Architecture Around the World

The New Cathedral of Saint Andrew
Patra, Greece

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

Mosaic floor

Mosaic floor


Central dome

Virgin Mary and Jesus

Pantokrator in central dome


Patra, the modern capital of the Peloponnese and Achaia, is the third largest town in Greece and the major port on the west coast. Backed by a fertile hinterland of fruit orchards and vineyards (large wine-producing firms), it is also a commercial and industrial center (textiles, tyres) and a university town. In 1821 it was burnt by the Turks and rebuilt on a geometric plan.

According to tradition Patra was converted to Christianity in the reign of Nero by St. Andrew, the Apostle, who was crucified on an X-shaped cross, henceforward known as the St. Andrew's cross. His tomb soon attracted many pilgrims and quarrels arose over his relics; in the 4th c., some were removed to Constantinople while others were carried off by St. Regulus (or Rule), the Bishop of Patra, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Fife and founded St. Andrews in Scotland. The head however remained in Patra where in 805 a miraculous apparition of the Apostle put to flight the bands of Slavs who were attacking the city.

The religious role of Patra grew even greater with the Frankish occupation in 1205 when the city became the seat of a powerful barony first held by William Aleman from Provence; the Latin archbishop held jurisdiction over the whole of the Peloponnese and even became a baron in 1360. For their part the Dukes of Burgundy adopted St. Andrew as their patron in war; the cross of Burgundy is a St. Andrew's cross.

In 1408 Patra passed into the hands of the Venetians and Archbishop Pandolfo Malatesta presided over the completion of his cathedral in 1426. From 1429 to 1460 the city was ruled by the Despots of Mystra, the Palaiologi, and when Patra was captured by the Turks Thomas Palaiologos removed St. Andrew's head to Rome where it was kept in St. Peter's Basilica until 1964 when it was returned to Patra.

Having returned to the Orthodox fold, the see of Patra rose to fame in 1821 when Metropolitan Germanos gave the signal at the Monastery of Agia Lavra for the revolt against the Turks; the latter took their revenge by setting fire to Patra which was rebuilt a few years later under the government of Kapodistrias.

St. Andrew's New Church

This neo-Byzantine style church was completed in 1979 to receive the great pilgrimage which occurs on St. Andrew's Day (30 November).

The great icons of St. Andrew and of the Virgin, the "Source of Life", are to be found at the end of the nave; there is also an impressive carved wooden chandelier. St. Andrew's relics are displayed at the end of the side aisle: chased gold casket containing the saint's head, which was venerated in St. Peter's Rome from 1462 until 1964 when it was returned to Patra by Pope Paul Vl: reliquary of St.

See also: Byzantine Architecture

Photos and their arrangement © 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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