Panagia Ekatontapyliani, Paros Island

The 4th-century Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Doors) is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece. According to legend, 99 doors have been found in the church and the 100th will be discovered only after Constantinople is Greek again.


History of Panagia Ekatontapyliani

In 326, St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, sailed for the Holy Land to find the True Cross. Stopping on Paros, she had a vision of success and vowed to build a church there. She founded it but died before it was built. Her son built the church in 328 as a wooden-roof basilica.

Two centuries later, Justinian the Great, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, had the church splendidly rebuilt with a dome. The emperor appointed Isidorus, one of the two architects of Constantinople's famed Hagia Sophia, to design it. Isidorus decided to send an apprentice, Ignatius, to Paros.

Folk legends say that, upon its completion, Isidorus arrived in Paros for an inspection and discovered the dome to be so magnificent that, consumed by jealousy, he pushed the young apprentice off the roof. Ignatius grasped his master's foot as he fell, and the two tumbled to their death together.

Two folk sculptures at the sanctuary's Baroque left portal portray the unfortunate architects as two fat men, one pulling his beard with remorse and the other holding his cracked head.

The splendid square above the port in Paros, to the northwest, was enlarged in 1996 to celebrate the 1,700th anniversary of Panagia Ekatontapyliani.

What to See at Panagia Ekatontapyliani

The cathedral is surrounded by a high white wall built as protection from pirates; in the thickness of the wall are rows of monastic cells, now housing a small shop and ecclesiastical museum.

After you step through the outer gate, the noise of the town vanishes, and you enter a garden with lemon trees and flowering shrubs.

Inside, the subdued light mixes with the dun, reddish, and green tufa. The columns are classical and their capitals Byzantine. At the corners of the dome are two fading Byzantine frescoes depicting six-winged seraphim.

The 6th-century iconostasis (with ornate later additions) is divided into five panels by marble columns. One panel contains the 14th-century icon of the Virgin, with a silver covering from 1777. The Virgin is carried in procession on the church's crowded feast day, August 15, the Dormition.

The adjacent Baptistery, nearly unique in Greece, also built from the 4th to the 6th century, has a marble font and bits of mosaic floor.

The ecclesiastic museum contains many 16th- to 19th-century icons, religious vestments, and ceremonial objects used to celebrate the varied ceremonies of the Orthodox Church. Although the museum is small, it's well worth the entrance fee.

Quick Facts on Panagia Ekatontapyliani

Site Information
Names:Panagia Ekatontapyliani
Dates:4th C
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:37.085000° N, 25.151900° E
Address:Paros Island, Greece
Lodging:View hotels near Panagia Ekatontapyliani
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