The church of Agia Ekaterini is located at the intersection of Herefontos and Lysikratous streets at a busy and beautiful spot of the most picturesque district of Athens, Plaka, which attracts a lot of tourists. The church is situated in the old Alikokkou district in the historic neighborhood of Plaka between Hadrian's Arch and the Lysikrates Monument, on Agia Ekaterini Square. A few days ago I stopped by and congratulated the priest of the church, a middle-aged fit and trendy man, wearing his sunglasses as he swept the beautiful garden of his church from fallen autumn leaves., as I see him often do, indifferent to the possible comments from people passing by.
The church has been constructed on top of an ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess Artemis. The central part of the church dates back to the middle of the 11th c. during the Byzantine period. It is the oldest example of the cross plan, four-columned church with the central dome that can be found in Athens.
The church was constructed at the place where Irene, wife of the emperor Theodosius II, founded the Church of St. Theodore in the 5th c. and up until 1767 the church was dedicated to him, as indicated by the votive inscription preserved in a fragment of a big, cylindrical column supporting the altar. In 1767 it became property of the Metohi of the Monastery of Agia Ekaterini in Sinai, so that all priests who came from Sinai to Athens could stay here, and so it took its name from the Saint. It is believed that priests from Sinai were the ones who planted the palm trees around the church creating a unique oasis for the visitors. In this church there are holy remnants of St. Polydoros of Cyprus, St. Athanassios of Persia, and St. Tryphon. These relics were brought here by the priest Cyrilos Psylas who was exiled from Ephesos in 1922. In the end of the 19th c. the frescoes of the church were created by G. D. Kaphis or Kaphetzidakis. The narthex was added at the middle of the 20th c. The initial Byzantine church was a four-columned, cross-in-square church. On its eastern part there is a tripartite altar with semicircular arches while on the western part at the entrance is the tripartite narthex. During the Greek Revolution there were some damages to the monument. After 1839 in order to satisfy the needs of the congregation they carried out alterations and additions on the northern, southern and western sides, while later they made some changes to the dome.
Among the icons the most remarkable are the ones of Ioannis Prodromos, Agia Ekaterini of the right marble shrine, the enthroned Virgin Mary on the left marble shrine, and Agios Spyridon. Finally, within the church courtyard, the visitors can discern several architectural members of ancient buildings, including the ruins of a Roman stoa with both erect and fallen columns.that still survive.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, aka St. Catherine of the Wheel and The Great Martyr St. Catherine is, according to tradition, a Christian saint, a virgin who was martyred in the early 4th c. at the hands of emperor Maxentius.
According to her hagiography, she was a princess and a noted scholar, who became a Christian at around the age of fourteen, and then converted hundreds of people to Christianity. She was martyred around the age of 18. The Orthodox Church venerates her as a Great Martyr. According to the traditional narrative, Catherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt. From a young age she devoted herself to study. When the persecutions began, she went to the emperor and rebuked him for his cruelty. The emperor summoned fifty of the best philosophers and orators to dispute with her, hoping that they would refute her pro-Christian arguments, but Catherine won the debate. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death. Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned, during which time over 200 people came to see her, including Maxentius' wife, Valeria Maximilla; all converted to Christianity and were subsequently martyred. The emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, the wheel shattered. Maxentius finally had her beheaded. Tradition has it that angels carried her corpse to Mt. Sinai. Her body was discovered around the year 800 at Mt. Sinai. In the 6th c., Emperor Justinian established what is now St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt (dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ).