Byzantine Churches in Thessaloniki


Although Thessaloniki is predominantly a modern city, rebuilt in the 20th Century following the 1917 fire, as we walked around the streets we kept stumbling on old, stone churches, mainly from the Byzantine era.


Churches in Britain, and most of the European countries I’ve previously visited tend to be Mainly Gothic (including Gothic revival) and Romanesque, with some Neo-Classical and Modern buildings. So seeing these Byzantine buildings was a new experience. Their architecture is quite different – no Gothic style tall pointed arches, slender columns and flying buttresses in these churches.

The main architectural feature of Byzantine churches is usually a great central dome. The buildings tend to be constructed from brick, not stone and relatively plain on the outside. But the inside is very different with the walls and ceilings covered with mosaics and gold leaf.

One of the distinguishing features of the Greek Orthodox Church is the prominence of Icons. All the churches we saw had several in prominent positions inside the church and also outside in small outside chapels. Greek visitors to the churches would kiss the icons – something rather surprising to someone who was brought up a Protestant. Worshipping graven images being something of an anathema!




Two of the oldest churches in the city are the Hagios Demetrios (7th century) and Hagia Sophia (8th century. We managed to take a look inside both of these. They were both very sumptuously decorated with icons, frecoes, musrals, paintings and lots of gold leaf.

The Hagia Sophia was the ‘Great Church’ of Thessaloniki – that is, the city’s cathedral – until its conversion into a mosque in 1523/24. It was significantly damaged during the 1917 fire but has been gradually restored. The restoration of the dome only being finally completed in 1980.







We also visited the Hagios Demetrios which is dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. There’s been a church on the site since the early 4th century AD with the current structure built between 629 and 634. It was severely damaged during the 1917 fire, but has been restored, although this took many years to complete





Cartmel Priory


It was a rather grim day as we left Portiscale at the end of our holiday, but rather than drive straight home we decided to extent our break stopping off at Blackwell to take a look at the latest exhibition showing there and then driving down to Cartmel. I’d been there during a recent walk, but wanted to have a proper look around.

Cartmel is a small, attractive village on the Furness peninsula which is something of a “honeypot” with a number of touristy shops (although good quality ones) a Michelin 2 star restaurant, three pubs and is also renowned for sticky toffee pudding. Despite the weather, it was very busy with visitors.

We parked up at the Racecourse and made our way towards the centre of the village. We wanted to take a look around the old Priory church which dominates the village which was originally part of a monastery. Like many old churches it evolved over many years and although mainly Gothic in style there are some Norman / Romanesque features.

The tower is particularly interesting – the top half having been constructed diagonally across the original tower.  There’s not another one like this in the UK.


(I took this photo during my previous visit when it was hot and sunny and the light was much better for photography)

The priory was founded in 1190 with extensive work curing the next couple of centuries. The oldest parts of the building are the chancel, transepts, the south doorway, and part of the north wall of the nave.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 the church survived as it was used as the village Parish church. Little else of the monastery remains other than the gatehouse in the village square which is now owned by the National Trust.

We entered via the south door which is inside a much later porch


The semi-circular arch with its decorations is very typical of Norman/Romanesque architecture.

Looking down the Choir from the nave. Classic Gothic pointed arches


in the north aisle


and supporting that eccentric tower


but round Norman style arches with dog-tooth decoration in the Choir


The choir stalls look like they could be Elizabethan or Jacobean


The old font, dating from 1640


A monument to the “Cartmel martyrs” who resisted the destruction of the church during the Dissolution of the monasteries.


Monuments by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos, an English sculptor with a Brazilian father and British mother, who lived in Cumbria much of her working life.



The Cavendish memorial. The tomb of Lord Frederick Cavendish, son of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, who was Chief Secretary to Ireland in Gladstone’s government, and who was assassinated by Fenians in Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1882.


The Cavendishes, a branch of the Duke of Devonshire’s family, are the local big wigs. Nearby Holker Hall is their ancestral home and they own property around Cartmel including the racecourse.


Browsing on the web after the visit, I came across this interesting clip on the BBC website where Nicholas Pevsner visits the Priory and discusses its architecture.


Wythburn Church


My recent walk up Helvellyn started and finished in the car park next to Wythburn church.


It’s a small, but attractive building with white rendered walls and a green Lakeland slate roof.  Originally constructed in 1554 on the site of an earlier chapel, it was rebuilt  in 1640, and again in 1740 with some additions in the 19th Century. It’s a Grade II listed building

The church used to serve a small, isolated, rural community but the local population was severely reduced once Thirlmere was turned into a reservoir to provide water for Manchester at the very end of the 19th Century. Despite this it is still in use with services held during the summer months.


After I had finished my walk I went to have a look around the outside of the church and noticed that it was open. So I had to go inside to have a peek inside.


It was surprisingly light inside and clearly well looked after.

The church was well known to the Lakes poets. Hartley Coleridge (the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge) called the church a ‘humble house of prayer’, while William Wordsworth saw it as a ‘modest house of prayer.’

St Laurence’s church, Church Stretton


On the Tuesday of our holiday the weather forecast was for rain during late morning. As we’d already done a couple of decent walks on the previous two days we decided to take it a little easy and have a mooch around Church Stretton.

There are a lot of old buildings in the town, and St Laurence’s church, a Grade I Listed Building, is the oldest with a nave built in the 12th century. The chancel and the upper stage of the tower were built in the 15th century while the south vestry and west aisles were added during the 19th century. This is the church that put the “Church” in Church Stretton!


The oldest part of the church, the nave is Romanesque (Norman). This unused door in the north wall is very typical of the style with its simple rounded arch.


Above the door, to the left, is a sheila-na-gig.


This website provides a good explanation of these pre-Christian symbols found on churches, castles, and other buildings, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain

Sheela Na Gigs are quasi-erotic stone carvings of a female figure usually found on Norman or to be more precise Romanesque churches. They consist of an old woman squatting and pulling apart her vulva, a fairly strange thing to find on a church. The carvings are old and often do not seem to be part of the church but have been taken from a previous older, usually Romanesque, building.

The rest of the church is Gothic –  Early English, although the top stage of the tower, which is Perpendicular.

A Gothic door with a pointed arch in the South wall


We had a look inside


The timber roofs in the nave


and the south transept


go back to the 13th Century and are in remarkably good condition.

I liked this metal sculpture in the roof in the tower crossing – dating from about 1970 it depicts St Laurence and his attribute, a gridiron.


There was some attractive stained glass




All Saints Church, Little Stretton

As we turned on to the main road at Little Stretton this is the first thing we saw


Well, I’ve never seen a church with a thatched roof before, so we stopped to take a closer look


The lady who was tidying up the garden provided some history for us. The church isn’t as old as it appears and its appearance is deceptive. It was only erected in 1903 and was a pre-fab, “the 1903 equivalent of a flat pack furniture” as the lady put it. It’s constructed of timber and was painted black and white to blend in with the adjacent old timber framed manor house. It originally had a  corrugated iron roof, but because it was noisy when it rained and the congregation couldn’t hear the pastor, it was replaced with the thatch.

We took a look inside


An interesting building! Kind of Arts and Crafts style.

Another day, another Minster


Starting to feel like a prisoner in my hotel room, I drove over to Howden, a small town a five mile drive from my hotel. It’s not more than a village, really, but it’s dominated by a large Gothic church – Howden Minster.

The Yourhowden website tells us

The Minster was owned by monks from Peterborough Abbey in Saxon times, but in 1080 it was gifted to William of Calais, the Bishop of Durham. The Norman church was rebuilt in the early English style in the 13th century and rebuilding work was completed in the ‘decorated’ style around 1340. A small octagonal Chapter House was built after 1388, the last of its kind to be built in England.

and that

The church survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries as it was not a monastery, but fell victim to the Dissolution of Collegiate Churches and Chantries in 1548.

It was one of the first Decorated Gothic churches in the north of England


Over the years the church was neglected and started to fall into ruin lack of funds for maintenance. Today, only the nave survives intact, with the quire and chapter house in ruins, but preserved under the guardianship of English Heritage. The remaining, intact, parts of the building are still in use as a parish church.

I had a look around the outside of the building.  This is the octagonal Chapter House.


A view of the tower from the graveyard to the south of the building.


The south entrance. It’s clearly undergone some restoration.


A view of the tower from the north west


The view from the south. It’s considerably plainer than the Minster at Beverley


Although it was early evening the entrance wasn’t locked, so I decided to have a look inside.

Looking down the nave with it’s high ceiling supported by characteristic pointed arches.



The altar.


The ornate Quire screen.


A modern series of abstract sculpture by John Maine R.A. was installed outside the minster 2002 –2008, inspired by the four elements.

The churchyard itself represents “Earth”.

This star like pattern made of granite and inlaid into the pavement in front of the west entrance is “Water”. The granite is from the Himalayas.


Air” is represented by series of truncated columns of various heights, with patterns inspired by the carved columns in Durham Cathedral,




This is “Fire”, which stands in the north east corner of the churchyard, in front of the ruined Quire.


St Mary’s Church, Lindisfarne


St Mary’s church sits directly opposite the Priory Church on Lindisfarne (Holy Island). It’s the oldest, complete building on the island. Parts of the structure are thought to date back to the 7th century, several hundred years before the appearance of the Priory. However, it’s main structure is from the the 12th century, when it was built by the Benedictine monks from the Priory to serve the local population, with additions in the 13th Century and later.

It’s built from cream, pink and grey sandstone and architecturally it’s largely a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic.


Inside we can see Romanesque arches and piers along the north aisle. with an Early English Gothic arch at the east end of the nave leading to the Chancel. This wall is the oldest part of the church, dating back to Saxon times. The small door at the top of the wall is from this period.


The south aisle has pointed Gothic arches


This striking statue – The Journey – is by Fenwick Lawson, who also created the statue of St Cuthbert in the Priory ruins. It was carved from elm using a chainsaw and depicts the monks of Lindisfarne carrying St.Cuthbert’s body on the first stage of its journey around Northumberland when the monks deserted the island following the Viking raids. There’s a bronze casting of this work in the cathedral at Durham.


This is St Peter’s chapel in the north aisle, dedicated to local fishermen


There was some attractive stained glass, particularly these two lancet windows at the west end of the church, of St Cuthbert


and St Aiden


They were designed by Leonard Evetts

St Peter’s Monkwearmouth


This interesting old church is a short walk from the National Glass Centre in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland.

It was built in 674AD as the Abbey church for the Wearmouth site of the Monkwearmouth–Jarrow twin-foundation English monastery. Other than the church, nothing remains of the monastery, although the location of other buildings is marked out in the grounds.

The church has been restored many times over the years, but some parts of the church date from Saxon and Norman times.

Unfortunately we arrived just after opening hours so weren’t able to have a look inside the church. That will have to wait until another visit to the North East


Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder


The  Oudezijds Voorburgwal is a canal in the Old Town of Amsterdam – the area known as the Red Light District. Despite the presence of the “coffee shops” and some seedy premises, it’s lined with historic buildings. One of them, a typical merchant’s canal house built in 1630 contains a surprise.  There’s a church up in the loft.


Amsterdam is a Protestant city and in the 17th Century Catholic worship was forbidden. Catholics had to  celebrate their rituals in secret, behind  closed doors. In some cases they arranged for the creation of hidden places of worship and this was one of them. It was constructed in the loft of the house owned by a merchant, Jan Hartman, who had moved to Amsterdam from Germany to make his fortune. In fact, it extends over the adjacent two houses. It served as a Parish Church from 1663 until 1887, when the nearby St. Nicolaaskerk was built.

Today the house is the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Museum Our Lord in the Attic), and it’s the oldest musuem in Amsterdam after the Rijksmuseum (It opened to the public in 1888).

The bottom part of the house has been preserved as a typical 17th Century Amsterdam merchant’s house. On the first floor there’s a grand hall, a reception room fitted out to display the owner’s wealth and status to visitors.



The room at the front of the house recreated typical living quarters, with table


chair and stove


and box bed in the alcove


Ascending the stairs up to the next floor and we were in a church large enough for 150 worshippers


with an organ


Lady chapel


and confession box


There were good views over the old town from the top floor



The building is being renovated and a new entrance being constructed via a tunnel from the building across the alley. We were able to watch English craftsmen installing new rush matting


Returning to the ground floor, we were able to see the Priest’s living quarters


and the kitchen


It isn’t credible that a church with a congregation of 150 right in the centre of the old town (they couldn’t all sneak in without anyone noticing) fitted out with an organ (not exactly a quiet instrument!) was really secret. In practice, the Protestant authorities tended to be tolerant of private Catholic worship as long as it was kept hidden from public view. And that was certainly the case with “Our Lord in the Attic”.

An interesting visit that gave us a glimpse of how people lived in the 17th Century and an insight into religious life and also the way the Dutch can turn a blind eye to activities that are ostensibly illegal – something still evident in the streets close by the Museum.

Saint Jean de Montmartre


Saint Jean de Montmartre is an Art Nouveau style church in Montmartre, opposite the entrance to the Abbesses Metro station. It was built between 1897 and 1904 and is constructed from reinforced cement on a metal frame rather than from more traditional materials.. It’s architect was  Anatole de Baudot.

The facade is constructed of red brick and ceramic tiles


The exterior decoration is relatively restrained, particularly compared with 29 Avenue Rapp, the main feature being the use of pointed arches to produce patterns reminiscent of Middle Eastern, Arabic, architecture.

The geometric design is repeated inside the church, particularly along the balcony which was installed for structural reasons



The grey concrete surfaces did give the interior a rather sombre look and feel. The area around the altar was more colourfully decorated. I understand that it was intended to decorate more of the interior in this way but this was prevented by a lack of funding.


I wasn’t particularly impressed by the stained glass in the main part of the church but I did like the simple Modernist geometric design of the glass in the bright The Chapelle de la Vierge (Lady Chapel) – “less is more”.



I quite liked this chandelier like light fitting. Rather 1960’s in style.


and he marble font, with it’s simple geometric form and decoration was attractive. I’m not so sure about the legs, though.


It was an interesting building and certainly “worth the detour” as the Michelin guide would say!

There’s more information about the church here