the Clementine Chapel with the altar of Saint Gregory, the Sacristy Entrance, the Altar of the Lie, the left transept with altars to the Crucifixion of Saint Peter, Saint Joseph and Saint Thomas, the altar of the Sacred Heart, the Chapel of the Madonna of Column, the altar of Saint Peter and the Paralytic, the apse with the Chair of Saint Peter, the altar of Saint Peter raising Tabitha, the altar of St. Petronilla, the altar of the Archangel Michael, the altar of the Navicella, the right transept with altars of Saint Erasmus, Saints Processo and Martiniano, and Saint Wenceslas, the altar of St. Jerome, the altar of Saint Basil, the Gregorian Chapel with the altar of the Madonna of Succour, the larger Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, the Chapel of Saint Sebastian and the Chapel of the Pietà. [9] The Monuments, in a clockwise direction, are to: Maria Clementina Sobieski, The Stuarts, Benedict XV, John XXIII, St. Pius X, Innocent VIII, Leo XI, Innocent XI, Pius VII, Pius VIII, Alexander VII, Alexander VIII, Paul III, Urban VIII, Clement X, Clement XIII, Benedict XIV, St Peter (Bronze Statue), Gregory XVI, Gregory XIV, Gregory XIII, Matilda of Canossa, Innocent XII, Pius XII, Pius XI, Christina of Sweden, Leo XII. At the heart of the basilica, beneath the high altar, is the Confessio or Chapel of the Confession, in reference to the confession of faith by St. Peter, which led to his martyrdom. Two curving marble staircases lead to this underground chapel at the level of the Constantinian church and immediately above the purported burial place of Saint Peter.

The entire interior of St. Peter's is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also a number of sculptures in niches and chapels, including Michelangelo's Pietà. The central feature is a baldachin, or canopy over the Papal Altar, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The apse culminates in a sculptural ensemble, also by Bernini, and containing the symbolic Chair of Saint Peter.

One observer wrote: "St Peter's Basilica is the reason why Rome is still the centre of the civilized world. For religious, historical, and architectural reasons it by itself justifies a journey to Rome, and its interior offers a palimpsest of artistic styles at their best . " [12]

The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson described St. Peter's as "an ornament of the earth . the sublime of the beautiful." [13]

St. Peter's Basilica is one of the papal basilicas (previously styled "patriarchal basilicas") [note 2] and one of the four Major Basilicas of Rome, the other Major Basilicas (all of which are also Papal Basilicas) being the Basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul outside the Walls. The rank of major basilica confers on St. Peter's Basilica precedence before all minor basilicas worldwide. However, unlike all the other Papal Major Basilicas, it is wholly within the territory, and thus the sovereign jurisdiction, of the Vatican City State, and not that of Italy. [14] This is in contrast to the other three Papal Major Basilicas, which are within Italian territory and not the territory of the Vatican City State. (Lateran Treaty of 1929, Article 15 (Ibidem)) However, the Holy See fully owns these three basilicas, and Italy is legally obligated to recognize its full ownership thereof (Lateran Treaty of 1929, Article 13 (Ibidem)) and to concede to all of them "the immunity granted by International Law to the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign States" (Lateran Treaty of 1929, Article 15 (Ibidem)).

It is the most prominent building in the Vatican City. Its dome is a dominant feature of the skyline of Rome. Probably the largest church in Christendom, [note 1] it covers an area of 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres). One of the holiest sites of Christianity and Catholic Tradition, it is traditionally the burial site of its titular, St. Peter, who was the head of the twelve Apostles of Jesus and, according to tradition, the first Bishop of Antioch and later the first Bishop of Rome, rendering him the first Pope. Although the New Testament does not mention St. Peter's martyrdom in Rome, tradition, based on the writings of the Fathers of the Church, [ clarification needed ] holds that his tomb is below the baldachin and the altar of the Basilica in the "Confession". For this reason, many Popes have, from the early years of the Church, been buried near Pope St. Peter in the necropolis beneath the Basilica. Construction of the current basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on 18 April 1506 and finished in 1615. At length, on 18 November 1626 Pope Urban VIII solemnly dedicated the Basilica. [5]

St. Peter's Basilica is neither the Pope's official seat nor first in rank among the Major Basilicas of Rome. This honour is held by the Pope's cathedral, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran which is the mother church of all churches in communion with the Catholic Church. However, St. Peter's is certainly the Pope's principal church in terms of use because most Papal liturgies and ceremonies take place there due to its size, proximity to the Papal residence, and location within the Vatican City proper. The "Chair of Saint Peter", or cathedra, an ancient chair sometimes presumed to have been used by St. Peter himself, but which was a gift from Charles the Bald and used by many popes, symbolizes the continuing line of apostolic succession from St. Peter to the reigning Pope. It occupies an elevated position in the apse of the Basilica, supported symbolically by the Doctors of the Church and enlightened symbolically by the Holy Spirit. [15]

As one of the constituent structures of the historically and architecturally significant Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 under criteria (i), (ii), (iv), and (vi). [16] With an exterior area of 21,095 square metres (227,060 sq ft), [17] an interior area of 15,160 square metres (163,200 sq ft), [18] [19] St. Peter's Basilica is the largest Christian church building in the world by the two latter metrics and the second largest by the first as of 2016 [update] . The top of its dome, at 448.1 feet (136.6 m), also places it as the second tallest building in Rome as of 2016 [update] . [20] The dome's soaring height placed it among the tallest buildings of the Old World, and it continues to hold the title of tallest dome in the world. Though the largest dome in the world by diameter at the time of its completion, it no longer holds this distinction. [21]

Saint Peter's burial site Edit

After the crucifixion of Jesus, it is recorded in the Biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles that one of his twelve disciples, Simon known as Saint Peter, a fisherman from Galilee, took a leadership position among Jesus' followers and was of great importance in the founding of the Christian Church. The name Peter is "Petrus" in Latin and "Petros" in Greek, deriving from "petra" which means "stone" or "rock" in Greek, and is the literal translation of the Aramaic "Kepa", the name given to Simon by Jesus. (John 1:42, and see Matthew 16:18)

Catholic tradition holds that Peter, after a ministry of thirty-four years, travelled to Rome and met his martyrdom there along with Paul on 13 October 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. His execution was one of the many martyrdoms of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome. According to Jerome, Peter was crucified head downwards, by his own request because he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. [22] The crucifixion took place near an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Circus of Nero. [23] The obelisk now stands in St. Peter's Square and is revered as a "witness" to Peter's death. It is one of several ancient Obelisks of Rome. [24]

According to tradition, Peter's remains were buried just outside the Circus, on the Mons Vaticanus across the Via Cornelia from the Circus, less than 150 metres (490 ft) from his place of death. The Via Cornelia was a road which ran east-to-west along the north wall of the Circus on land now covered by the southern portions of the Basilica and St. Peter's Square. A shrine was built on this site some years later. Almost three hundred years later, Old St. Peter's Basilica was constructed over this site. [23]

The area now covered by the Vatican City had been a cemetery for some years before the Circus of Nero was built. It was a burial ground for the numerous executions in the Circus and contained many Christian burials because for many years after the burial of Saint Peter many Christians chose to be buried near Peter.

In 1939, in the reign of Pope Pius XII, 10 years of archaeological research began under the crypt of the basilica in an area inaccessible since the 9th century. The excavations revealed the remains of shrines of different periods at different levels, from Clement VIII (1594) to Callixtus II (1123) and Gregory I (590–604), built over an aedicula containing fragments of bones that were folded in a tissue with gold decorations, tinted with the precious murex purple. Although it could not be determined with certainty that the bones were those of Peter, the rare vestments suggested a burial of great importance. On 23 December 1950, in his pre-Christmas radio broadcast to the world, Pope Pius XII announced the discovery of Saint Peter's tomb. [25]

Old St. Peter's Basilica Edit

Old St. Peter's Basilica was the 4th-century church begun by the Emperor Constantine the Great between 319 and 333 AD. [26] It was of typical basilical form, a wide nave and two aisles on each side and an apsidal end, with the addition of a transept or bema, giving the building the shape of a tau cross. It was over 103.6 metres (340 ft) long, and the entrance was preceded by a large colonnaded atrium. This church had been built over the small shrine believed to mark the burial place of St. Peter, though the tomb was "smashed" in 846 AD. [27] It contained a very large number of burials and memorials, including those of most of the popes from St. Peter to the 15th century. Like all of the earliest churches in Rome, both this church and its successor had the entrance to the east and the apse at the west end of the building. [28] Since the construction of the current basilica, the name Old St. Peter's Basilica has been used for its predecessor to distinguish the two buildings. [29]

Plan to rebuild Edit

By the end of the 15th century, having been neglected during the period of the Avignon Papacy, the old basilica had fallen into disrepair. It appears that the first pope to consider rebuilding or at least making radical changes was Pope Nicholas V (1447–55). He commissioned work on the old building from Leone Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino and also had Rossellino design a plan for an entirely new basilica, or an extreme modification of the old. His reign was frustrated by political problems and when he died, little had been achieved. [23] He had, however, ordered the demolition of the Colosseum and by the time of his death, 2,522 cartloads of stone had been transported for use in the new building. [23] [note 3] The foundations were completed for a new transept and choir to form a domed Latin cross with the preserved nave and side aisles of the old basilica. Some walls for the choir had also been built. [31]

Pope Julius II planned far more for St Peter's than Nicholas V's program of repair or modification. Julius was at that time planning his own tomb, which was to be designed and adorned with sculpture by Michelangelo and placed within St Peter's. [note 4] In 1505 Julius made a decision to demolish the ancient basilica and replace it with a monumental structure to house his enormous tomb and "aggrandize himself in the popular imagination". [7] A competition was held, and a number of the designs have survived at the Uffizi Gallery. A succession of popes and architects followed in the next 120 years, their combined efforts resulting in the present building. The scheme begun by Julius II continued through the reigns of Leo X (1513–1521), Hadrian VI (1522–1523). Clement VII (1523–1534), Paul III (1534–1549), Julius III (1550–1555), Marcellus II (1555), Paul IV (1555–1559), Pius IV (1559–1565), Pius V (saint) (1565–1572), Gregory XIII (1572–1585), Sixtus V (1585–1590), Urban VII (1590), Gregory XIV (1590–1591), Innocent IX (1591), Clement VIII (1592–1605), Leo XI (1605), Paul V (1605–1621), Gregory XV (1621–1623), Urban VIII (1623–1644) and Innocent X (1644–1655).

Financing with indulgences Edit

One method employed to finance the building of St. Peter's Basilica was the granting of indulgences in return for contributions. A major promoter of this method of fund-raising was Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, who had to clear debts owed to the Roman Curia by contributing to the rebuilding program. To facilitate this, he appointed the German Dominican preacher Johann Tetzel, whose salesmanship provoked a scandal. [32]

A German Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, wrote to Archbishop Albrecht arguing against this "selling of indulgences". He also included his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", which came to be known as The 95 Theses. [33] This became a factor in starting the Reformation, the birth of Protestantism.

Successive plans Edit

Pope Julius' scheme for the grandest building in Christendom [7] was the subject of a competition for which a number of entries remain intact in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. It was the design of Donato Bramante that was selected, and for which the foundation stone was laid in 1506. This plan was in the form of an enormous Greek Cross with a dome inspired by that of the huge circular Roman temple, the Pantheon. [7] The main difference between Bramante's design and that of the Pantheon is that where the dome of the Pantheon is supported by a continuous wall, that of the new basilica was to be supported only on four large piers. This feature was maintained in the ultimate design. Bramante's dome was to be surmounted by a lantern with its own small dome but otherwise very similar in form to the Early Renaissance lantern of Florence Cathedral designed for Brunelleschi's dome by Michelozzo. [34]

Bramante had envisioned that the central dome would be surrounded by four lower domes at the diagonal axes. The equal chancel, nave and transept arms were each to be of two bays ending in an apse. At each corner of the building was to stand a tower, so that the overall plan was square, with the apses projecting at the cardinal points. Each apse had two large radial buttresses, which squared off its semi-circular shape. [35]

When Pope Julius died in 1513, Bramante was replaced with Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra Giocondo, who both died in 1515 (Bramante himself having died the previous year). Raphael was confirmed as the architect of St. Peter's on 1 August 1514. [36] The main change in his plan is the nave of five bays, with a row of complex apsidal chapels off the aisles on either side. Raphael's plan for the chancel and transepts made the squareness of the exterior walls more definite by reducing the size of the towers, and the semi-circular apses more clearly defined by encircling each with an ambulatory. [37]

In 1520 Raphael also died, aged 37, and his successor Baldassare Peruzzi maintained changes that Raphael had proposed to the internal arrangement of the three main apses, but otherwise reverted to the Greek Cross plan and other features of Bramante. [38] This plan did not go ahead because of various difficulties of both Church and state. In 1527 Rome was sacked and plundered by Emperor Charles V. Peruzzi died in 1536 without his plan being realized. [7]

At this point Antonio da Sangallo the Younger submitted a plan which combines features of Peruzzi, Raphael and Bramante in its design and extends the building into a short nave with a wide façade and portico of dynamic projection. His proposal for the dome was much more elaborate of both structure and decoration than that of Bramante and included ribs on the exterior. Like Bramante, Sangallo proposed that the dome be surmounted by a lantern which he redesigned to a larger and much more elaborate form. [39] Sangallo's main practical contribution was to strengthen Bramante's piers which had begun to crack. [23]

On 1 January 1547 in the reign of Pope Paul III, Michelangelo, then in his seventies, succeeded Sangallo the Younger as "Capomaestro", the superintendent of the building program at St Peter's. [40] He is to be regarded as the principal designer of a large part of the building as it stands today, and as bringing the construction to a point where it could be carried through. He did not take on the job with pleasure it was forced upon him by Pope Paul, frustrated at the death of his chosen candidate, Giulio Romano and the refusal of Jacopo Sansovino to leave Venice. Michelangelo wrote, "I undertake this only for the love of God and in honour of the Apostle." He insisted that he should be given a free hand to achieve the ultimate aim by whatever means he saw fit. [23]

Michelangelo's contribution Edit

Michelangelo took over a building site at which four piers, enormous beyond any constructed since ancient Roman times, were rising behind the remaining nave of the old basilica. He also inherited the numerous schemes designed and redesigned by some of the greatest architectural and engineering minds of the 16th century. There were certain common elements in these schemes. They all called for a dome to equal that engineered by Brunelleschi a century earlier and which has since dominated the skyline of Renaissance Florence, and they all called for a strongly symmetrical plan of either Greek Cross form, like the iconic St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, or of a Latin Cross with the transepts of identical form to the chancel, as at Florence Cathedral.

Even though the work had progressed only a little in 40 years, Michelangelo did not simply dismiss the ideas of the previous architects. He drew on them in developing a grand vision. Above all, Michelangelo recognized the essential quality of Bramante's original design. He reverted to the Greek Cross and, as Helen Gardner expresses it: "Without destroying the centralising features of Bramante's plan, Michelangelo, with a few strokes of the pen converted its snowflake complexity into massive, cohesive unity." [41]

As it stands today, St. Peter's has been extended with a nave by Carlo Maderno. It is the chancel end (the ecclesiastical "Eastern end") with its huge centrally placed dome that is the work of Michelangelo. Because of its location within the Vatican State and because the projection of the nave screens the dome from sight when the building is approached from the square in front of it, the work of Michelangelo is best appreciated from a distance. What becomes apparent is that the architect has greatly reduced the clearly defined geometric forms of Bramante's plan of a square with square projections, and also of Raphael's plan of a square with semi-circular projections. [42] Michelangelo has blurred the definition of the geometry by making the external masonry of massive proportions and filling in every corner with a small vestry or stairwell. The effect created is of a continuous wall surface that is folded or fractured at different angles, but lacks the right angles which usually define change of direction at the corners of a building. This exterior is surrounded by a giant order of Corinthian pilasters all set at slightly different angles to each other, in keeping with the ever-changing angles of the wall's surface. Above them, the huge cornice ripples in a continuous band, giving the appearance of keeping the whole building in a state of compression. [43]

Dome: successive and final designs Edit

The dome of St. Peter's rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world. [note 5] Its internal diameter is 41.47 metres (136.1 ft), slightly smaller than two of the three other huge domes that preceded it, those of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome, 43.3 metres (142 ft), and Florence Cathedral of the Early Renaissance, 44 metres (144 ft). It has a greater diameter by approximately 30 feet (9.1 m) than Constantinople's Hagia Sophia church, completed in 537. It was to the domes of the Pantheon and Florence duomo that the architects of St. Peter's looked for solutions as to how to go about building what was conceived, from the outset, as the greatest dome of Christendom.

Bramante and Sangallo, 1506 and 1513 Edit

The dome of the Pantheon stands on a circular wall with no entrances or windows except a single door. The whole building is as high as it is wide. Its dome is constructed in a single shell of concrete, made light by the inclusion of a large amount of the volcanic stones tuff and pumice. The inner surface of the dome is deeply coffered which has the effect of creating both vertical and horizontal ribs while lightening the overall load. At the summit is an ocular opening 8 metres (26 ft) across which provides light to the interior. [7]

Bramante's plan for the dome of St. Peter's (1506) follows that of the Pantheon very closely, and like that of the Pantheon, was designed to be constructed in Tufa Concrete for which he had rediscovered a formula. With the exception of the lantern that surmounts it, the profile is very similar, except that in this case, the supporting wall becomes a drum raised high above ground level on four massive piers. The solid wall, as used at the Pantheon, is lightened at St. Peter's by Bramante piercing it with windows and encircling it with a peristyle.

In the case of Florence Cathedral, the desired visual appearance of the pointed dome existed for many years before Brunelleschi made its construction feasible. [note 6] Its double-shell construction of bricks locked together in a herringbone pattern (re-introduced from Byzantine architecture), and the gentle upward slope of its eight stone ribs made it possible for the construction to take place without the massive wooden formwork necessary to construct hemispherical arches. While its appearance, with the exception of the details of the lantern, is entirely Gothic, its engineering was highly innovative, and the product of a mind that had studied the huge vaults and remaining dome of Ancient Rome. [34]

Sangallo's plan (1513), of which a large wooden model still exists, looks to both these predecessors. He realized the value of both the coffering at the Pantheon and the outer stone ribs at Florence Cathedral. He strengthened and extended the peristyle of Bramante into a series of arched and ordered openings around the base, with a second such arcade set back in a tier above the first. In his hands, the rather delicate form of the lantern, based closely on that in Florence, became a massive structure, surrounded by a projecting base, a peristyle and surmounted by a spire of conic form. [39] According to James Lees-Milne the design was "too eclectic, too pernickety and too tasteless to have been a success". [23]

Michelangelo and Giacomo della Porta, 1547 and 1585 Edit

Michelangelo redesigned the dome in 1547, taking into account all that had gone before. His dome, like that of Florence, is constructed of two shells of brick, the outer one having 16 stone ribs, twice the number at Florence but far fewer than in Sangallo's design. As with the designs of Bramante and Sangallo, the dome is raised from the piers on a drum. The encircling peristyle of Bramante and the arcade of Sangallo are reduced to 16 pairs of Corinthian columns, each of 15 metres (49 ft) high which stand proud of the building, connected by an arch. Visually they appear to buttress each of the ribs, but structurally they are probably quite redundant. The reason for this is that the dome is ovoid in shape, rising steeply as does the dome of Florence Cathedral, and therefore exerting less outward thrust than does a hemispherical dome, such as that of the Pantheon, which, although it is not buttressed, is countered by the downward thrust of heavy masonry which extends above the circling wall. [7] [23]

The ovoid profile of the dome has been the subject of much speculation and scholarship over the past century. Michelangelo died in 1564, leaving the drum of the dome complete, and Bramante's piers much bulkier than originally designed, each 18 metres (59 ft) across. Following his death, the work continued under his assistant Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola with Giorgio Vasari appointed by Pope Pius V as a watchdog to make sure that Michelangelo's plans were carried out exactly. Despite Vignola's knowledge of Michelangelo's intentions, little happened in this period. In 1585 the energetic Pope Sixtus appointed Giacomo della Porta who was to be assisted by Domenico Fontana. The five-year reign of Sixtus was to see the building advance at a great rate. [23]

Michelangelo left a few drawings, including an early drawing of the dome, and some details. There were also detailed engravings published in 1569 by Stefan du Pérac who claimed that they were the master's final solution. Michelangelo, like Sangallo before him, also left a large wooden model. Giacomo della Porta subsequently altered this model in several ways. The major change restored an earlier design, in which the outer dome appears to rise above, rather than rest directly on the base. [45] Most of the other changes were of a cosmetic nature, such as the adding of lion's masks over the swags on the drum in honour of Pope Sixtus and adding a circlet of finials around the spire at the top of the lantern, as proposed by Sangallo. [23]

A drawing by Michelangelo indicates that his early intentions were towards an ovoid dome, rather than a hemispherical one. [41] In an engraving in Galasso Alghisi' treatise (1563), the dome may be represented as ovoid, but the perspective is ambiguous. [46] Stefan du Pérac's engraving (1569) shows a hemispherical dome, but this was perhaps an inaccuracy of the engraver. The profile of the wooden model is more ovoid than that of the engravings, but less so than the finished product. It has been suggested that Michelangelo on his death bed reverted to the more pointed shape. However, Lees-Milne cites Giacomo della Porta as taking full responsibility for the change and as indicating to Pope Sixtus that Michelangelo was lacking in the scientific understanding of which he himself was capable. [23]

Helen Gardner suggests that Michelangelo made the change to the hemispherical dome of lower profile in order to establish a balance between the dynamic vertical elements of the encircling giant order of pilasters and a more static and reposeful dome. Gardner also comments, "The sculpturing of architecture [by Michelangelo] . here extends itself up from the ground through the attic stories and moves on into the drum and dome, the whole building being pulled together into a unity from base to summit." [41]

It is this sense of the building being sculptured, unified and "pulled together" by the encircling band of the deep cornice that led Eneide Mignacca to conclude that the ovoid profile, seen now in the end product, was an essential part of Michelangelo's first (and last) concept. The sculptor/architect has, figuratively speaking, taken all the previous designs in hand and compressed their contours as if the building were a lump of clay. The dome must appear to thrust upwards because of the apparent pressure created by flattening the building's angles and restraining its projections. [43] If this explanation is the correct one, then the profile of the dome is not merely a structural solution, as perceived by Giacomo della Porta it is part of the integrated design solution that is about visual tension and compression. In one sense, Michelangelo's dome may appear to look backward to the Gothic profile of Florence Cathedral and ignore the Classicism of the Renaissance, but on the other hand, perhaps more than any other building of the 16th century, it prefigures the architecture of the Baroque. [43]

Completion Edit

Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana brought the dome to completion in 1590, the last year of the reign of Sixtus V. His successor, Gregory XIV, saw Fontana complete the lantern and had an inscription to the honour of Sixtus V placed around its inner opening. The next pope, Clement VIII, had the cross raised into place, an event which took all day, and was accompanied by the ringing of the bells of all the city's churches. In the arms of the cross are set two lead caskets, one containing a fragment of the True Cross and a relic of St. Andrew and the other containing medallions of the Holy Lamb. [23]

In the mid-18th century, cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it, like the rings that keep a barrel from bursting. As many as ten chains have been installed at various times, the earliest possibly planned by Michelangelo himself as a precaution, as Brunelleschi did at Florence Cathedral.

Around the inside of the dome is written, in letters 1.4 metres (4.6 ft) high:

(". you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. . I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven . " Vulgate, Matthew 16:18–19.)

Beneath the lantern is the inscription:

(To the glory of St Peter Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590, the fifth of his pontificate.)

Discovery of Michelangelo draft Edit

On 7 December 2007, a fragment of a red chalk drawing of a section of the dome of the basilica, almost certainly by the hand of Michelangelo, was discovered in the Vatican archives. [47] The drawing shows a small precisely drafted section of the plan of the entablature above two of the radial columns of the cupola drum. Michelangelo is known to have destroyed thousands of his drawings before his death. [48] The rare survival of this example is probably due to its fragmentary state and the fact that detailed mathematical calculations had been made over the top of the drawing. [47]

Changes of plan Edit

On 18 February 1606, under Pope Paul V, the dismantling of the remaining parts of the Constantinian basilica began. [23] The marble cross that had been set at the top of the pediment by Pope Sylvester and Constantine the Great was lowered to the ground. The timbers were salvaged for the roof of the Borghese Palace and two rare black marble columns, the largest of their kind, were carefully stored and later used in the narthex. The tombs of various popes were opened, treasures removed and plans made for re-interment in the new basilica. [23]

The Pope had appointed Carlo Maderno in 1602. He was a nephew of Domenico Fontana and had demonstrated himself as a dynamic architect. Maderno's idea was to ring Michelangelo's building with chapels, but the Pope was hesitant about deviating from the master's plan, even though he had been dead for forty years. The Fabbrica or building committee, a group drawn from various nationalities and generally despised by the Curia who viewed the basilica as belonging to Rome rather than Christendom, were in a quandary as to how the building should proceed. One of the matters that influenced their thinking was the Counter-Reformation which increasingly associated a Greek Cross plan with paganism and saw the Latin Cross as truly symbolic of Christianity. [23] The central plan also did not have a "dominant orientation toward the east." [49]

Another influence on the thinking of both the Fabbrica and the Curia was a certain guilt at the demolition of the ancient building. The ground on which it and its various associated chapels, vestries and sacristies had stood for so long was hallowed. The only solution was to build a nave that encompassed the whole space. In 1607 a committee of ten architects was called together, and a decision was made to extend Michelangelo's building into a nave. Maderno's plans for both the nave and the facade were accepted. The building began on 7 May 1607, and proceeded at a great rate, with an army of 700 labourers being employed. The following year, the façade was begun, in December 1614 the final touches were added to the stucco decoration of the vault and early in 1615 the partition wall between the two sections was pulled down. All the rubble was carted away, and the nave was ready for use by Palm Sunday. [50]

Maderno's facade Edit

The facade designed by Maderno, is 114.69 metres (376.3 ft) wide and 45.55 metres (149.4 ft) high and is built of travertine stone, with a giant order of Corinthian columns and a central pediment rising in front of a tall attic surmounted by thirteen statues: Christ flanked by eleven of the Apostles (except Saint Peter, whose statue is left of the stairs) and John the Baptist. [note 7] The inscription below the cornice on the 1 metre (3.3 ft) tall frieze reads:

(In honour of the Prince of Apostles, Paul V Borghese, a Roman, Supreme Pontiff, in the year 1612, the seventh of his pontificate)

(Paul V (Camillo Borghese), born in Rome but of a Sienese family, liked to emphasize his "Romanness.")

The facade is often cited as the least satisfactory part of the design of St. Peter's. The reasons for this, according to James Lees-Milne, are that it was not given enough consideration by the Pope and committee because of the desire to get the building completed quickly, coupled with the fact that Maderno was hesitant to deviate from the pattern set by Michelangelo at the other end of the building. Lees-Milne describes the problems of the façade as being too broad for its height, too cramped in its details and too heavy in the attic story. The breadth is caused by modifying the plan to have towers on either side. These towers were never executed above the line of the facade because it was discovered that the ground was not sufficiently stable to bear the weight. One effect of the facade and lengthened nave is to screen the view of the dome, so that the building, from the front, has no vertical feature, except from a distance. [23]

Narthex and portals Edit

Behind the façade of St. Peter's stretches a long portico or "narthex" such as was occasionally found in Italian churches. This is the part of Maderno's design with which he was most satisfied. Its long barrel vault is decorated with ornate stucco and gilt, and successfully illuminated by small windows between pendentives, while the ornate marble floor is beamed with light reflected in from the piazza. At each end of the narthex is a theatrical space framed by ionic columns and within each is set a statue, an equestrian statue of Charlemagne (18th century) by Cornacchini in the south end and The Vision of Constantine (1670) by Bernini in the north end.

Five portals, of which three are framed by huge salvaged antique columns, lead into the basilica. The central portal has a bronze door created by Antonio Averulino c. 1440 for the old basilica [51] and somewhat enlarged to fit the new space.

Maderno's nave Edit

To the single bay of Michelangelo's Greek Cross, Maderno added a further three bays. He made the dimensions slightly different from Michelangelo's bay, thus defining where the two architectural works meet. Maderno also tilted the axis of the nave slightly. This was not by accident, as suggested by his critics. An ancient Egyptian obelisk had been erected in the square outside, but had not been quite aligned with Michelangelo's building, so Maderno compensated, in order that it should, at least, align with the Basilica's façade. [23]

The nave has huge paired pilasters, in keeping with Michelangelo's work. The size of the interior is so "stupendously large" that it is hard to get a sense of scale within the building. [23] [note 8] The four cherubs who flutter against the first piers of the nave, carrying between them two holy water basins, appear of quite normal cherubic size, until approached. Then it becomes apparent that each one is over 2 metres high and that real children cannot reach the basins unless they scramble up the marble draperies. The aisles each have two smaller chapels and a larger rectangular chapel, the Chapel of the Sacrament and the Choir Chapel. These are lavishly decorated with marble, stucco, gilt, sculpture and mosaic. Remarkably, all of the large altarpieces, with the exception of the Holy Trinity by Pietro da Cortona in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, have been reproduced in mosaic. Two precious paintings from the old basilica, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Our Lady of the Column are still being used as altarpieces.

Maderno's last work at St. Peter's was to design a crypt-like space or "Confessio" under the dome, where the cardinals and other privileged persons could descend in order to be nearer to the burial place of the apostle. Its marble steps are remnants of the old basilica and around its balustrade are 95 bronze lamps.

Influence on church architecture Edit

The design of St. Peter's Basilica, and in particular its dome, has greatly influenced church architecture in Western Christendom. Within Rome, the huge domed church of Sant'Andrea della Valle was designed by Giacomo della Porta before the completion of St Peter's Basilica, and subsequently worked on by Carlo Maderno. This was followed by the domes of San Carlo ai Catinari, Sant'Agnese in Agone, and many others. Christopher Wren's dome at St Paul's Cathedral (London, England), the domes of Karlskirche (Vienna, Austria), St. Nicholas Church (Prague, Czech Republic), and the Pantheon (Paris, France) all pay homage to St Peter's Basilica.

The 19th and early-20th-century architectural revivals brought about the building of a great number of churches that imitate elements of St Peter's to a greater or lesser degree, including St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago, St. Josaphat's Basilica in Milwaukee, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pittsburgh and Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, which replicates many aspects of St Peter's on a smaller scale. Post-Modernism has seen free adaptations of St Peter's in the Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro.

Pope Urban VIII and Bernini Edit

As a young boy Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) visited St. Peter's with the painter Annibale Carracci and stated his wish to build "a mighty throne for the apostle". His wish came true. As a young man, in 1626, he received the patronage of Pope Urban VIII and worked on the embellishment of the Basilica for 50 years. Appointed as Maderno's successor in 1629, he was to become regarded as the greatest architect and sculptor of the Baroque period. Bernini's works at St. Peter's include the baldachin (baldaquin, from Italian: baldacchino), the Chapel of the Sacrament, the plan for the niches and loggias in the piers of the dome and the chair of St. Peter. [23] [41]

Baldacchino and niches Edit

Bernini's first work at St. Peter's was to design the baldacchino, a pavilion-like structure 28.74 metres (94.3 ft) tall and claimed to be the largest piece of bronze in the world, which stands beneath the dome and above the altar. Its design is based on the ciborium, of which there are many in the churches of Rome, serving to create a sort of holy space above and around the table on which the Sacrament is laid for the Eucharist and emphasizing the significance of this ritual. These ciboria are generally of white marble, with inlaid coloured stone. Bernini's concept was for something very different. He took his inspiration in part from the baldachin or canopy carried above the head of the pope in processions, and in part from eight ancient columns that had formed part of a screen in the old basilica. Their twisted barley-sugar shape had a special significance as they were modelled on those of the Temple of Jerusalem and donated by the Emperor Constantine. Based on these columns, Bernini created four huge columns of bronze, twisted and decorated with laurel leaves and bees, which were the emblem of Pope Urban.

The baldacchino is surmounted not with an architectural pediment, like most baldacchini, but with curved Baroque brackets supporting a draped canopy, like the brocade canopies carried in processions above precious iconic images. In this case, the draped canopy is of bronze, and all the details, including the olive leaves, bees, and the portrait heads of Urban's niece in childbirth and her newborn son, are picked out in gold leaf. The baldacchino stands as a vast free-standing sculptural object, central to and framed by the largest space within the building. It is so large that the visual effect is to create a link between the enormous dome which appears to float above it, and the congregation at floor level of the basilica. It is penetrated visually from every direction, and is visually linked to the Cathedra Petri in the apse behind it and to the four piers containing large statues that are at each diagonal. [23] [41]

As part of the scheme for the central space of the church, Bernini had the huge piers, begun by Bramante and completed by Michelangelo, hollowed out into niches, and had staircases made inside them, leading to four balconies. There was much dismay from those who thought that the dome might fall, but it did not. On the balconies Bernini created showcases, framed by the eight ancient twisted columns, to display the four most precious relics of the basilica: the spear of Longinus, said to have pierced the side of Christ, the veil of Veronica, with the miraculous image of the face of Christ, a fragment of the True Cross discovered in Jerusalem by Constantine's mother, Helena, and a relic of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter. In each of the niches that surround the central space of the basilica was placed a huge statue of the saint associated with the relic above. Only Saint Longinus is the work of Bernini. [23] (See below)

Bernini's Towers Edit

Urban had long been a critic of Bernini's predecessor, Carlo Maderno. His disapproval of the architect's work stemmed largely from the Maderno's design for the longitudinal nave of St. Peters, which was widely condemned for obscuring Michelangelo's dome. When the Pope gave the commission to Bernini he therefore requested that a new design for the facade's bell towers to be submitted for consideration. Baldinucci describes Bernini's tower as consisting of "two orders of columns and pilasters, the first order being Corinthian" and "a third or attic story formed of pilasters and two columns on either side of the open archway in the center".

Urban desired the towers to be completed by a very specific date: 29 June 1641, the feast day dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. To this end an order was issued which stated that "all work should take a second seat to that of the campanile." The south tower was completed on time even in spite of these issues, but records show that in the wake of the unveiling the Pope was not content with what he saw and he ordered the top level of Bernini's tower removed so that the structure could be made even grander. The tower continued to grow, and as the construction began to settle, the first cracks started to appear followed by Urban's infamous public admonishment of his architect.

In 1642 all work on both towers came to a halt. Bernini had to pay the cost for the demolition eventually the idea of completing the bell towers was abandoned.

Cathedra Petri and Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament Edit

Bernini then turned his attention to another precious relic, the so-called Cathedra Petri or "throne of St. Peter" a chair which was often claimed to have been used by the apostle, but appears to date from the 12th century. As the chair itself was fast deteriorating and was no longer serviceable, Pope Alexander VII determined to enshrine it in suitable splendor as the object upon which the line of successors to Peter was based. Bernini created a large bronze throne in which it was housed, raised high on four looping supports held effortlessly by massive bronze statues of four Doctors of the Church, Saints Ambrose and Augustine representing the Latin Church and Athanasius and John Chrysostom, the Greek Church. The four figures are dynamic with sweeping robes and expressions of adoration and ecstasy. Behind and above the cathedra, a blaze of light comes in through a window of yellow alabaster, illuminating, at its centre, the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The elderly painter, Andrea Sacchi, had urged Bernini to make the figures large, so that they would be seen well from the central portal of the nave. The chair was enshrined in its new home with great celebration of 16 January 1666. [23] [41]

Bernini's final work for St. Peter's, undertaken in 1676, was the decoration of the Chapel of the Sacrament. [52] To hold the sacramental Host, he designed a miniature version in gilt bronze of Bramante's Tempietto, the little chapel that marks the place of the death of St. Peter. On either side is an angel, one gazing in rapt adoration and the other looking towards the viewer in welcome. Bernini died in 1680 in his 82nd year. [23]

To the east of the basilica is the Piazza di San Pietro, (St. Peter's Square). The present arrangement, constructed between 1656 and 1667, is the Baroque inspiration of Bernini who inherited a location already occupied by an Egyptian obelisk which was centrally placed, (with some contrivance) to Maderno's facade. [note 9] The obelisk, known as "The Witness", at 25.31 metres (83.0 ft) and a total height, including base and the cross on top, of 40 metres (130 ft), is the second largest standing obelisk, and the only one to remain standing since its removal from Egypt and re-erection at the Circus of Nero in 37 AD, where it is thought to have stood witness to the crucifixion of Saint Peter. [53] Its removal to its present location by order of Pope Sixtus V and engineered by Domenico Fontana on 28 September 1586, was an operation fraught with difficulties and nearly ending in disaster when the ropes holding the obelisk began to smoke from the friction. Fortunately this problem was noticed by Benedetto Bresca, a sailor of Sanremo, and for his swift intervention, his town was granted the privilege of providing the palms that are used at the basilica each Palm Sunday. [23]

The other object in the old square with which Bernini had to contend was a large fountain designed by Maderno in 1613 and set to one side of the obelisk, making a line parallel with the facade. Bernini's plan uses this horizontal axis as a major feature of his unique, spatially dynamic and highly symbolic design. The most obvious solutions were either a rectangular piazza of vast proportions so that the obelisk stood centrally and the fountain (and a matching companion) could be included, or a trapezoid piazza which fanned out from the facade of the basilica like that in front of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. The problems of the square plan are that the necessary width to include the fountain would entail the demolition of numerous buildings, including some of the Vatican, and would minimize the effect of the facade. The trapezoid plan, on the other hand, would maximize the apparent width of the facade, which was already perceived as a fault of the design. [41]

Bernini's ingenious solution was to create a piazza in two sections. That part which is nearest the basilica is trapezoid, but rather than fanning out from the facade, it narrows. This gives the effect of countering the visual perspective. It means that from the second part of the piazza, the building looks nearer than it is, the breadth of the facade is minimized and its height appears greater in proportion to its width. The second section of the piazza is a huge elliptical circus which gently slopes downwards to the obelisk at its centre. The two distinct areas are framed by a colonnade formed by doubled pairs of columns supporting an entablature of the simple Tuscan Order.

The part of the colonnade that is around the ellipse does not entirely encircle it, but reaches out in two arcs, symbolic of the arms of "the Catholic Church reaching out to welcome its communicants". [41] The obelisk and Maderno's fountain mark the widest axis of the ellipse. Bernini balanced the scheme with another fountain in 1675. The approach to the square used to be through a jumble of old buildings, which added an element of surprise to the vista that opened up upon passing through the colonnade. Nowadays a long wide street, the Via della Conciliazione, built by Mussolini after the conclusion of the Lateran Treaties, leads from the River Tiber to the piazza and gives distant views of St. Peter's as the visitor approaches, with the basilica acting as a terminating vista. [23]

Bernini's transformation of the site is entirely Baroque in concept. Where Bramante and Michelangelo conceived a building that stood in "self-sufficient isolation", Bernini made the whole complex "expansively relate to its environment". [41] Banister Fletcher says "No other city has afforded such a wide-swept approach to its cathedral church, no other architect could have conceived a design of greater nobility . (it is) the greatest of all atriums before the greatest of all churches of Christendom." [7]

The top of the facade of St. Peter's Basilica has two clocks and several sculptures. The clocks were created to replace Bernini's bell towers which had to be torn down due to insufficient support. The left clock shows Rome time, the one of the right shows European mean time. The statues are Christ the Redeemer, St. John the Baptist and 11 Apostles. From the left: St. Thadeus, St. Matthew, St. Philip, St. Thomas, St. James the Greater, St. John the Baptist, The Redeemer, St. Andrew, St. John the Evangelist, St. James the Lesser, St. Bartholomew, St. Simeon, and St. Matthias. Above the Roman clock is the coat of arms for the city-state of Vatican City since 1931 held by two angels. [ citation needed ]

The Basilica has 6 bells, placed in the room under the Roman clock, only 3 of them are visible from ground level while the rest are hidden behind the bourdon. They range from the smallest which is 260 kg to the massive bourdon that approximately weighs 9 tonnes. From 1931, the bells are operated electrically, thus permitting even the largest bell to be tolled from a distance. The oldest bell Rota dates from 1288 and the bourdon called Campanone is rung at Christmas and Easter, on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, and every time the Pope imparts the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing to the city and to the world. Campanone also announces the election of a new pope.

Bell# Name Mass Casted
1 Campanella 260 kg 1825
2 Ave Maria 280 kg 1932
3 Predica 850 kg 1893
4 Rota 2 t 1288
5 Campanoncino (Mezzana, Benedittina) 4 t 1725
6 Campanone 9 t 1785

Tombs and relics Edit

There are over 100 tombs within St. Peter's Basilica (extant to various extents), many located beneath the Basilica. These include 91 popes, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, and the composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Exiled Catholic British royalty James Francis Edward Stuart and his two sons, Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati, are buried here, having been granted asylum by Pope Clement XI. Also buried here are Maria Clementina Sobieska, wife of James Francis Edward Stuart, Queen Christina of Sweden, who abdicated her throne in order to convert to Catholicism, and Countess Matilda of Tuscany, supporter of the Papacy during the Investiture Controversy. The most recent interment was Pope John Paul II, on 8 April 2005. Beneath, near the crypt, is the recently discovered vaulted 4th-century "Tomb of the Julii". (See below for some descriptions of tombs).

Artworks Edit

Towers and narthex Edit

  • In the towers to either side of the facade are two clocks. The clock on the left has been operated electrically since 1931. Its oldest bell dates from 1288.
  • One of the most important treasures of the basilica is a mosaic set above the central external door. Called the "Navicella", it is based on a design by Giotto (early 14th century) and represents a ship symbolizing the Christian Church. [9] The mosaic is mostly a 17th-century copy of Giotto's original.
  • At each end of the narthex is an equestrian figure, to the north Constantine the Great by Bernini (1670) and to the south Charlemagne by Cornacchini (18th century). [9]
  • Of the five portals from the narthex to the interior, three contain notable doors. The central portal has the Renaissance bronze door by Antonio Averulino (called Filarete) (1455), enlarged to fit the new space. The southern door, the Door of the Dead, was designed by 20th-century sculptor Giacomo Manzù and includes a portrait of Pope John XXIII kneeling before the crucified figure of Saint Peter.
  • The northernmost door is the "Holy Door" which, by tradition, is walled-up with bricks, and opened only for holy years such as the Jubilee year by the Pope. The present door is bronze and was designed by Vico Consorti in 1950 and cast in Florence by the Ferdinando Marinelli Artistic Foundry. Above it are inscriptions commemorating the opening of the door: PAVLVS V PONT MAX ANNO XIII and GREGORIVS XIII PONT MAX .

Recently installed commemorative plaques read above the door as follows:

Paul VI, Pontifex Maximus, opened and closed the holy door of this patriarchal Vatican basilica in the jubilee year of 1975.

John Paul II, Pontifex Maximus, opened and closed again the holy door closed and set apart by Pope Paul VI in 1976 in the jubilee year of human redemption 1983–1984.

John Paul II, Pontifex Maximus, again opened and closed the holy door in the year of the great jubilee, from the incarnation of the Lord 2000–2001.

Pope Francis opened and closed again the holy door, closed and set apart by Pope John Paul II in the year of the great jubilee 2000–2001, in the jubilee year of Mercy 2015–2016.

Older commemorative plaques are removed to make way for the new plaque when the holy door is opened and sealed.

The Armenian Kingdom

Following the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, some Christians, including the Armenians, did not recognize certain Christological definitions that were formulated. This sadly led to a split with Christians in Rome and Constantinople. Reunion was attempted during the Crusades in the twelfth century, as well as during the Council of Florence in 1439. Fr. Ronald Robertson expounds on this in “The Eastern Christian Churches”:

“An alliance between the Crusaders and the Armenian King contributed to the establishment of a union between the [Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church] in Cilicia in 1198. This union, which was not accepted by Armenians outside Cilicia, ended with the conquest of the Armenian kingdom by the Tatars in 1375.”

The idea of a Greek Orthodox Community in Flushing was first proposed by Dr. Anthony Vasilas and his father, Peter Vasilas, in early 1955. Committees were formed meetings were held, demographics were studied and petitions were signed. Within ten weeks more than 450 Greek Orthodox faithful met in the Good Citizenship Hall in Flushing to establish a Church before a group of representatives from the Archdiocese and invited clergy. His Grace Demetrius, Bishop of Olympus, granted approval on that day. Candidates for the position of pastor were interviewed and the committee chose Fr. Constantine Volaitis, a Bridgeport Connecticut native, who was serving a parish in St. Louis Missouri to become the first pastor of the new Church.

On September 18, 1955, the Church officially opened its doors in a building bought for $30,000 on Beech Avenue, becoming the 348th Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere. Over 1500 persons were in attendance on that day. Mr. George Theofanis of Port Washington cut the ribbon to open the church. Volunteers painted the structure and made the necessary alterations, while others began the task of raising the necessary funds.

The naming of the Church took place on Sunday November 13, 1955 at the Flushing Armory. After Archbishop Michael conducted the Hierarchial Divine Liturgy, he offered the first name for the Church: St. John Chrysostom. Each parishioner was able to purchase a vote for his or her choice of name. After two hours of “bidding” the choice narrowed down to St. Nicholas and St. John Chrysostom. After another hour of “bidding” the name “St. Nicholas” was chosen, by a margin of 200 votes.

As time progressed the community grew from 200 families to over 1000 families. Discussions for a new building were held as early as 1960. In May 1964, the parcel of land at 196th Street was purchased. Archbishop Iakovos, successor to Archbishop Michael, broke ground for a new Church on October 11, 1964.

The following year during 1965, the architectural model of the Byzantine style Church was completed and the community launched a fundraising campaign. Four years later in 1969, after the formal signing of the construction contract and an informal commencement ceremony construction began on the new St. Nicholas.

Two years later, in 1971, the St. Nicholas Parish became the first Church in the New York Metropolitan area to sponsor a large-scale “Festival” the first of what was to become an annual event for all Greek Orthodox Churches throughout the Archdiocese.

The newly (partially completed) Church was officially opened by Archbishop Iakovos on March 28, 1971. It seated 500 people and had wooden panels on either side, which slid open at the touch of a button to allow standing room for the overflow of worshippers during holiday seasons.

A significant event in the history of the St. Nicholas Church occurred on December 5, 1972, when Archbishop Iakovos received from the Roman Catholic Church in Bari, Italy the relics of St. Nicholas. The relics were enshrined in the Church at a special Vespers Service attended by clergy of both faiths. At this service the Archbishop conferred upon the Church its new name- “The Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas.”

St. Nicholas now became, “the big Church on Northern Boulevard,” and in December 1972, the Queens Chamber of Commerce awarded the Church its award for architectural excellence.

The property bought in May 1964 as the future home of St. Nicholas.

The property bought in May 1964 as the future home of St. Nicholas.

The education of its youth has always been important in the life of St. Nicholas. Soon after the Church was established, the Stephen and Areti Cherpelis Greek Afternoon School was established to teach the Greek language and Greek heritage. Today over 300 students attend twice a week to learn the Greek language. Spiritual education began with the birth of the Church with the establishment of its Sunday morning Church Schools where children learned the tenets of their faith. Striving to attain excellence in education, in September 1977, the Church established the William Spyropoulos Greek American Day School as a parochial school for Grades N-8. The school today is one of the largest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese with over 480 students. In March 1997, the Church was able to acquire property adjacent for the eventual building of a new Community Center. The George and Evlavia Doulaveris Nursery School was opened in January 2002. Today there are more than 100 students enrolled in the Nursery School.

In January 1979 Fr.Volaitis left to assume the position of Chancellor of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. His Eminence assigned the Very Rev. Athenagoras Aneste as Pastor. After serving three and one half years he was elevated to the office of Bishop of the church. Rev. Fr. George G. Passias, who served the parish for three and one half years under Fr. Aneste, was chosen to assume the position of Pastor. Fr. George served the parish for eighteen and one half years before being appointed by His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon to be the Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America on September 1, 1997. Rev. Fr. Paul C. Palesty was appointed to be the fourth Pastor of St. Nicholas on September 1, 1997 and currently serves along with Assistant Priests, Fr. Aristidis Garinis and Fr. Andreas Houpos.

Groundbreaking for the Church October 1964 – Archbishop Iakovos and Fr. Volaitis

In 1980, the parish began its iconography project to complete the interior of the Church. After several years of searching, the committee chose Nicholas Brisnovalis, an iconographer from Greece to perform the task of painting six 30ft. x 12ft. walls of the octagonal Church with scenes from the Old and New Testament. St. Nicholas is one of the few Churches in the United States to have the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation depicted on large panels. The iconography would also include the dome painting of the Pantocrator (Christ the Creator) and the icons of the Iconostasion (icon screen). The large 60ft icon of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child painted on the wall behind the altar was completed in the 1970’s by the Romanian iconographer Alexander Mazilescu. The arch iconography above the altar area depicting the prophets of the Old Testament and St. Anna and St. Joachim was completed in April 1999 by the Greek iconographer Eleftherios Gourgiannis. During the summer of 2018, Mr. Gougiannis began working on the iconography in the chapel.

By 1985, St. Nicholas began Phase II of the building program to complete the interior of the Church and prepare for its Consecration. A new altar, icon screen, baptistery, new carpeting, choir loft, three new classrooms, a new meeting room and a reliquary for the relics of St. Nicholas were included in the final plans. Italian artisans, under the direction of Salvatore Bruno of Carrara, Italy, were brought to Flushing, to execute the mosaics and the marble work, some of which was imported from the same quarry used by Michelangelo. The Church was consecrated on June 4, 1989.

The Church received international recognition as the Shrine Church of St. Nicholas in the United States when in December 1987 a Dutch film crew preparing a documentary on the life of St.Nicholas taped the Vesper Service at the Church as the final segment of their documentary. In December of 1994 and in December 2003, St. Nicholas was featured in the Biography Series programs produced by the Arts and Entertainment Network’s on Santa Claus.

The reception of the relics of St. Nicholas from the Roman Catholic Church on December 5, 1972.

The Third Phase of our building program began in March 1997 with the acquisition of the property next door to the Church. In 2003, the Church was able to purchase two homes next door to the Church, which along with several previous home purchases has allowed the Church to prepare for the building of a community center alongside the school building. The groundbreaking for the Michelis Hellenic Cultural and Educational Center took place on December 6th, 2004 and formally opened on December 2, 2007. It houses the Petros Sarantokos Hall, the Despina and Michael Yarian Gymnasium, the Venita Lorras Parish and School Library and the Niarchos and Vasilios and Anastasia Kartsonis Classroom Wing.

St. Nicholas was honored on March 17, 2004 when His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited the parish during his time in United States.

From the very beginning organizations grew with the Church to serve the needs of its members: Senior Choir, Church School, Men’s League, the Ladies Philoptochos (Friends of the Poor) Bible Study Groups (in Greek and English), JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth), GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America), Little Angels and PTA’s when the two schools were opened.

The little Church that began on Beech Avenue in 1955 with 200 families has become The Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas on Northern Blvd. with over 1800 families reaching today beyond Flushing to families in further eastern Queens and Nassau counties and is now one of the largest Greek Orthodox Communities in the United States.

(Written by Nikos Pantanizopoulos and Lynne Attaway)

Beauty in an Orthodox temple is something easily taken for granted, but it has deep spiritual and theological significance. It can also be realized even by those who do not have the skills of iconography. Beauty is an integral feature of Orthodox temple. We honor God when we show that we have beautified our place of worship. For Orthodox Christians, creating beauty is a very high calling, because by creating beauty we share in God’s activity that reflects his nature. [1] We beautify that which is precious to us.

Decorative borders are an overlooked and undervalued element in new churches. These borders are an important tradition of the Orthodox life. We see the borders in traditionally furnished churches, both new and old.

The parishioners of St. Anne Orthodox Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, have used $200 of paint, $200 of Frog Tape®, and $20 of stencil material to add decorative borders to their worship space.

Proper Characteristics of Orthodox Church Architecture

These decorative borders help to complete the proper characteristics of Orthodox Church architecture, as identified by Andrew Gould. All of the elements of architecture and furnishings contribute to making the church itself the Icon of Heaven, the City of God, with its jeweled foundation, its gates of pearl, and its golden streets.

The proper characteristics will express: solidity, radiance, mystery, introversion, energy, stillness, universality, exotic, local, authenticity, elegance, and authority. [2] Here is a photograph of Varlaam Monastery in Meteora, Greece, showing a fully outfitted Medieval church.

The Beautification Project at St. Anne Orthodox Church

The Medallion, the Windows, and the Upper Border

The project at St. Anne Orthodox Church started when Niko Pantanizopoulos saw the new iconostasis, created by Dmitri Shkolnik Studios, and had the vision to use some of the decorative designs and bring them out from the altar and embrace the rest of the church. He wanted to create a more inviting worship experience. Niko has spent a lot of time in Greece, visiting family, so he has more experience in viewing Orthodox churches and monasteries than most converts have had.

Niko used his knowledge of design from his background in landscape design combined with knowledge of Orthodox church aesthetics. He used the medallion in the iconostasis decoration to create a focal point above the altar. He used the floral border in the iconostasis to surround the windows and to create round arches to emphasize the windows and to express classical Roman shape. He repeated the medallion within the arches of the windows. He painted and decorated a border at the wall-ceiling junction to soften the transition, to unify the space, and to bring the design into the whole church.

Niko has the skills to gild with true gold leaf from prior church decorating experiences, but the technique was cost prohibitive. He also has experience with gilding with mica powder. Since this was an indoor project, he used water-based gold size. The designs created with mica powder give a soft glow to the church, letting the church shine with an inner radiance.

The Lower Nave Walls

A few years later, Father Stephen Freeman, Mother Beth Freeman, and Lynne Attaway participated in pilgrimages in the Holy Land and in Russia. We loved the decorations we saw in the churches, and we remembered Niko’s work. We realized that we could add more decorations to our church.

The second project continued the decoration in the nave. First, we painted the lower portion of the walls a dark green, using one of the colors in the iconostasis decoration. This dark lower portion creates a feeling of solidity, of being in a fortress. It is like being on a ship with good strong side rails that give a feeling of safety. The word “nave” comes from the Latin word for “ship.”

We added a decorative border above the green base, in order to soften the transition between the two colors. We chose a pattern from the decoration of the Church of the Holy Savior of Chora, in Istanbul, Turkey. Bands of color, often red or blue, usually frame the border patterns. For this project, we painted the gold design over a blue base, and painted colored stripes above and below the wide blue band. Then we applied the mica gilding powder over the gold design. The gilding added depth and radiance to the design.

The Narthex

The third project was in the narthex. We again used a darker color for the base, and we used a traditional Byzantine design for the border. We repeated the red and blue stripes to relate to the colors in the nave decoration. We did not add gilding in the narthex. We wanted to show a hierarchy of space. The nave is more important than the narthex.

The Altar

The fourth project was in the altar. The walls had been painted a deep red, at the suggestion of the iconographer, to use a color from the frames of the icons on the iconostasis.

We painted the lower area gold, to lighten to the space, and created a border that was wider and more ornate than the other borders. We used a grapevine pattern, a motif that Niko says is often used in Greece in the altars, referring to the Eucharist and to Christ’s statement in John 15:5 “I am the vine you are the branches.” The pattern we used was adapted from the Church of San Vitale, in Ravenna, Italy.

Then we added an additional border pattern and bands of stripes. We embellished the grapevine patterns with green veins on the leaves and some gilding on the vines.

The Place of Decoration in Orthodox Church Design

How have these projects added to the proper characteristics of Orthodox church architecture as identified by Andrew Gould?

Contribution to Proper Characteristics of Orthodox Church Architecture

The contrasting lower portion of the walls adds to the feeling of solidity, of protection, and of safety, as in strong side rails around the deck of a ship. The use of gilding powder creates radiance emanating from the walls, a symbol of the uncreated light. The various patterns in different parts of the church add to a sense of mystery, that not everything is revealed at once. The borders and contrasting bands of color add energy, a feeling of being alive and wakeful. They provide a vibrant interplay of patterns and colors. The round arches created with paint and a stenciled border give the church the appearance of the architecture of Rome, which provides the grounding of all Orthodox architecture. The use of materials is respected. The designs are paint. They are not wallpaper. The borders add a sense of elegance to the church. They add adornment, to flatter the beauty of the church, as the bride of Christ is to be adorned. They provide pleasing details to soften the transitions between surfaces. A church rightly adorned expresses spiritual authority.

Beauty is the overarching theme of these principles. We called our projects the beautification project because we understand the importance of beauty in an Orthodox church. As Father Stephen Freeman says, to create beauty is to do priestly work. [3]

The Proper Expression of the Masculine and the Feminine in Church Design

And what do we say when people tell us that decoration is just an extra? A church expresses theology, and Orthodoxy proclaims a proper understanding of the value of both masculine and feminine elements of our relationship to God. We represent the strong qualities of God with the thick walls, with the strong iconostasis, with the letters “ICXC NIKA” (Jesus Christ, Conqueror) on our communion bread. And yet there is another, very important quality of our relationship to God, and that is of the feminine, as the Theotokos said, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) These feminine qualities of our relationship to God are expressed in the decoration, the details of adornment, in the delicacy of vines, flowers, and scrolls. Even as the communion bread stamp has “ICXC NIKA,” it also has a border and decorative crosses.

Jonathan Pageau says that the church in the West has been influenced by principles of the Enlightenment, and it has given primacy to masculine characteristics of strength and rational thought. But the Orthodox church, in its arts and worship, has always balanced the masculine—the rational, strong and active, with the feminine–the responsive, soft, decorative. The church has traditionally used both strength and elegance to show our relationship to the Lord. [4]

Creating Decorative Borders

If a parish would like to add decorative borders to their worship space, here are several things to consider.

Unique Qualities of Byzantine Design

Byzantine design has unique qualities. As Kostas E. Tsiropoulos said, “Byzantine art is a fusion of Hellenic-Roman art and Persian art, and of the Imperial life and the ascetic life.” [5] Byzantine decoration is robust and vigorous. It is unlike European decorative style, unlike Persian art, unlike Moorish art, and unlike contemporary style. The Byzantines use decoration in abundance. Modern stencil designs and modern style books do not provide adequate patterns for these designs. To develop a plan for a church, it is good to immerse oneself in the designs of traditional churches. It is essential to visit fully decorated churches and/or view photos of church interiors. Vestments and other church fabrics can be sources of design. Byzantine Decorative Art is a classic collection of patterns. The Orthodox Illustration Project has traditional designs. The online site Pinterest could be a source of patterns and photos of Orthodox church interior decoration.

Methods to Create Designs

Several methods could be used to create these designs. Some lend themselves to brush work, and some to stencils. For those whose brush skills are limited, stencils provide a good way to do the work. We created the patterns for our designs from photos of churches and from Byzantine pattern books, and we cut our own stencils. We used laser cutters and X-acto® knives. We have not found any contemporary, ready-made designs in the United States that would represent the Byzantine style.

The Value of Art Produced by Hand

Everything that we do for the church should be done with the utmost of care. Yet the Byzantines recognize that hand work will have minor variations. They honor those variations. In this age of designs that are produced by machine, we can recognize the value of work done by hands.


Traditional Orthodox churches have iconography and decoration covering all their surfaces. New churches, and churches in converted spaces, while they are preparing for full decoration, might use this method to create decorative borders to add to the decoration and beautification of their church, and to present an icon of the Kingdom of Heaven. Orthodox decorative arts can add solidity, radiance, mystery, energy, universality, elegance, and authority to worship spaces.

The Joy of Creating Beauty

And for those who do the work of decoration? We feel like Petros Vaboulis, author of Byzantine Decorative Art and student of Fotis Kontaglu, “Our life has become design and color and [lettering]. Its rhythm followed the turns of an intricate decoration and we have hitched upon one of its branches, dazzled by the miracle that spreads out before our eyes. Within us the world danced to a rhythm which it felt for the first time and suddenly we were aware of this festival which we had awaited for years and wished that it would never end.” [6]


[3] Freeman, Fr. Stephen, Homily, August, 2018

[4] Pageau, Jonathan , “The Inversion of Masculine and Feminine in Popular Culture,”, retrieved 9/18/18

[5] Tsiropoulos, Kostas E., Introduction to Petros Vaboulis, Byzantine Decorative Art, 2 nd edition, 1992, page 36.

[6] Vaboulis, Petros, Byzantine Decorative Art, 2 nd Edition, 1992, page 33.

References and Resources:

Bustacchini, Gianfranco, Ravenna, Mosaics, Monuments and Environment, Cartolibreria Salbaroli, Ravenna, Italy.

Dehli, Arne, Treasury of Byzantine Ornament, Dover Publications, Mineola, New York, 2005.

Ertug, Ahmet and Cyril Mango, Chora: the Scroll of Heaven, Ertug and Kocabiyik, Istanbul, Turkey, 2000.

Freeman, Fr. Stephen, Homily, August, 2018

Gotlinsky, Fr. Ilya, Orthodox

Meyer, Franz Sales, Handbook of Ornament, Dover Publications, New York, 2016

Pageau, Jonathan, “The Inversion of Masculine and Feminine in Popular Culture,”

Vaboulis, Petros, Byzantine Decorative Art, 2 nd edition, Papadimitriou Publishing, Athens, Greece, 1992

Although the first Greeks started arriving in the Springfield area as early as 1884, few chose to come as far as Springfield in those early days. Eastern Massachusetts and the New York area had Greek social groups already established and most would not leave the security of such a group. For the few who did come to Springfield in the ensuing years, life was difficult due to cultural and linguistic differences but jobs were available especially in the candy industry. With no Orthodox Churches at all in the area, some chose to worship occasionally in Episcopalian Churches while others chose Roman Catholic Churches. With the influx of many more educated Greek immigrants in 1905 and 1906, the community was finally able to come together to form a Greek society. The initial Pan Hellenic Society and another organization that tried to unite the Greek community soon disbanded however, for lack of interest. It was not until an attempt was made to establish a church in 1906 that the community finally united. Meetings were initially held over a shop in Stearns Square in the downtown section of the city. Eventually, a hall was rented at the corner of State and Maple Streets and the congregation was unofficially established. As this congregation grew, a more permanent site and name were needed. The issue of the name was a simple since most of the members (12 in all) on the steering committee were named George. The new Church of St. George finally celebrated its first Divine Liturgy on November 15, 1907 at a small brick house on Auburn Street. Coincidentally, Auburn Street was located just behind our present parking lot, where Route 91 passes by the Greek Cultural Center.

Although St. George was the only Greek Orthodox Church in Western Massachusetts, it was not long before the Greek Orthodox population in other surrounding cities increased dramatically. Another wave of immigration was initiated around 1912 upon hearing that Turkey would begin drafting tens of thousands of young Greek men. Cities like Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir) and regions all along the Mediterranean coast were still filled with hundreds of thousands of Greeks that had never left despite the fall of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire 450 years earlier. Within fifteen years, there were other churches in Holyoke, Chicopee and Enfield, CT that drew from the original Greek population surrounding the North End Church.

By the 1920s, the Greeks of Springfield were joined by a sizable, Arabic-speaking, Lebanese Orthodox population. Together they grew and shared the church that, by then, grew to several hundred families. During the mid-twenties, at a time that saw many Greek communities dividing due to the politics in Greece (Royalists vs. Venizelists), a number of families from St. George started a new parish, the Holy Trinity Church. This parish was not with the Archdiocese as we know it now but with an independent Archdiocese with headquarters in Lowell, MA. Fortunately for the community and thanks to Archbishop Athenagoras who spent years reuniting communities throughout the country, the Holy Trinity Church did not last very long and everyone soon returned to St. George by the early 1930s. The availability of that church building on Carew Street, diagonally across from Sts. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, was soon taken over by the Lebanese community which had grown to the point that they wanted their own church to worship in Arabic. For just over five years, we were separated again but it wasn&rsquot long before the Greek and Lebanese Orthodox Christians of Springfield was worshipping together at St. George Church, now in a larger building on Patton Street.

In 1938, the Archdiocese assigned Fr. Joseph Xanthopoulos to the parish which had experienced a considerable amount of turnover in the clergy. Fr. X., as he was affectionately known, was half Greek and half Lebanese and spoke Greek, Arabic and English fluently. For close to twenty years, he held the community together and dramatically increased the participation of the laity in various programs and ministries. In 1940, Fr. Joseph was approached by the leaders of the Memorial Church, a Congregational community in the North End, to buy their church, the rectory behind the church, and the large Parish House across the street that included classrooms, offices, and a hall for just $40,000. Seventy years earlier, the church alone had cost $100,000 to build. For the St. George community, it was a dream come true. As one of the most beautiful churches in the area, a landmark in the city designed by noted architect Richard Upjohn, the church building and parish hall would accommodate all of the space requirements of the flourishing community. The new church was renamed St. George Greek Orthodox Memorial Church, a name that remained for close to forty years.

During World War II and despite the Great Depression still lingering, the community put a significant amount of money into the redesign of the sanctuary, the nave, and the choir loft. As a Congregational Church, the choir and organ were located where the sanctuary is presently. Removing the tiered rows for the choir from the sanctuary and moving the pipe organ especially were significant tasks to overcome. Iconography was added to the ceiling and walls and some redesign of the Parish House across the street also took place.

On March 25, 1942, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, a significant event in the history of not only St. George but also of the entire Archdiocese took place in the new church. Bishop Athenagoras Cavadas, the Bishop of Boston, ordained the very first American-born graduate of Holy Cross to the priesthood, Fr. George Papadeas. Holy Cross had been established only five years earlier in Pomfret, CT. The ordination of Father George was a cause for great celebration throughout America as all the efforts to establish a theological school in the United States were now producing fruit: Greek Americans serving Greek Americans in their newly-adopted country.

It was on Pascha morning 1944, however, that parishioners living in the area were awakened to the sound of sirens in Memorial Square. The church had caught on fire in the middle of the night as the result of a Paschal candle left burning in the choir loft and, by the time the fire department reached it, the entire rear of the church had been destroyed.

With the assistance of the church&rsquos insurance, reconstruction immediately began costing about $75,000. New beams, walls and stained glass windows above the loft were constructed so as to match almost exactly what previously existed. By the end of the war, the community had finished their reconstruction and decoration and so, on September 30, 1945, the Church was officially consecrated by Archbishop Athenagoras. The names of hundreds of parishioners, living and deceased, were added into the marble altar along with the relics of martyred Saints presented by the Archbishop from the Patriarch of Constantinople.

As the community continued to grow into the 1950s, Fr. Xanthopoulos made the difficult decision to leave St. George. In 1957, Fr. Stephen Papadoulias was assigned to the parish. Fr. Stephen came to St. George from the Church in Manchester, NH, also named St. George. During his twenty-eight years of service to the community, Fr. Stephen became one of the most well-known priests of any denomination in all of Western Massachusetts. He served on the Police Commission in Springfield and was a powerful presence in parish and ecumenical events. As a priest, his serving of the Divine Liturgy and his thoughtful homilies attracted many people to the community. As a member of the community himself, he enjoyed participating in athletic events like the bowling league and racquetball at the YMCA.

For the Lebanese community at St. George, worshipping in the liturgical Greek language was sometimes difficult. Still, for the great majority that remained active, the Orthodox Church would always be home no matter what language was spoken. In 1960, with the American-born Fr. Steve at the helm, Phil Ghareeb, a young man with natural leadership qualities, was asked to run for the Parish Council and represent the Lebanese community in all administrative affairs. For many, this signaled a new approach, a new level of acceptance and a hand of welcome to all the Lebanese people. Phil&rsquos sister, Olga Sabadosa, also served the community for more than fifty years as a member of the Executive Board of the Philoptochos for decades and as president. Many, many others served St. George and continue to serve on various committees, in the Sunday School, and choir and to be active participants in the whole life of the Church. Together, they have contributed much to the parish including the enormous icon of Christ in the Church&rsquos vestibule.

One of the more memorable groups during Fr. Steve&rsquos years was The Olympians Drum and Bugle Corp that represented St. George all over the Eastern seaboard. Frequently winning awards for their precision and musical talent, the Olympians continued to draw in hundreds of young people from the Greek and local community for about twenty years. One of the highlights that many still remember was playing at the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson in January, 1965. Many of the youth were also involved in various baseball and basketball leagues that were continuously amazed at the abilities of the church&rsquos youth.

As the turbulent 1960s and 1970s approached, the North End of Springfield was no longer the affluent place it once was when the church was constructed nor was it the place where many hardworking Greek immigrant families lived. Like many cities across America, Springfield saw its share of violence, riots, drug abuse, crime and deteriorating schools. The construction of two highways in the 1950s and 1960s very close to St. George took away the homes of many of the parishioners and thousands of others that had lived in Springfield for decades. Many chose to leave the city in favor of the quieter and more affluent suburbs. Fr. Stephen, despite all of these difficulties, continued to be a rock of faith, a very personable and highly-respected member of the Greater Springfield community. In 1974, the boiler located just under the bell tower exploded into flames and a significant fire resulted that destroyed the walls and flooring around the church&rsquos entrance. Again, the church was fortunate to have sufficient insurance to cover the cost of repair and to replace the icon located just above the entrance door.

By the mid-1970s though, there was a movement afoot within the congregation to move St. George out of the city. A piece of land in the suburb of Longmeadow was purchased and the community began discussing whether or not to sell and to move. In 1977, a General Assembly was held in the Parish House that would change the community forever. When the final vote came to move to Longmeadow, one-third of the community voted in favor of the move. The motion was defeated but, for that one-third, the move would take place. Thus began the Church of St. Luke in East Longmeadow.

For those still at St. George, the split in the community was bittersweet. While the division meant the devastating loss of over one hundred mostly young families, the people that remained were all those committed to the church&rsquos present location, its upkeep and its success. Archbishop Iakovos, who allowed the move but seemed to empathize with the parishioners of St. George, declared that the community would henceforth be known as St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral and he made several of the most influential members into archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is the highest honor that a layperson in the Orthodox Church may receive.

Another major development was the gift from the city of Springfield to the Church of a building that had once housed a branch of the city&rsquos library system. The old library, built by Andrew Carnegie in 1905, was given to the church for just $1 as a grateful reward for remaining in Springfield. The old Parish Hall, purchased with the church in 1940, was abandoned and Springfield native, Christ Kamages, an architect, was hired to design an addition to the old library. By 1979, the building that included offices, a kitchen, a small hall and a gymnasium was completed and was named the Greek Cultural Center. The availability of land around the Greek Cultural Center also allowed the community to have a significant parking lot for the first time. The parking lot, in turn, allowed the community to host a large festival popularly known as Glendi. Many thousands of Greek and non-Greek residents of the city have attended during the three decades that Glendi has been held. Politicians running for the Mayor&rsquos Office, House, Senate and even the Presidency have made stops to mingle with the crowds and to take advantage of the enormous groups gathered.

By the mid-1980s, Fr. Stephen&rsquos health had deteriorated to the point where, in 1985, he announced his retirement. Fr. Peter Atsales, a native Bostonian, was assigned by the newly-installed Bishop Methodios to replace him. Fr. Peter, during his brief tenure, began the Bible Study group and was respected by many as a very bright and inspired man of God. Through the generosity of many parishioners, the Panagia Chapel was built under his guidance to accommodate most of the baptisms and weekday services that take place. Fr. Peter was accompanied by an assistant, Fr. Petros Gregory from Kansas City, a 1989 graduate of Holy Cross in Brookline. Fr. Petros, during his two years at St. George, was primarily responsible for the youth and young adults of the community, a function he performed well. He became very well-respected by many members of the community - young and old - as a kind and dedicated priest. Fr. Peter Atsales and his wife, Presvytera Loukia, left the community in 1991 to pastor a church in Miami, FL while Fr. Petros left St. George to take the Holy Trinity Church in Fitchburg, MA.

In 1992, Fr. Kyriakos (Kerry) Saravelas came to St. George from the Dormition Church in Somerville. Fr. Kerry was also a native Bostonian that grew up with Archbishop Iakovos as his mentor and priest. Fr. Kerry built up the Bible Study group into a thriving group of more than sixty parishioners from St. George and other local parishes. During his tenure, the enormous slate roof on the Cathedral Church and the rubber roof on the Cultural Center were replaced through the efforts of the Building Fund Board of Trustees. These two projects together cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that were not readily available. So, with the use of some monies from the Building Fund and the bingo night proceeds, the parish started a fundraising campaign that eventually acquired the funds to complete the project. The replacement of the blue carpet with a unique Byzantine red carpet in 2000 also was accomplished through the Building Fund&rsquos efforts.

Upon the completion of the above-mentioned roof project, the time seemed right to do away with the bingo that supported the community for over a decade. As time went on, the community realized that having bingo was not as lucrative as it once was. The damage to the building from all the foot traffic and the cigarette smoke was costing the community thousands of dollars a year. Many were also beginning to realize that the church should not be supported by outsiders gambling away their savings. So, as the number of workers from St. George also dwindled, Fr. Kerry helped to bring about the demise of the bingo nights and to begin planting the seeds for stewardship within the community. These seeds would take root years later.

Perhaps the greatest memories for many people during Fr. Kerry&rsquos tenure would be the two trips to the Holy Lands that he led from St. George. Filling a coach bus each time with members of St. George and other communities, the trips took pilgrims to all of the greatest sites including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and the Dead Sea. For many, it was the trip of a lifetime and many continue to say it was the greatest experience of their lives.

As the parish was aging and many of the leaders of the Council and Building Fund were in their 60s and 70s, one of Fr. Kerry&rsquos primary goals was to build up the Council with some younger parishioners that would take the administrative duties from the older generation. New leaders for the Sunday School and the Philoptochos were among his accomplishments on that front.

In May of 2001, just as Fr. Kerry was planning to leave for a smaller parish in Newburyport, MA, the St. George community hosted Archbishop Demetrios to celebrate one hundred years of Orthodox presence in Western Massachusetts. Following the Divine Liturgy, a large banquet was held at the Sheraton in downtown Springfield. Clergy and members from other communities also joined His Eminence to celebrate the milestone.

In October of 2001, Father Christopher Stamas took the reins as the pastor and immediately began to concentrate on implementing the Bible-based stewardship system of giving. The stewardship system would not only increase badly-needed income but, more importantly, the involvement of another generation. Being only 35 years of age, Father Chris was the youngest priest to serve St. George in nearly fifty years and so, his goal was to build up and empower the younger generation of parishioners including the young children. Fr. Chris was raised at the Transfiguration Church in Lowell, MA and had been an assistant at St. Demetrios in Weston, MA prior to his coming to Springfield. In making the children a priority, the community soon realized that entire families benefited from a good Sunday School program. A new and innovative curriculum was also developed with an emphasis on the entire Orthodox Christian Tradition. The Sunday School, in Fr. Chris&rsquo early years, permanently added classes for high school students, showing them that education in the faith does not end as one enters adulthood. Along with the Pre-K that encourages children as young as three years of age to attend, the Sunday School has increased in size by almost 40% in recent years.

JOY and GOYA programs were either established or complemented with greater parental involvement. The Greek School has also increased in attendance with several new teachers, a new director, and members from other parishes attending our program as well. Later on, adult classes were added to the School to fill the desire some have to understand and/or speak the Greek language better.

The choir also began a program of renewal by welcoming several new members &ndash men and women &ndash into their midst. Through the efforts of the director and others, new binders and liturgical books were purchased that made transitions easier, especially for the newer members. The translation of many familiar hymns led to the use of more English in the choir and in various services since many in the parish are now coming to appreciate the hidden beauty within the hymns. Occasionally, entire services are held in the English language with non-active Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians being invited to see what the Orthodox Church has to offer.

Through the efforts of many people &ndash young and old &ndash the Ladies&rsquo Philoptochos Society began receiving rewards from Metropolitan and National Philoptochos Conventions for its new and innovative programs and its increased membership. These programs that include the implementation of stewardship for the Philoptochos, a community literacy program, an extensive monthly newsletter, and its constant pursuit of new and younger members to the board and general membership have shown others around the country that ministry is alive and well at St. George in Springfield.

In the field of ministry, St. George began a longstanding relationship with the local Rescue Mission, Homeless Shelter, Catholic Charity&rsquos &ldquoGray House&rdquo, the Ronald McDonald House and other social services agencies the provide assistance to our neighbors here in Springfield. These ministries have had the two-fold benefit of changing not only the lives of those who are served but also of those who serve. Our youth especially were targeted to work with and support these agencies and we have all benefited from their experience. A youth incentive program was established that also encouraged the youth to participate in national competitions and the regional Metropolis of Boston Camp.

In 2004, the Parish Council initiated an extensive renovation project totaling over $1 million that sought to restore and renovate both the aging Church and Greek Cultural Center, now thirty years old. With the assistance of the Building Fund, an appointed Restoration Committee and countless parishioners, the painting of the entire interior of the Cathedral, the restoration of all the Cathedral&rsquos stained glass windows, the updating of the sound system and some iconography have all added to the worship experience for the parish.

In 2006, as the restoration of the stained glass windows neared completion, a special ceremony was held dedicating the window above the northern balcony to the priests that had served at St. George since the 1930s. Fr. Athanasios Demos, the chancellor of the Metropolis of Boston who represented Metropolitan Methodios, and Fr. Kerry Saravelas were on hand to celebrate the Divine Liturgy together with Fr. Chris. At the Dedication Luncheon, those who had known each of the priests well spoke about their contribution to the St. George community. It was a memorable day for all those who attended as the community was about to embark on its 100 th Anniversary Year.

In 2007, as the community celebrated its 100 th Anniversary, the people gathered several times to celebrate and remember the history that made the community what it is &ndash an active and welcoming community of faithful people that love their Church. Special events were held in January and on the Feast Day of St. George in April that encouraged young people to share in the celebration as well.

In late April 2007, the Panagia Chapel dedicated to the Nativity of Theotokos was consecrated by Metropolitan Methodios after an extensive renovation took place. A new throne, tile floor, rug, and Byzantine stained glass windows were added while the walls and ceilings were painted. An icon of the Pantocrator (Christ Almighty) was installed in September just before the start of Glendi 2007. In November of 2007, almost three hundred members of the community gathered at the Sheraton Ballroom to celebrate with Archbishop Demetrios the 100 th year and the progress that has been made in all aspects of the community. Following speeches by the Roman Catholic Bishop, Fr. Chris and the president of the Parish Council, Archbishop Demetrios took the stage and &ldquoleft our hearts burning within us&rdquo. Those who were there realized that our Church, despite the smaller numbers we once saw, is progressing in many ways nationally, regionally and locally.

Throughout the next several years, the Building Fund Committee would upgrade nearly every aspect of our facilities, both the Church and Greek Cultural Center, with new heating and air conditioning, a new roof on the Center, and the restoration of walls, ceilings, and floors that all contributed to the overall look that St. George is a community that is beating the odds and fighting vigorously against the tides of society. In the field of ministry, the Sunday School continues to create new material and to improve on its past successes. Families are changing dramatically &ndash social media has become a formidable foe not only to churches but to school and places of employment as well. The competition offered by sporting teams on Sunday mornings, social events, and other organization are making Christianity&rsquos success something that cannot be taken for granted. At St. George, the challenges are being met with openness and a generous reaction from the Parish Council and General Assemblies. For the first time, a Youth Room is available with comfortable furniture and a Ping Pong table for games, discussions, and activities to take place.

After 18 years, Fr. Chris left St. George on September 30, 2019, as he was reassigned to another community in order to be closer to his elderly and sick family members. More than 400 people came together for a banquet to celebrate not only his and his family's contributions to the parish but also the community's progress for nearly a generation.

As more than one hundred and ten years have passed, the community has changed in many ways. While we are still very much a Greek Orthodox Church, the community is now made up of Orthodox Christians from several countries including Lebanon, Russian, Georgia, Romania, and, of course, from Greece. We have also welcomed many others from a variety of Christian traditions and more nationalities than we could ever count. We are now baptizing children that are from the fourth and fifth generation born in this country. Much has changed but one thing still remains the same: the Orthodox Faith and Traditions that have been with us and our ancestors for twenty centuries. As a Church of God, it is progress on the spiritual front that we continue to seek and to strive to accomplish as a community. With God&rsquos grace and the unwavering faith of the parishioners, that progress will continue for many years to come.

The Bones Of St. Peter Displayed By Vatican For The First Time

To mark the end of the Year of Faith, the Vatican has for the first time publicly displayed the bones of St. Peter. While no pope has ever definitively declared the fragments to belong to the apostle Peter, Pope Paul VI in 1968 said fragments found in the necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica were “identified in a way that we can consider convincing”.

The bones were discovered in 1939 in an excavation of the Vatican Necropolis below the main altar at Saint Peter’s Basilica, which has been the consistent traditional burial place of the first Pope since antiquity. The excavation, ordered by Pope Pius XII, found the bones in a first century funerary wall creche, with a Greek inscription of “Petros eni”, or “Peter is here”. The bones were found wrapped in purple and gold threaded cloth. Scientific study of the bones showed them to be of a “robust” man in his 60’s-70’s at the time of death.

The relics, normally kept in the private chapel of the Pope’s Vatican apartments, were presented to tens of thousands of pilgrims who gathered to catch a glimpse of the relics. The eight fragments of bone between two and three centimetres (around one inch) long were displayed on an ivory bed within a bronze chest on a pedestal in St. Peter’s Square.

Reflecting upon the relics of St. Peter, whose very name means “Rock”, and their location below the Main Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Vatican Hill, one can not help but meditate on Peter’s confession in the Gospel of Matthew , and Our Lord’s words to him in Matthew 16:18:

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Altar at Church of St. Pogos and Petros - History

To dream something is one thing -- to watch it take shape and form is the foundation of a lifetime. For those seeking to begin a third Greek Orthodox Church in Baltimore, that dream has become a reality a life-long pilgrimage to erect God&rsquos house for all those to follow and to the eternal Glory of His name.

The history of the Saint Demetrios Parish began when the need for a third Greek Orthodox Church in the suburbs of Baltimore permeated the thoughts of many people for many years. During a pastoral visit to Baltimore, His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, spoke with Christopher Makres of the church&rsquos need to move out where the people are and recommended that the young people of Baltimore should meet in the suburbs and set the foundation for a new church. What followed, and in a short amount of time, is testimony of the will of man seeking to do works pleasing unto the Lord.

For the next several weeks, dedicated and enthusiastic young stewards including Christopher Makres, Constantine Alexion, Dan Stamathis, Michael Karas, Gabriel Pantelides and John Sitaras tapped on the shoulders of other strong faithful of Baltimore to see if there was sufficient interest in following the directive of Archbishop Iakovos. By word of mouth, interest grew among the young people who were called and guided by the Holy Spirit to an incredible challenge one that would be a cornerstone of their lives.

Several preliminary meetings were held leading up to the celebrated first general meeting of November 29, 1969 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Pantelides. It was agreed that a church should be founded to serve the spiritual needs of the Greek Orthodox faithful in order to preserve and perpetuate their religious and cultural heritage.

With task at hand and much apprehension, the members of the Steering Committee established at this meeting set out to lay the foundation of what was to come. Much of our humble beginnings is due in large part to the vision and dedication of these early stewards of the church.

Following the first meeting in New York with His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos on February 3, 1970, a pledge drive was initiated. This began an impressive first year. In order to meet the requirements of the Archdiocese, signatures representing 102 families and pledges totaling over $100,000 were gathered within 30 days. At the charter meeting held April 5, 1970 at Saint Andrew&rsquos Episcopal Church, an interim Parish Council was elected to begin the necessary deliberations that would lead themselves down a daring path of becoming the third Greek Orthodox parish in Baltimore. On May 15, 1970, all the hard work up to this point was recognized when the Archdiocese granted our Ecclesiastical Charter giving us life and a concrete foothold from which the growth evolved.

Our Greek Language School commenced on October 12, 1970 with Mr. Sotirios Mitilineos as teacher. The first priest assigned to the parish on November 15, 1970 was Reverend Father Sam Kalamaras. All the hard work up to this point climaxed on November 29, 1970 when our first Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the Cromwell Valley Elementary School. Imagine the excitement and joy felt by all those in attendance unsure of what would happen next. In exactly one year, we were able to acquire a priest and hold our first service complete with choir and cantors! Our first cantors were Mr. Phillip Arnas and Mr. John Livanion. Our first Choir was organized on November 23, 1970 under the leadership of director Jennie Roesch and organist Barbara Karvounis.

The Church School began January 3, 1971 with Thomas Heath (now Father Thomas Heath) as superintendent. During these our humble beginnings, home was Parkville Senior High School. It was during this time that the true meaning of stewardship and the giving of time and talent was prevalent. Men and women, both young and old, worked endlessly to succeed. All the necessities for a church had to be packed and unpacked each and every week -- the utensils, cloths, icons, candles, sandboxes, provisions for wine and prosforon. Duties were rotated for setting up and tearing down an altar for services. When Parkville Senior High School was not available, the grace of God provided other facilities for our use. Many area churches -- Catholic, Protestant and Episcopal -- offered use of their facilities. We were welcomed by these churches for meetings and services especially during Lent and Holy Week. Imagine the task of getting a 1,400 seat auditorium cozy for church services! Needless to say, no one wanted to stand pat. We wanted our own facilities, "Our Land".

While all of this activity was going on, "The Spirit" was inaugurated. Published primarily by Mr. John L. Sitaras, "The Spirit" became an invaluable source of documented history and chronologically covered historical moments. Every step of our fledgling Suburban Greek Orthodox Community was recorded. Also, the "Hospitality Teas" were inaugurated primarily by Mrs. Katherine Strakes in concert with the graciousness of many women who opened their homes for a social with the intent of "spreading the word" as it were of what the suburban community was all about.

Several of the early dedicated members searched for land on which we could build our house of worship. It was Jack and Helen Foudos who found the ad in the newspaper for what would become our permanent home. At the General Assembly meeting of October 17, 1971, the thirty acre property on Cub Hill Road was approved at a cost of $90,000. A $40,000 down-payment was made in cash and a mortgage of $50,000 was secured at settlement on December 9. Our dream now had form. The beauty of this secluded sanctuary was to become the location of the Sanctuary of God in the eyes of all.

When Father Sam Kalamaras departed in August 1971, the parish was left in a quandary for thirteen months. Many wondered who would serve our community until the Archdiocese was able to recommend to us the Reverend Doctor Demetrios Constantelos. A professor at Stockton University, Doctor Constantelos found the time to come and serve our parish almost every Sunday for the thirteen months for which our community is eternally grateful. He helped keep us together during a difficult period of time.

Progress was rapid and outstanding and due only to the devotion of people committed to a purpose. Much excitement and anticipation ran through the thoughts and hopes of all. In the summer of 1972, the Reverend Doctor Sophocles Sophocles served as celebrant priest at the first liturgy on our property in open air. Doctor Sophocles was known to our parish since he filled in when Doctor Constantelos was unavailable. This service was followed by a picnic during which parishioners enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of their new home.

Reverend Father Ernest Arambiges was assigned to the parish on September 15, 1972 and he led this community with vigor and passion, nurturing it from its early childhood into the mature and respected parish of today. His arrival also ushered in a new period in the life of the parish. The coming years would give the Suburban Greek Orthodox Church an identity and foothold within the Baltimore metropolitan area, as well as in the New Jersey Diocese.

The Permanent Building Committee, chaired by Dr. Andrew Vendelis, was formed on October 1, 1972 to give direction and to formulate plans for the complex to be built on Cub Hill Road. Many meetings were held to discuss the available options for our future and what could be built "for the glory of God." The arduous task of selecting an architect to give form to the vision of the early leaders of the church rested with members of this committee. After much deliberation and fact-gathering, the Building Committee selected and recommended Leonard S. Friedman as architect for the entire church complex. So thorough was the research in the selection process that members of the committee took road trips to view other Greek Orthodox churches designed by Mr. Friedman in order to solidify their decision.

As plans progressed, the life of the parish continued to grow. On May 13, 1973 Archbishop Iakovos visited our parish at Parkville Senior High School. Imagine the excitement at hosting His Eminence for the first time in our parish life and in a high school auditorium. This showed the love and support of the Archdiocese and gave everyone the encouragement necessary to carry out their dreams. The first of our Grecian Festivals was held in October 1973 at Cromwell Valley Elementary School. This weekend of celebration, although tiresome, has proven to be and continues to be an unending expression of ethnic pride and community development, not to mention a great source of revenue for all that has been accomplished.

A unique and identifiable program to our community culminated on the weekend of February 15-16, 1974 as the Suburban Players first production of "Fiddler on the Roof" took place at Parkville Senior High School. Now in its twenty-ninth year, this group has typified the Christian ethic of love and used its God given talents promoting fellowship amongst man. We all have been the beneficiaries of all the hard work involved in the efforts of Orthodox and non-Orthodox people who have graced our lives even if only for a brief moment during these productions.

Life is made up of milestones. These are significant moments or events that tend to define exactly who we are. One of these times occurred on May 11, 1974 when the Suburban Greek Orthodox Church received its Christian identity, that of Saint Demetrios. The banquet at the Hunt Valley Inn brought such tears of happiness and joy because now we had an official name. On the following day, ground-breaking took place in the rain. Ah, the rain! It should be noted that the runner up in the naming of our parish was Saint Andrew. It seems that at almost every major event in the history of the parish, since then, it has rained.

At a pastoral visit on October 26-27, 1974, Bishop Silas presented the community with the Ecclesiastical Charter formally acknowledging our existence in the Archdiocese. Again momentum was building in the community. Picnics and open air services were held on our property, although home base was still Parkville Senior High School. Membership was growing, having more than doubled from 74 families in 1970 to 168 families in 1974. The passing of time saw the uninterrupted establishment of worship services, a complete parochial program to witness the life of the Church and the needs of her Parishioners and the finalization of architectural plans that concretely set the "dream" on firm foundations.

With the first mortgage on the land paid off the same month, settlement for the $350,000 Phase I construction loan took place on February 6, 1975 and the erection of the first building on "our land" began February 10, 1975 with Thomas A. Lloyd as general contractor. All the fervor had been building for many years and so much had been accomplished in a short period of time. To that end, and with all the activities booming, this first fifteen year mortgage was liquidated in April 1982 after having been refinanced in January 1978 within an amazing six years and four months. This action was spurred on by a generous gift of $100,000 from the Paterakis and Tsakalos families which was matched by the community in a two year drive between 1981 and 1982.

Before we get too far ahead of 1975, a flurry of activity took place during the next ten months of construction. Our community did not sit still and rest upon its laurels. On March 29, 1975 a "Gala Concert" with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was held at the Lyric Opera House as a fund-raiser and to promote public awareness of our existence. It also accentuated the cultural growth within Baltimore. We witnessed the burning of the old farm house on our property on September 4, of that year. This served not only to prepare the property for our arrival, but also as practice for the Baltimore County Fire Department. On the nameday of our Patron Saint a banquet was held in honor of the charter members. A charter scroll was signed by these pioneers as a symbol of remembrance for all the dedication which helped us get to this particular point in our history. Imagine the anticipation of celebrating the first Easter in our very own building after all the years of moving from one place to another. Although much love and joy went into being mobile, nothing could compare to being home. We did it by working together as a team.

The magnitude of the moment reached its climax on January 4, 1976 when the final Divine Liturgy was celebrated at Parkville Senior High School and Opening Day services were held at the Saint Demetrios Educational Wing Chapel. What a glorious day! Peter Alatzas and Angelo Toutsis, representing the younger and older elements of our parish, received the honor of opening the doors allowing all the faithful to enter this new House of the Lord. Smiles filled the room and everyone was there to partake of a wondrous feeling. The sense of pride filled the chapel and angelic voices sang praises to His name. After all the picnics and open air services on the property, all the hard work and meetings that became a part of everyday lives, Saint Demetrios now had a place to call home.

Later that year, the first Saint Demetrios Church Award was presented to Mr. John L. Sitaras "with deep appreciation for outstanding dedication and stewardship as an Orthodox Christian." In November of 1976 Mr. Petros Kakkaris became cantor replacing Mr. George Rossis. The entrance wall to our property was completed on October 24, 1977 and November 20 marked the debut of "Spotlight On Youth." This became an annual event in which members of GOYA assume the duties of the Parish Council for the day and deliver the sermon as an accentuation of the important role the young person plays in the life of the parish.

As time went on so did the many activities that make up the community life. Many programs prospered and grew. Our community has always provided for the Orthodox faithful and continues numerous services and caring ministries: the Benevolent Fund, GOYA sponsored Career Day, prayers during the Persian Gulf War, Blood Drives, CPR classes, sponsoring a mission priest are but a few of the projects that were ministered.

Father Ernest celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination on February 10, 1979. The final group of iconostasion icons were installed in May of that same year. These beautiful icons were the work of iconographer Christina Dochwat whose vibrant use of colors capture the eyes of those who behold them.

Cultural celebration has always been exhibited in our community through participation in the Inner Harbor Ethnic Festivals and in our own Grecian Festivals. Much like the "Zorba" dancers entertained and brought joy to the hearts of all at the first Grecian Festival, the "Demetrakia" dancers made their first appearance at the festival on September 22, 1981. This, too, continues to play a part in our lifelong history.

With the first chapter in the history of our Saint Demetrios parish complete, a new one in which the hope and faith of our people to perpetuate the legacy of our forefathers and meet the needs of the future began. Dedication, determination and love had brought us to this point. That same spirit that guided us through the early years presented another new challenge. This challenge was the erection of a new house of worship for the glory of God.

Under the leadership of Mr. Christopher Makres, the Building Committee studied, prepared and presented for approval architectural plans to the General Assembly for the main church and administrative buildings. Now that the plans were in hand, the challenge was to raise the necessary funds to achieve our goals. Funds were in place to take the project up to this point, but more would be required. As they had done throughout the years, the parishioners responded resoundingly on April 9, 1983. The "Meeting the Challenge" banquet held at the Pikesville Hilton proved the resolve of the community. An astounding $275,000 was pledged and subsequently raised. It was a glorious evening.

Everything moved swiftly. Ground breaking for the main church was held the next day, April 10, 1983. Construction began with Altan Kemahli as general contractor. The community was able to follow the progress on a daily basis, building anticipation for the future. After Sunday services, many would stroll in awe through the shell of what was to become a House of the Lord. One could not help but feel that they were participating in the making of history as this was a first-time experience for most. The parish was in its prime. Excited with the anticipation of the coming of our church, the entire community was united in a common goal. During this time, the life of the parish developed through the growth of its organizations. The infant parish had grown and matured. It nurtured its people at the same time as it developed into the loving parish we see today. A briskness was filling the air with a ray of hope and a feeling of accomplishment.

On March 11, 1984 the cornerstone of our church was laid. In it lies a Holy Bible, an Icon of Saint Demetrios, a vial of holy water, and numerous historically significant lists, booklets, publications and photographs depicting the life of the parish. These and other items will remain a permanent testament to the will and determination of many people, both young and old. With all this said, the church doors were swung open like opened arms embracing all the faithful to enter and partake. Mrs. Ritsa Economakis led the parish into its new house of worship on August 28, 1984 during opening day services. A lifelong journey for many had achieved its goal of bringing together a people to glorify His name.

Progress continued to be rapid. Our Saint Demetrios Cemetery was dedicated on June 2 , 1985 . Th e baptistry window was dedicated November 26, 1986. A walkway around the church was completed to accommodate our religious processions. And finally, on July 9, 1989, the Saint Kyriaki Chapel was dedicated in honor and memory of Mrs. Kyriaki Paterakis. All of the icons in the chapel and the major icons in the main Church (except for those found on the Iconostasion) where executed by the renowned iconographer, Mr. Demetrios Dukas.

Life continued. However, a rest period was in order to take a breath and to examine where we were and what was happening. The church grew in outreach and the breath of new life into the church building was felt. The church ministries grew. Stewardship took hold and proved a tremendous success due to the leadership of Mrs. Sophia Vendelis. This time in the history of the parish proved to be a change in direction. After the hectic and challenging pace set to this point, much reflection was necessary.

Soon after, plans began to celebrate the 20th Anniversary and Consecration of our parish. However, the untimely illness of Archbishop Iakovos put the Consecration on hold for five years, but that did not stop us. A tremendous out-pouring of love and dedication was bestowed upon our parish by many families wishing to gift the community with the major appointments of the church. These gifts were rapid and significant, signifying the strength of the community as a whole.

The permanent Altar Table and Table of Oblation were dedicated on November 19, 1989. The Baptismal Font was dedicated August 5, 1990 followed by the Platytera Icon on October 21, 1990. The Pangari dedication followed on March 24, 1991. The icons of the Inner Narthex were dedicated on May 31, 1992. In the following year, the Proskynitaria and Pulpit (September 19) and the Pantokrator Icon and Dome (October 24) were dedicated. The Bishop&rsquos Throne was dedicated on November 20, 1994 and the Sanctuary Icons on May 14, 1995. Finally, the Cantor Stand (September 10) and Iconostasion (October 1) were dedicated in 1995. These represent the last major appointments for our beloved parish. Our community has always been blessed by the generosity of its people since its inception however, this segment of our history was beyond belief.

The Silver Anniversary of our Saint Demetrios parish was observed in many significant ways. Some of the highlights during the year-long celebration include the Altar Boy reunion on January 9, 1994 where the solea of the sanctuary was replete with the young boys (now mature adult men) who served their Lord -- a moving and overwhelming experience. This was followed by the equally memorable celebration of Baptisms on June 5 and Weddings on September 25 when all the respective participants of the past twenty-five years of these two sacraments were honored and acknowledged. Finally, the twenty-fifth year celebrations were capped with a beautiful concert in the sanctuary offered by our choir on November 6 and a Hierarchical Liturgy on November 27 with His Excellency, Metropolitan Silas officiating. A Grand Banquet closed this milestone year in our life.

In our thirty-three years of existence we have not only grown by numbers and bricks and mortar, but spiritually as well. The ministries of the church expanded or changed. The church reached out to its own people and beyond and the strong roots allowed this spiritual family to grow. Saint Demetrios Church offers many varied programs for all that wish to partake.

So you see, the call to build God&rsquos house was answered by those young, energetic people who sought to erect a Church "for the glory of God." This Church now stands high on a hill where it cannot be hid. It will stand there as a beacon and, hopefully, it will give light "to all in the house." It has become a religious community where the faithful Orthodox worship the Lord and work with steadfastness and live with joyful anticipation in His vineyard. Set on this hill, the light of this Church is a magnet lifting up and enlarging the vision of all people, guiding them to the knowledge of the Lord in this age and for ages to come. Many have worked a lifetime to lead us to this point. We must now strive to perpetuate what has been done and fortify the foundation for generations to come.

We stand here now having consecrated the House of the Lord in awe of our accomplishments. This House is now sanctified, reborn and full of the light of life provided by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Watch the video: Mass for clergy at Saint Patricks Cathedral, demo