Situated on the hill of the Nymphs, close to the National Observatory, at Thesseion, Agia Marina was built on the ruins of an ancient temple, dug into the rock, where an underground water depository was also found. Very close to where the church is now, the earliest known sanctuary of Zeus in Attica was found.
The older church of Agia Marina, now operating as a baptistery.
This small older church, which now operates as a baptistery, lies annexed in the southern side of the newer larger Christian church. Fragments of wall paintings are preserved in it. Many of them have been removed and are displayed in a dedicated area inside the church, along with relics and icons from the period between the 13th and 18th century. These wall paintings are basically post-Byzantine ones, although some of them are dated to the 13th century. The old altar still exists in the eastern side of the old church, which is separated from the more recent one with a grating.
The initial church dates from the beginning of the 13th century and was probably erected at a location where there was an ancient water cistern. It was carved on the rock and had a dome that was added later. At its interior the rock was covered by wall paintings that were discovered in six successive layers and date from the 13th, the 17th and the 18th century. The older ones, of the 13th century, have been preserved on the northern wall and until the middle of the sanctuary’s arch, where the Virgin holding baby Christ is depicted, on a throne, surrounded by angels and hierarchs. The angel on the right is preserved in a good condition, and the same is true with Agios Basileios the Great on the southern side, which stands out for this expressiveness and the excellent decoration of his clothes.
The church of Agia Marina, at Thession, Athens.
Very worn-out wall-paintings are preserved from the beginning of the 17th century, among them one depiction of St. Mark the Evangelist, work by the Athenian artist Dimitriou. The later church was constructed in the period 1924-1927 according to the plans of the architect Achilleas Georgiadis and is an inscribed cross in-square church with a large central dome and four smaller ones on the corners. Wall paintings decorate its interior, the work of well-known artists, which are a rare example of European influence in Greece, while there is also an impressive screen, designed by the architect Georgios Nomikos.
The historical existence of Agia (Saint) Marina, the Great Martyr, has been questioned. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions; these no doubt helped the spread of her cult.
She was a native of Antioch and the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Since her mother died soon after her birth, she was nursed by a Christian woman close to Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, Marina was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse, and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother. Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her, but with the demand that she renounce Christianity. Upon her refusal, she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. She was put to death in AD 304. As St. Marina, she is associated with the sea, which "may in turn point to an older goddess tradition," reflecting Aphrodite. She has been identified with St. Pelagia, "Marina" being the Latin equivalent of the Greek "Pelagia" who had been known as "Margarita" ("Pearl").