October

Walter Sykes George (1881-1962), Detail of mosaic in the Church of Hagios Demetrios

Artist: Walter Sykes George 1881-1962

Title: Watercolour drawing: detail of mosaic in the Church of Hagios Demetrios

Date: c.1909

Medium: watercolour, ink and pencil on ‘squeeze’ paper and mount board

British School at Athens, Greece

EMu user since 2009

Walter Sykes George, detail of mosaic in the Church of Hagios DemetriosThis watercolour drawing shows detail of a mosaic in the north inner aisle of the Church of Hagios Demetrios in Thessalonike, Greece. The figure in the mosaic is a representation of a ‘donor’ with a standard inscription which states “As a prayer for one whose name God knows”.

The Byzantine church of Hagios Demetrios is a renowned pilgrimage destination and one of the most impressive and conspicuous monuments in Thessalonike. Built in the 5th Century AD the Church was dedicated to Demetrios by Eparch Leontios who attributed his miraculous healing to the Saint. It was extensively re-built [629-34] under the supervision of Bishop John of Thessalonike after fires gutted it. Said to stand upon the tomb of the Saint at the site of his martyrdom, the building has suffered severe damage over the years, most catastrophically during the great fire of 1917 which consumed much of the city. The wall-paintings were completely destroyed in the fire and only sections of the original mosaic decoration survived.

The Church is surrounded by and partly founded on Roman buildings (the baths, a baptistery and a chapel with burial crypt to the north, an open portico to the south). It is a five-aisled wooden-roofed basilica with galleries and a narthex and an extensive lower church. At the east end the sanctuary is surrounded by a high cross-shaped transept. The small basilica of Hagios Euthymios was added as a side-chapel to the south of the apse in 1303. The masonry is rubble reinforced by courses of brick and the arches were constructed completely  in brick. The Church is famous for its impressive marble decoration.

The donor inscription mosaic is one of several that Walter S. George, an architect with the Byzantine Research and Publication Fund, recorded in colour before its destruction. The Fund was created by a small group of British Architects, trained in the Arts and Crafts tradition, who came out to Greece in the late 19th to early 20th centuries to record the monuments that remained of the Byzantine world. In 1937, the British School at Athens was given the collection of these drawings and photographs, now known as the Byzantine Research Fund Archive, produced by the Fund architects.

Work to restore the Church of Hagios Demetrios began in the 1930s and finished in the early 1950s. Today it is a fully functional church, celebrating the Saint’s day on October 26th.

Acknowledgements:  British School at Athens
Photographer: Elias Eliadis