Sometimes I like to share a collection of activities such as what I participated in during the summer or various posts boasting of my favorite music and food spots. However, occasionally, I feel the need to share a particular place on its own so that it may truly be appreciated. St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine is such a place. It highlights a story of which many may not be aware. The shrine is located on Saint George Street in a relatively unassuming old home called the Avero House, which was built by a Spanish family in 1749. It is marked with a simple sign outside, and I have walked passed it for years never realizing what it was. Maybe you have too.
The shrine is named in memory of St. Photios (842–867), Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople, a theologian, and great missionary. It also serves as a place of remembrance for the first Greek colony that originally settled in New Smyrna and ultimately, after enduring numerous hardships, arrived to begin a new life in St. Augustine.
The Corsicans, Greeks, Italians, and Minorcans were the first Greek Orthodox Christians to arrive in the New World in 1768. These immigrants gathered to worship in the building now known as the St. Photios Greek Orthodox Shrine.
In all honesty, I was not completely clear on what Greek Orthodox actually was until recently. I will quote an excerpt from: (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7052.)… “Occasionally, the word Catholic is also used to describe the Orthodox Church. This description, dating back to the second century. is embodied in the Nicene Creed, which acknowledges One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From the Orthodox perspective, Catholic means that the Church is universal and also that she includes persons of all races and cultures. It also affirms that the Church has preserved the fullness of the Christian faith. It is not unusual for titles such as Greek, Russian, and Antiochian to be used in describing Orthodox Churches. These appellations refer to the cultural or national roots of a particular parish, diocese, or archdiocese.”
Upon entering the chapel, you will be taken aback by the beautiful frescoes completed in the traditional Byzantine style on the walls and dome. They depict scenes of the Greek Orthodox faith, and all inscriptions are in Greek. The chapel itself is constructed in the shape of a cross. Above the entrance there is a verse which reads, “Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it.” (Revelations 22:17) Peacocks hold a scroll on which the verse is written. I did not know this, but peacocks represent The Resurrection in Christian works of art.
SIDEKICK’S SIDE NOTE: Okay, here is where I add in my personal flavor: I prefer the Kings James Version for reading scripture and want to demonstrate the difference in this particular verse in how it makes me feel. In the KJV, it reads, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” I’m not sure from where the other verse is taken, but please indulge me and read them both again. I wonder if you experience one differently from the other as I do. One invokes a stronger feeling of power and love to me. Those are my personal thoughts and I wanted to share them with you.
The crucifixion with Mary and John.
The Three Hierarchs: St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John the Chrysostom (golden-mouthed), and St. Basil the Great.
This one is The Nativity and shows several scenes all in one. Mary and baby Jesus are in the center. The lower left is Joseph being tempted by the devil. Next to that are midwives washing the newborn baby Jesus. At the top of the painting are the shepherds receiving the Good News from the angels..
The Resurrection. My simple photography really does not do the frescoes any justice as they are highlighted in 22 karat gold leaf and display such luxurious detail when viewed in the light of the chapel. I will refrain from showing them all, but they are exquisite representations of various theological accounts.
Beautifully crafted mosaics also adorn the walls. In addition to the chapel area, there is a separate museum exhibit filled with both interesting and intriguing items. The detail and craftsmanship from this time period is amazing.
This definitely was a learning experience for me. I have said before that I am not too familiar with Catholic practices but I have been learning much since moving to St. Augustine. Catholicism is ingrained into the fabric of this city, and its influences are everywhere you turn.
Now, the above piece was quite fascinating. It is a gold reliquary containing bone fragments from 18 saints. When the home was restored, the reliquary was made as a gift from Archbishop Lakovos from the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn, NY and certified by the Vatican. Here is a list of its contents:
St. Paul – 1st Century St. Peter – 1st Century St. Titus – 1st Century St. Haralambos – 2nd Century St. Anthony the Great – 3rd Century St. Ambros – 4th Century St. Athanasios the Great – 4th Century St. Basil the Great – 4th Century St. Constantine – 4th Century St. Cyril of Jerusalem – 4th Century St. Gregory of Nazianzos – 4th Century St. Gregory of Nyssa – 4th Century St. Helena – 4th Century St. John the Chrysostom – 4th Century St. Nicholas of Myra (Santa Claus)- 4th Century St. Cyril of Alexandria – 5th Century St. Sabbas – 5th Century St. John of Damascus – 5th Century.
I found this rather bizarre but interesting. Are these really tiny pieces of the actual people? Whose job was it to go and retrieve these little “fragments”? What is the purpose of such a display? There is a reference in Exodus 13:19 which reads: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.“… Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to take his bones out of Egypt, and so they did. I don’t remember anywhere else where it mentions the keeping of bones.
This artifact was my favorite as it was discovered on the grounds during an archaeological excavation. It has been adopted as the symbol of the National Shrine, and the 3 holes are believed to represent the Holy Trinity. If you are a history buff and enjoy reading, you can spend quite some time in the museum learning all about the first Greek colony, a Mediterranean Odyssey to East Florida.
Please stop in during your next stroll downtown and experience what many call “The Gem of St. George Street” for yourself.
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