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Athen’s Overlooked Little Secret
March 7, 2015
Many visitors make a point of visiting Athen’s wonderful Greek Orthodox cathedral known as the Mitropoli. But few notice the much smaller Byzantine Church that sits adjacent to it (at the spot marked as #208 of our Discovery Walk in Athens).
This small church is called Agios Eleftherios but more often referred to simply as the Little Cathedral. Construction of the small church began in the 12th century over an old temple dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Eleithya, the goddess of childbirth. Much of the material that was used in construction of the church came from existing structures that had been built during the ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. Many of the friezes and murals date back to much earlier times, including a mural from the 4th century BC and, above the door, a carved relief that is a part of a 2nd century AD calendar marking ancient Athenian festivals.
Later, Christians dedicated the church to Saint Mary, their protector of childbirth, and Christian women of the time proyed here in hopes that St. Mary would help them experience a quick and painless childbirth.
Facing the much larger and well known cathedral from the square in front simply walk to the right side of the cathedral where you’ll find this small but historically significant cathedral.