The Temple of Saint Martyr Dimitrios is the most revered place in Thessaloniki. Being built more than one thousand and a half years ago, it still remains to be the main city cathedral and it is included into the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The city of thousands of churches — Thessaloniki — became the first large center of Christianity spreading. It is the place where in 49 a.d. the Apostle Paul arrived to tell the people of Greece about Jesus Christ.
And right here in the III century Dimitris of Solun had been preaching Christianity and abolishing heathenry. Later he became one of the most revered saints in the Orthodox world. Having accepted in the native city the martyr's death for his belief and preaching Christianity, Saint Dimitrios of Solun became the Patron Saint of Thessaloniki and even after his death, he still guards the city and its citizens from any harm.
On October 26, the day of death of the great Martyr Dimitrios, the city day of Thessaloniki is celebrated. It is remarkable that it is the date of one more important holiday — the day of Liberation of Thessaloniki from Ottoman rule during the First Balkan War.
In the 4th century on the ruins of Roman baths, where Saint Dimitrios took his martyrdom in the dungeon, a small church was built. Believers from many various places walked and drove here to get recovery with the help of holy myrrh and to pray on the grave of great Martyr Dimitrios. And after one more century the Illyrian prefect Leontius who got a miraculous healing from the heavy disease in the church, raised in gratitude a three-nave basilica. In the VII century, the most part of the building was destroyed by fire, but it was promptly reconstructed this time in the form of five-aisled basilica. Afterwards the temple suffered numerous plunders in the period of Thessaloniki capture by Saracens and Normans, and in the end of XV century Turks who conquered Thessaloniki, turned the temple into a mosque.
After the Thessaloniki liberation from the turkish oppression in 1912, the temple of Saint Dimitrios became a Christian place of worship again. But on 1917 a new trouble overtook the city — a tragic fire destroyed the major part of it, turning into ruins the basilica of Saint Dimitrios of Solun, too. The restoration works in the temple were interrupted in 1938 and continued in 1946. Three more years later the temple was opened for visiting again.
Survived through many centuries, despite the attacks and conflagrations, the temple of Saint Dimitrios impresses with its unique architecture and rich sculptural decoration. A number of unique mosaics and marble lining that dates back to V-IX centuries survived to these days as well as the columns which were built of Egyptian porphyry, precious marble and Thracian stone.
During the restoration works under the sanctuary of the temple the crypt was discovered — an eastern part of Roman bath, where saint martyr Dimitrios was put in the dungeon, lanced with spears and then secretly buried. The newfound relics were abundantly weeping myrrh, for this fact Saint Dimitrios of Solun was called Myrrh-Exuding. Afterwards the relics appeared to be brought out to Italy and just at the end of the XX century they were returned to the Greek Orthodox Church. Nowadays, the shrine with the relics of Saint Dimitrios is the most important holy thing in the temple, and believers from all over the world arrive to worship it.
Before the tragic conflagration of 1917 in the yard on the western side of the temple there were gates and some parts of ancient stadium which existed right near it long time ago. Nowadays you can see a big marble bowl for the blessing of water. Opposite the entrance there is a crypt where Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Panteleimon II is buried — due to his efforts the relics of Saint Dimitrios were returned to Greece.
Five-naved basilica has a form of quadrangle with the central, two northern and two southern entrances with parallel marble colonnades. In the left nave there is a ciborium where the shrine with Saint Dimitrios relics is. The sanctuary of the temple is located in the central nave, and to the right of it there is a chapel of Saint Euthymius, which was attached to the basilica. To the right of the sanctuary there is a staircase leading to the crypt below.
The temple of Saint Dimitrios of Solun is located in the historical centre of Thessaloniki. In order to visit the place that is the most revered for the citizens, you should go up from the Aristotle Square, bypass Aristotle park and Roman forum until you reach the Saint Dimitrios Street. All the way will take 10-15 minutes to go on foot.
In all the Orthodox churches there are general rules of conduct which are recommended to keep to for all visitors. The main recommendation for clothes is not to have non-Christian symbols on it, in order not to offend the holy place and the feelings of believers. Women are advised to wear skirts although trousers are not forbidden to wear while visiting the temple. Try to dress so that shoulders, stomach and knees were not naked. It is not accepted for women to cover head in the Greek churches.
If you are going to visit the service, try to come in advance in order to light candles and to come to the icons before the service starts. If the service has however begun you should wait until it finishes. You can also leave the notes for the health, having written two capital letters “Y” on the top of the note, and for the repose, having put a cross on the top before the names. The names should be written in Latin.
During the service and especially during the Communion, you try not to walk in the temple or talk. Inside the church, as a rule, it is customary for men to stand on the right facing the altar and for women to stand on the left.
Pay attention that in the temple of Saint Dimitrios there are some rows of seats. According to the Greek church customs it is not necessary to stand during the service, you can keep sitting and stand up just at the certain moments.