For the second year in a row, I’m spending some time in the small Greek village of Exarchos, which geographically is in Central Greece, and located within the prefecture of “Fthiotida,” (try pronouncing that – our English language never puts an “F” sound directly in front of “TH” so it is not a natural thing for English speakers).
A Bit Of Background On Exarchos
Exarchos is located on a plane between some mountain ranges, and is about a 20 minute drive from Atalanti (pronounced as “Ataladi” – when the letters “n” and “t” are together in Greek, it’s pronounced as “D” in the English alphabet). The surrounding area is farm land, owned and/or rented by inhabitants of the village for agricultural purposes and there are quite a number of different crops grown in the area.
While the population of the town is probably between 600 and 700, it is home to about 9 Greek Orthodox churches. The majority of the churches are not actually in the village proper, but are a short distance away in different directions. There is one local Greek Orthodox Priest, who will perform services at all of the churches at specific times of the year; for example, a service will be performed at St. Nicholas Church on the “feast day” of St. Nicholas.
But generally, regular weekly service is held at the main church in the village. This same church also has a bell that tolls on each hour and half hour during the day – something that most of us in North America no longer hear.
Exarchos – Where Did The Name Come From?
The village used to be called “Bogdanou” or “Vogdháni,” after the river of the same name that used to flow nearby. The river was fed by an underground natural water reservoir which still exists, but as farmers in the area as well as residences tapped into it, the river stopped flowing. There is still a bridge over what used to be the river, nearby.
At some point, the village name was changed to “Exarchos,” and Wikipedia suggests that it was named after someone with that name, possibly “Exarch.” However, some locals say that it actually comes from the amalgamation of six villages in the area. Six in Greek is “exi” and “archos” means leader. Locals suggest that at some point, each of the surrounding churches were home to their own small villages – and six of them decided to “come together” into one, in order to have better protection against raiding bandits and others who might attack small places. So, the inhabitants of five other villages all came to what is now Exarchos to settle and find protection in each other as one village with larger numbers.
St. Nicholas Church
When I heard that this church had origins dating back centuries, I really wanted to visit it, if possible. It’s about 3 or 4 km outside of the village, and would be a good trek on foot as while much of the distance between the church and village is on level ground, the church itself is located on the side of a mountain with a bit of an ascent to get to it. We decided to drive as I also wanted to take along my camera and tripod to take photos.
The church is tucked in behind many coniferous trees and a high fence, but the gate is unlocked. Visitors are welcome at any time to step inside the church and light a candle if they wish.
For me, there was a sense and feeling of awe, as I always get when visiting old buildings and places – perhaps the same “feeling” or “sense” that some may call a “spiritual experience” – in fact, I’m pretty sure it is the same. Nevertheless, there is something that I find both inspiring and full of wonder, to be walking on grounds that people centuries ago also walked – and not only walked, but built something that has lasted and is still used today. And I’m fascinated with old churches, their architecture and design.
While there has a fairly modern addition to St. Nicholas Church and many repairs done over the centuries, the church building dates back to the 13th century! Today, the grounds are well kept, and it is obvious that services are still held here (there is a very large seating area outside the church and outdoor loudspeakers so the congregation can hear the priest(s) at any service performed).
Sadly, the church did experience a fire at some point in its history, and much of the domed interior ceiling paintings were destroyed, but some still survive.
Some photos I took while visiting St. Nicholas Church:
Modern Perimeter Of The Church Grounds
View Of The Village Of Exarchos From St. Nicholas Church
Painting of St. Nicholas On White Horse Inside The Church (Some of my Northern Irish friends might, at first glance, mistake this for a painting of King Billy :D)
Surviving Paintings On Domed Ceiling
Ancient Interior Of St. Nicholas Church
South Facing Exterior Wall
Photo Showing South & East Facing Exterior Walls
View Of The Sun Setting From St. Nicholas Church
I have many more photos, but to add them all would mean this post might take forever to load – and you might get bored as well.
I hope to visit some or all of the other churches in the area, and perhaps even meet with the local priest who is responsible for all of them, if he speaks English. More on all that soon!