The Church of the Holy Apostles

Though several churches were removed in the clearing of the site for excavation, it was decided to save and restore the little Byzantine church dedicated to the Holy Apostles.

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View of the restored Church of the Holy Apostles from the southwest, April 2006

The church, with an unusual tetraconch interior plan and decorative tilework on the exterior, is among the oldest in Athens, probably to be dated just before A.D. 1000. It was surely the focal point of an extensive neighborhood in the Byzantine period, the remains of which were recorded and removed in the course of the excavations. The eastern half of the church was relatively untouched, but several additions, the latest dating to the late 19th century, had damaged and obscured the western end. After excavation, these later additions were removed and the church restored to its original form. The work was funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and supervised by Alison Frantz. With the Stoa of Attalos, this reconstruction was completed and dedicated in 1956. The festival of the Twelve Apostles is still celebrated at the church every June 30th.

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Restored plan of the original layout of the church, showing its unusual tetraconch design. Drawing by W.B.D. Jr.

“On February 12, 1954, the Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Education approved the request for permission to demolish the modern addition to the Church of the Holy Apostles, with a view to restoring the church in its original form. On February 22 two workmen began stripping the plaster from the walls to determine the extent of the original walls. Good Byzantine masonry, similar to that of the eastern part of the church was exposed on the lower part of the north wall as far as the door and bell tower. The original length of this wall is so far unclear. The south wall seems to have suffered at least one major destruction, and from a point ca. 2 m. west of the southern apse little original masonry remains above the lower course. There is so far no trace of early work west of the door on either side” (Nb. HA I, p. 2).

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View of the Church of the Holy Apostles from the southwest, August 1954, after demolition of the later additions had been completed
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Interior of the church before the start of the restoration project, March 2, 1954. Before the restoration began the floor was removed and excavations were carried out to determine the church’s history.

The structural elements of the church—the walls, columns, and vaulting—had been restored by late summer of 1955. Still much work had to be done before the dedication ceremony, planned to coincide with that of the Stoa of Attalos on September 3, 1956. The roof of the narthex was built, the interior walls plastered, the marble floor paving laid, the original marble elements of the windows were either restored or modern copies of designs contemporary to the building were set, the surviving frescoes were conserved and installation of frescoes removed from the Church of Aghios (Saint) Spyridon and Aghios Giorgios were installed in the new narthex.

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Building the centering for the vaults of the central saucer dome and completing the ribbing, February 21, 1955
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Theophanes Nomikos carving the marble lunette for the central doorway, March 8, 1956. The interior walls have been plastered; the southern window of the narthex restored; frescoes have been installed.
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View from the narthex into the interior, December 1955. Frescoes from the Church of Aghios Spyridon were reset in the walls of the restored narthex. The fresco of Saint Spyridon was set on the left side of the central door leading into the interior and the fresco of Saint Anthony was set on the right side.
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Watercolors of Saint Spyridon and Saint Anthony by Piet de Jong made before the frescos were removed from the chapel of Aghios Spyridon, in the 1930s. Piet de Jong, an extraordinary archaeological illustrator, joined the staff of the Agora Excavations in 1932. The two watercolors represent just a tiny fraction of the work he left behind. They also illustrate the remarkable talent he had of coaxing details and colors from the object he was illustrating that the casual observer would most likely ignore.
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View of the northwest corner of the church after restoration, September 1956
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).