Legend has it that the scholar and Metropolitan of Athens Michael Acominatus Choniates (1180-1204) ordered the construction at the beginning of the 13th century over an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Eileithyia, who in ancient times was the protector of pregnant women, just like Agios Eleftherios in Christianity.
Initially called "Little Metropolis", it was dedicated to Panagia Gorgoepikoos and belonged to the episcopal seat of Athens. In the 17th century it was referred to as both "Gorgoepikoos" and "Catholicon".
The church is a semi-complex, cross-in-square church with a three-part narthex whose middle part is vaulted and taller than the other two. The dome follows the well-known type of the octagonal “Athenian”, with marble columns on the corners and lobed windows; however it is not built according to the cloisonné system of masonry, but also with rectangular marbles of the same height. On the east there is an arch, with three sides on the exterior.
The church was entirely constructed with the ruins of ancient temples and votive offerings, to which time has given an admirable brown gold patina. The walls of the church are made of large, ancient Greek, Roman, early Byzantine marble blocks and relief plaques, without bricks. A frieze above the entrance door represents the Zodiac, that is the months with their symbols and their corresponding feasts. The reliefs, ninety in total, are mostly used on the upper section of the walls, resulting in a unique decoration, sometimes representing imaginary beasts or animals, or signs of a legionary Roman soldier, or byzantine panels. One recognizes the coat of arms of the houses of the De la Roche and that of the Villehardoins. Among them one can identify plaques from the 9th and 10th centuries with oriental designs or others stemming from folk themes. There are also reliefs representing trophies of the Panathenaic Games and Roman triumphs as well as later Byzantine designs.
It is possible that the church was initially the catholicon of a small monastery, which in the middle of the 17th century it became the Metochi of the Monastery of Kaisariani. During the period of the Turkish occupation (1456-1833) it was part of the metropolitan mansion of Athens and was used as the chapel of the metropolitan. In 1834 it was used for the storage of antiquities and sometime later, in 1839, its initial columns, which were destroyed by a fire, were replaced with built pillars and the bell tower that was located on the western side was demolished. In 1841 it was converted into a public library and in the period 1862-1863 they carried out new alterations, during which unfortunately they removed the Middle Byzantine wall paintings from its interior.
The church celebrates on December 15th.
Medieval Athens Tour
Team-up with a knowledgeable tour guide on a private tour and explore the secrets of Medieval Athens. Discover the living proofs of the mighty Byzantine Empire, visit historic churches, stroll around the streets of the old city and explore one of the most interesting and turbulent time periods of Athens.