Thessaloniki, Church of the Acheiopoietas

Also known as Originally dedicated to the Mother of God
Era 5AD - 6AD
Location Odos Agias Sofias 56, Οδός Αγίας Σοφίας 56, Thessaloniki 546 23, Greece

The Acheiropoietas (originally dedicated to the Mother of God) is a big basilica church - 51.9 metres by 30.8 metres. It has mosaics remaining in the thirteen arches of the colonnades on both north and south sides and the transverse arches of the narthex. This sort of decoration was not unique; in accentuating certain space axes, it followed an ornamentation practice common in Roman imperial traditions. There is enough other evidence to suggest that the church had a full programme of mosaics: traces survive from the arches of the gallery, the west wall of a south outbuilding and the north face of the west pier of the south gallery; the baptistery, too, was almost certainly mosaicked. The surviving mosaics in the arches are non-figural, decorative and symmetrical, reminiscent of both floor mosaics and the birds and fruits of Roman wall painting. They use crosses and Christograms, books, birds and fish, flowers and fruit, curling vines and acanthuses. Christian themes can be deduced: Christ the True Vine; the books of the Gospels; peacock feathers for eternal life; perhaps an overall paradisiacal theme. It was a carefully constructed programme: the arches are arranged in pairs and threes reminiscent of the Rotunda in Thessaloniki (or vice versa of course, depending on the dates of the two sets of mosaic). The mosaics themselves employ a lot of gold and some silver, together with a range of other colours, especially blue, red and green.

Who the patron was is not known. Two inscriptions ask for ‘the prayer of him who God knows’ and for ‘the prayer of the humble Andreas’. His identity cannot be established: two fifth-century priestly Andreases have been proposed, a mid-fifth-century priest who represented the bishop at the church Council of Chalcedon, or the late fifth-century bishop of the city. Either would imply that the church was an episcopal foundation, though actually its function in the city is not known. And Andreas may not have been the patron anyway.

The mosaics have been dated by scholars to any time between the mid-fifth century to the later sixth century.


I decided it was too nerdy to put up pictures of all the arches (actually, I decided it was too nerdy to take pictures of all the arches, but I now regret this moment of weakness).

select image to view full-screen