The Parthenon stands as a shining example of Greek architectural achievement and design. The Parthenon was originally built in 447 BC in the city of Athens as a temple for the mythological Athena and included some of the finest displays of Greek art and culture. Over millennia, it has been used for many purposes, such as a temple, a gunpowder magazine, and as a mosque. However, most people don’t know that for nearly a thousand years the Parthenon stood as a Catholic Church, the Church of Parthenos Maria.
The Parthenon stood as a temple to Athena for nearly a thousand years, until Theodosius II of the Byzantine empire in the year 435 AD all pagan temples be closed. A short time later, the statue of Athena was stolen by an emperor and taken to Constantinople. For over a hundred years, the Parthenon remained closed until the last years of the sixth century, when it was converted to a Catholic church.
The newly created church was named the Church of the Parthenos Maria (Virgin Mary), or the Church of the Theotokos (Mother of God). The building was reoriented to be used properly as a church. It’s face was oriented to face east, while the main entrance was move to the western side. An altar was constructed along with an iconostasis in the apse where a Greek temple used to be. The building was also redecorated, with Christian icons being painted or engraved into the marble of the columns, while pagan sculptures from the time it was a temple to Athena were removed and either destroyed or relocated. During the Latin occupation it became a Roman Catholic church for over 250 years, and a bell tower and tombs beneath the structure were constructed.
Throughout the thousand years it stood as a Catholic church, the converted Parthenon was one of the most visited pilgrimage sites for Christians. It contained many relics, including bones from Saint Macarius the Great, Saint Helen’s personal copies of the Bible, and a painting of the Virgin Mary by Saint Luke the Evangelist. It is also reported that there was a miraculous lamp that never ran out of oil to burn. Peter IV of Aragon is recorded as saying that the Parthenon was “the most precious jewel that exists in the world, and such that all the kings in Christendom could in vain imitate.”
Today, the Parthenon is in the process of restoration due to its destruction by the Ottomans in 1687 while warring with the Florentine army. While restoration has been ongoing since 1975, it is still far from complete with some estimates saying five years to a decade to complete the restoration.