Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani
In Parikia, the capital of Paros, close to the port, there is the imposing church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (also known as the Church of 100 doors). It is one of the most important and best preserved Christian churches of Greece.
According to the tradition of Paros, it was built in the middle of the 4th century by St. Helen or by Constantine the Great, who fulfilled his mother’s vow. At the same location there was a chapel, before the 4th century.
Saint Helen had stopped to worship at this chapel, on her way to the Holy Land to find the True Cross. According to the legend, Saint Helen made a vow to the icon of the Virgin Mary that she would build a bigger and more glorious church to her Grace in Paros, if she found the True Cross. Saint Helen fulfilled her vow, however the church was destroyed probably by a fire and it was rebuilt during the reign of Justinian, in the middle of the 6th century.
The name Ekatontapiliani or Katapoliani derives from the term "katapola" and it means "towards the city", probably because it "points to" the area where the ancient city of Paros was located. The official name of the church today is Ekatontapiliani, which is also associated to a legend: "Katapoliani has ninety nine visible doors. The 100th door is closed and can not be seen. It will appear and it will open when Constantinople becomes Greek again".
There is another legend, which is tragic and which is associated with the big Monumental Gate that was installed at the northern wing of the building complex of Ekatontapiliani, a few meters from the chapel of Saint Theodosia, by Professor Orlandos, during the restoration of Ekatontapiliani.
The two human forms that are sculpted on the cubical bases that support the marble decoration excite the popular imagination. According to the popular legend, during the reign of Justinian, Ekatontapiliani was build by the former assistant of the chief craftsman of Agia Sofia, Ignace.
When the pupil finished the temple, he invited the master to admire his work. The chief craftsman felt envy and was afraid that his pupil would overshadow his reputation. Pretending that he wanted to show him an architectural fault, he took his pupil on the roof of the church. From there, the chief craftsman pushed his pupil with intent to kill him. The pupil however held on to the teacher and finally they both fell and were killed in front of the church. The two sculpted forms on the base of these gates depict the chief craftsman and the pupil who were killed there.
However, in reality, these two forms are the forms of two satyrs that were taken by an ancient temple of Dionysus. Therefore, the two forms have no association with Ekatontapiliani since they are much older.
More recent researches though, proved that both names (Ekatontapiliani and Katapoliani) are contemporary and that they were both used at the same time from the middle of the 16th century. The name Katapoliani was mentioned for the first time in a memorandum on Naxos and Paros of the Duke of the Archipelago John IV, in 1562, while the second one, "Ekatontapiliani", was mentioned in a document of the Patriarch Theoleptus II, in 1586.
Today, the official name of the church is Ekatontapiliani. The church of Ekatontapiliani has not kept its Justianian form. During the Frankish and the Turkish domination it suffered many destructions and pillages. Ekatontapiliani also suffered great destructions during the invasion of Hayreddin Barbarossa, in Paros, in 1537, and later during the invasion of Mustafa Kaplan Pasha, in 1666.
However, the church suffered the biggest destruction during the earthquakes of 1733, during which the northern and the western cupolas and part of the dome collapsed. During its reconstruction, in which the Parian prince of the Danubian Pricipalities of Moldova and Wallachia, Nicolaos Mavrogenis had an important financial participation, many additions were constructed inside and outside the church for its support, which deformed the imposing form of the building, reduced its lucidity and gave its façade a peculiar form, with a monumental gate and three Aegean belfries.
In 1959, however, the unforgettable professor and scholar Anastassios Orlandos started the restoration of the church to bring it back to its Justinian form. The restoration finished in 1966.
In the church and its chapels there are many icons, most of which date back to the 17th or the 18th century. The most important icons are: "The Virgin Mary of Ekatontapiliani", "The Pantokrator" (The Omnipotent One), "The Assumption of the Virgin Mary", "The praying Madonna", "The pure one".
Besides the main church of Ekatontapiliani in Paros, there are also chapels such as the chapel of St. Nicolaos, which is situated to the north of the Bema of the big church. It is the most ancient chapel not only in the building complex of Ekatontapiliani but in Paros in general, since its old part was constructed in the 4th century.
Many archaeologists believe that this small chapel was the one where Saint Helen went to pray, when on her way to Palestine to find the True Cross, she stopped in Paros.
To the south of the big church’s Bema there is the chapel of Agii Anargiri (Holy Unmercenaries). To the south of the chapel of Agii Anargiri and right next to it, there is the chapel of Saint Philip.
At the northern wall of the church there is the small chapel of Saint Theoktisti. In this chapel, there is the tomb of the Saint. Outside the big church and adjacent to its northern wall there is the chapel of St. Theodossia and outside the church and more specifically at the eastern edge of the southern gallery of cells, there is the chapel of Saint Demetrius.
In the Bema of Ekatontapiliani, there are two of the most important monuments of the church, which are very important since they are not often found in paleo-Christian churches. These are: the Ciborium (a marble structure over the altar) and the Synthronon (small amphitheater, situated at the back of the nook of the Bema).
There are also two marble thrones, which are shorter and simpler, which are intended for the archpriest’s assistants. At the southern side of the big church, there is the ancient Baptistery dating back to the 4th century, the most ancient and the best preserved baptistery of the orthodox East. Here, they used to baptize older Christians up to the reign of the emperor Justinian, during which they started to baptize infants.
There is also the Byzantine Museum of Paros, which is open for the visitors and houses some of the relics of Ekatontapiliani and which has of course its own short history.
It must be noted that upon suggestion of His Grace the Metropolitan of Paros and Naxos Ambrossios Stamena, the Church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani has been declared a pan-Hellenic shrine by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, which voted the Foundation Regulation of (60/1992), which has been published in the Greek Official Gazette no. 116/7-7-92, and ever since, Ekatontapiliani is an Ecclesiastical Legal Person Governed by Private Low, due to its historical and archaeological importance and of the "magnific actions of the Mother of our Lord", as it is mentioned characteristically in the ground of the decision of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.
The purpose of the Shrine is the "promotion of the liturgical, theological, philanthropic and missionary work of the Church, the promotion of this historical and great church of Paros all around Greece" and "to pay honor and respect to the miraculous icon of the Mother of our Lord, which is kept here".