Sotira Lykodimou church or Russian Church of the Holy Trinity is located at Filellinon street and Amalia Avenue. This Byzantine church serves for the Russian Orthodox community of Athens.
Originally, there were Roman baths on the spot of the temple. An archaeological study of the 19th century showed that an early Christian basilica had been built on their foundation. After that, in 1031, a church was built along the perimeter of the defensive wall of Athens. By the way, there are two inscriptions on the northern wall of the temple, one of which tells the date of construction of the Church. Another inscription shows the date of death of Stephanos Lykodimos who allocated funds for the construction of the shrine. There were no data about the temple during the following few hundreds of years.
On September 3, 1705, there was a strong earthquake, which caused the destroying of almost the whole Church. Of course, it was almost immediately repaired, and the interior design was restored. But the Russian Archimandrite Antonin also proclaimed that the Church of Sotira Lykodimou had already been disused in the 16th century together with the surrounding territory.
In 1821, when the Acropolis was besieged, the temple suffered heavily because of a cannon ball of the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. The major part of the dome, the whole wall in the west, and the vaults above the narthex were ruined. When the Greek war was finished, the Church was neglected and soon fell into ruins. Russian Tsar Nicholas I offered the Russian community in Athens to purchase the Church for their services in 1847. The government of Greece gave assent under the condition to restore the Church to its initial form.
The special committee that was gathered to inspect the shrine made a decision to demolish the building and replace it with a new one. But finally the Church was reconstructed and renovated as close to the original as it was possible. The works were held from 1850 to 1855 leaded by the Major of the Greek army T. Vlasopoulos.
The damaged parts of the temple were removed and changed. But almost all the sides were left from the original Byzantine structure. However, some interventions in the architecture of the structure took place. For example, at the initiative of the French scientist A. Couchot, all the internal main walls were removed to restore the Church to its “initial” form. Despite the fact that some of them were actually added in the 18th century, many of them were still integral parts of the ancient Church and served to divide its functional space.
Vlasopoulos also added “carefully arranged doorways, window bars, and marble crepice with a high chamfered edge”. It was supposed to “distract from the originality of the monument”. The marble in the Church was dismantled and was never re-established. This is now known due to a drawing by the Frenchman A. Lenoir, which was probably sketched in 1840.
The pride of the Church is the main bell, given to the worshippers by Alexander II. Images of the Saviour Christ, the Apostle John the Theologian, and Saint Stephen are also valuable. The bell tower, built in 1954 from white marble, yellow stone and red brick, also cannot be omitted. The weight of the largest bell is almost 4500 kg.
Nowadays, the Sotira Lykodimou Church is a typical Byzantine cross in a square with a dome that is resting on an octagonal base. As for the construction features, there is high-quality masonry with finished tiles that are separated by double rows of bricks.
The Church is decorated with frescoes with biblical subjects, which were made by the German artist Ludwig Thiersch during the restoration in the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of a bust of Christ and two angels on an arch on the southern wall of the Church, the former interior of the Church has been lost. Much of what is known about it was taken from sketches made by the French scientist Paul Durand.
According to his sketches, most of the setting were late examples of the Cretan school. But the paintings on the dome, which depict eight angels surrounding and supporting the large Christ Pantocrator, most likely are the original decorative ensemble of the 11th century. Neoclassical icons of the famous portrait artist Nikiforos Litra, made in the mid-1800s, add a slightly strange realistic touch to the building.
It is worth saying that the walls of the temple are impressive not only for this reason. Go outside and you will see that the special use of brick and stone creates the feeling of a carved facade. The Church is also decorated with Koufic decoration that vaguely resembles the ancient Arabic script.
The Church is small, and it is as easy to navigate here as in any Orthodox Church.
Take the metro to “Syntagma” station. The temple is located a stone’s throw from the Parliament building and the main city square. You can also get here by bus No. 040, 790, 165, 227 and 209, trolleybuses No.15, 1, 12, 2, 5 and 4, and the red or green line tram.