This section of the tour consists of four truly incredible Churches (Points A-D on the Mytilene Map). Whilst all four have similar characteristics, they all have their unique aspects, so take some time to appreciate the architectural beauty within each one.
The Church of Saint Therapon – Point A on the Mytilene Map
The first Church that you will visit is the largest and most imposing in all of Mytilene. The first thing you will notice as you draw closer to the building is the huge dome that sits on top of it (as can be seen peering above the other buildings on the picture above). Although it was built in 1880, it was done so on the site of a previous chapel which served the patients of the Mytilene Charity Institution, which is housed opposite the Church. Argyris Adalis, a Lesvian architect, oversaw the project, and the Church was eventually finished in 1915 in a crucifix form. As you will be able to see, the exterior primarily resembles a Gothic style, but is enhanced with baroque, renaissance and neo-classical elements. In fact, the decorations on the building’s exterior were completed by another other designer, the famous Lesvian artist Nikolaos Kesanlis.
It is worthwhile going inside the Church, where you will see several exquisite features, notably the carven icon screen, the pulpit, the primatial throne and two priedieu, which were all completed by Dimitrios Kovalas, a local craftsmen, in 1915. If you explore a little more, you will find the grave of the Archiboshop of Hungarian-Wallachia in the main part of the church, one of the most important individuals involved in the revolution for independence in 1821, during the years of Turkish occupation. In addition to this, various relics are housed in the Church, such as the two Byzantine icons which date back to the 14th and 15th Century – one depicts Jesus Christ and the other John the Theologian (DETAM 2013).
After you are finished here, turn left onto Ermou and follow it all the way until Mitropoleos – turn right here and follow for a short distance. The Cathedral of Saint Athanasios will be on your left hand side.
Cathedral of Saint Athanasios
Like the other two Churches in this section of the walking tour, this Cathedral of Saint Athanasios is also a three-aisle Basilicia, but what makes it stand out is its cruciform shape and its domed structure. Although it is the oldest post-Byzantine Basilica on the whole island, with some reports saying that it was constructed in the 16th Century, its exact date of construction is still unknown. The Church itself is dedicated to Ayios Athanassios, an important figure for the inhabitants of Lesvos.
As you will see, the interior architecture and decoration is quite spectacular. The bishopric throne, the lamps, the altar and the icon screen of the Church, all made in 1738, are generally deemed to be some of the most remarkable carven works of the late baroque period on the entire island; in fact this is also evidenced by the beautiful representations of plant and animal kingdoms carved into wood in the thorax. You will see various icons within the Church, most noticeable being the one of Jesus Christ on the icon screen itself – after the Asia Minor crisis it was brought to Lesvos in the 16th Century.
The Belfry is also quite impressive; of Gothic architectural style it stands at 33m tall. Another important aspect of the Church can be seen in the middle isle, just below the double-headed eagle, is a crypt (or pontifical underground tomb) where, from 1703-1783, high priests were once buried. In addition to this, even though it seems hard to believe, the citizens of Mytilene used to hide the holy relics of St.Theodore of Byzantium in the crypt! However, the relics are now stored in the carven larnax (a little bit more hygienic!).
After you are done here, turn right out of the Church and follow Mitropoleos until to reach Ag. Apostolon, where you should turn left, and then right onto Nantiou. The Church of Saint Apostles will be on your right-hand side.
Church of Saint Apostles
This Church, like many others in the city, has a post-Byzantine basilica architectural style – like St. Theodore, it is a three-aisled basilica. It was built around the year of 1815 and so is considered to be one of the oldest in Mytilene. However, even though this date is evidenced from inscriptions on one of the pillar’s in the narthex and in the lintel in the main entrance, it is believed that the site that it was built on was once occupied by a previous Church (DETAM 2013).
You will see when you enter the building that on each aisle the ceiling is domed-shape and that the floor is covered by symmetrical slabs of white marble, not out of place in Byzantine style Churches. You will also see an icon screen made out of carved wood, which was made immediately after the Church was constructed.
There are many other icons in the Church, and the majority you see will date right back to the final period of the 17th Century. Moreover, it will be difficult to miss the incredible iconostasis and the various wall paintings (seen in the picture to the right) that also date back to the Churches erection. If you wonder out to the garden area there is a neoclassical building that was built after the Church, and is now used as a religious intellectual centre (Lesvos Island 2013).
To move onto the next site, turn right out of the Church and take the next right onto Agiou Theodoron – follow for about 100 m, until to reach the Church of Saint Theodore on your right hand side.
Church of Saint Theodore
Built during the Byzantine period, this is one of the oldest churches in the city of Mytilene. However, after a raging fire in 1759 it was partially destroyed and so was rebuilt with a slightly different style of a three-aisle basilica, and finally finished in 1795. In terms of specific architectural aspects, firstly, you will see as you go into the church that the middle aisle’s roof is elevated, giving the church a real sense of height. Secondly, if you look at some of the pillars that are integrated into the outer narthex, you may be looking at pillars that were part of the building during classical times! (Barret 2015).
The most obvious holy icon in the main structure of the Church is what the building is named after: Ayios Theodoros the Byzantium, the patron saint of Mytilene. The other obvious icon is the Virgin Mary Agiotheodoritisa, recovered from the original fire, an icon that was honoured and savoured by many of the cities inhabitant. There are other notable decorations within the church, such as the icon screen created by George Chiotis in 1812, which displays illustrations from the Bible, made out of carved wood (DETAM 2013).
After you are finished, turn right our of the Church, and then turn left when you reach Mpizaniou. Then, turn left onto Pergamou, and take the next right until to reach Tertseti. Follow for about 100m and then turn left onto Mikras Asias.