Posts Tagged With: Saint Paul

Walking with Saint Paul: Thessaloniki

This pilgrimage to a Saint Paul destination was quite different in a variety of ways:

1. I was accompanied by two friends.

2. It was a weekend trip to the lively, second largest city in Greece as opposed to the much quieter one day journey to Corinth.

3. It was also the weekend of my birthday.

4. I didn’t get hopelessly lost in the rain.

I have explained in a previous post my devotion to Saint Paul and inspiration behind “walking in his footsteps” so to save from redundancy, I will not reiterate the saga here. Instead, this is an attempt at a brief account of the weekend in Thessaloniki.

Milica, Ben, and I began our trip by hopping on our midnight train (literally, we left at midnight) with the hopes of sleeping through the trip before arriving at our destination seven hours later. How silly the thought of sleep was. Although we were in a cabin, we shared it with a strangely controlling, stiletto-heeled, aged Jennifer Aniston look alike who was a fan of conversation. And even though we were initially ecstatic when we discovered that the seats reclined the instance of joy immediately faded along with the leg space.

Little Big House patio

Little Big House patio

 

Not much sleep was had, but we eventually arrived at the Thessaloniki at about 6:00am. Unfortunately our hostel didn’t open until 8:00am so we took advantage of the time to help our tired bodies out with a little caffeine. Here comes a plug for our hostel. We stayed at Little Big House, a brother/sister-run business, and it was the BEST. It was tucked away in the twisted streets but seemed to be a little oasis. The hosts were extremely helpful with everything we asked and provided such a beautiful, homey atmosphere. Just look at this patio!

 

 

The well in the Crypt.

The well in the Crypt.

Saint Demetrius

Saint Demetrius

Anyway, after drinking some more caffeinated beverages at the hostel, we set out to explore the city.

 

First stop, the byzantine style Church and Crypts of Saint Demetrius (Άγιος Δημήτριος). The Church was originally built on the ruins of a Roman bath in the late 4th century AD but fires lead to the reconstruction of the building that now stands in 7th century AD. The Roman baths hold the site where Saint Demetrius was imprisoned and executed in early 4th century AD. Unfortunately, our weekend seemed to be plagued by youths so a clear photo of the beauty of a church was near impossible.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

They are just sleeping, I promise.

They are just sleeping, I promise.

 

Next was my main attraction: the Roman Forum. Unlike the forum in Corinth, this one was smack dab in the middle of the modern city. I didn’t have to take a separate bus to find it and I definitely didn’t need to wander around in the rain trying to struggle through a Greek conversation. We found it easily and were apparently the only ones interested in it because we had the place to ourselves. While the Roman Forum existed during Paul’s time, he never preached in it. He did so in the synagogues which led to some angry Thessalonians who forced Paul and his companions out of the city.  It is because of this and the fact that the Modern city of Thessaloniki is built directly on top of the Ancient site that “walking with Saint Paul” is very difficult. Nonetheless, the experience was moving. After exploring the museum, we went to rest in the Odeion (a theater structure) where I read and Milica and Ben closed their eyes for a bit. It was quite peaceful to sit there and be engrossed in Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians while the hustle and bustle of the city continued around us.

Spoiling the mood slightly, was an employee who was not too thrilled about people napping in an archaeological site. The whole situation got awkward (and entertaining due to Milica’s snarky comments such as “Am I not allowed to meditate?”) pretty quickly so we set off for a new destination, kissing the forum goodbye.

 

White Tower

White Tower

 

The White Tower was our next destination. This was constructed by the Ottomans sometime after 1430 and was used as a fort, garrison, and prison. It was nicknamed the “Tower of Blood” and “The Red Tower” because of the dark uses but when Thessaloniki was separated from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, the tower was white-washed to symbolize the purification. And so the name “White Tower” came to be. There is a museum inside as you walk up to the top. Everything was in Greek so the three of us got fancy listening devices to listen to the descriptions in English. As you can imagine, we fit in really well.

With our lack of patience demonstrated in the White Tower museum as an indicator of our hunger, we found a taverna for lunch. Tasty and enjoyable as usual. With full stomachs we head back to the hostel for nap/quiet time. Later that night we met up with our three other friends/peers (Annie, Christina, and Greg) who were in the city for a field study. After being separated for almost two days, we were all quite happy to be reunited for an evening of wandering the city.

 

Arch of Galerius

Arch of Galerius

 

The following day I separated from Milica and Ben in order to visit the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Both museums were fabulous, however not for the weak of heart for there is a LOT of material to look at. So if you aren’t a big fan of museums, I would not suggest them back to back.

On my way through to find my comrades, I passed the Arch of Galerius. Galerius was an emperor in the late 3rd, early 4th century AD and commissioned this triumphal arch for himself in 299AD. It originally had three arches and depicted both victories and ritual processions.

ginormous meal half eaten.

ginormous meal half eaten.

After a walk up to the old walls of the city, we headed back into town for dinner. We had a classic encounter with the “eyes are bigger than your stomach” issue when we ordered far more food than we could ever consume. We had a beautiful loooooong Greek dinner filled with much laughter and capped off with a waiter singing the Greek birthday song to me. All in all, awesome.

 

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

And so Sunday came. Not only are Sundays wonderful to begin with, but it is quite the blessing when your birthday falls on a Sunday during the Lenten season. Two years ago mine fell on Good Friday; a very different kind of birthday but both great gifts. Even cooler is knowing that I share a birthday with the inspirational Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Milica and I headed to Mass in the morning and found our Church in the middle of the clubbing district. A shocking and beautiful contradiction.

Rotunda

Rotunda

 

We stopped by the Rotunda for a look around. This was also constructed by Galerius but had many uses throughout the ages before it came to be the empty building it is today. From temple, to Christian basilica, to a Mosque, and then back to a Christian Church.

 

Before beginning our journey home, we stopped to pick up some of Thessaloniki’s famous trigona (τρίγωνα) and some chocolate covered tsoureki (τσουρέκι). It was smooth sailing for two of us, but due to a lost ticket, Ben and I stared through the window (like in a movie) at Milica as our train moved out of the station. Don’t you worry though, she made it home just fine by bus. Thank goodness! However we did not get of scot-free as the vandals that were everywhere we went in Thessaloniki were on our train. Apparently they were on a school field trip. Somehow I made it through the hours and hours without slapping one of them.

 

Like I said, clearly a very different adventure from my last pilgrimage following Saint Paul’s voyage. The city itself was lively and Modern, but if you let yourself be guided, you are brought to the simple beauties of reading in an archaeological site, laughing with friends, and discovering the loving embrace of  Mary waiting for you in a graffiti-ed ally.

 

“To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but existing.” — Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

 “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” — Thessalonians 5:8-11

 

 

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Walking with Saint Paul: Corinth

While the majority of the students in my program packed their bags for more distant travels, I decided to spend some quality time with Greece over our extended weekend. Among the coffee, souvlaki, walks,  and brunch with remaining peers, I took a day trip to the ancient site of Corinth. As a big fan of Saint Paul, visiting the places he traveled and spread the gospel are quite near the top of my list of dream destinations while abroad. I already got the chance to stand on the Areospagus where he spoke to the Athenians, but this was my first little solo pilgrimage!

To classify the the success in the realm of transportation as “rough” is a gross understatement. I asked for so many people for help I can’t even count; however thanks to kind people and many Hail Mary’s I somehow made it (eventually) to and from the site. Important note to those traveling to ancient Corinth/traveling in general: If you even have a shred of doubt as to where to get off/any sort of worry,  do yourself a favor and ask for help. Just grow in that humility and do it. Otherwise you will end up in a city about 20 minutes further than your original destination and then have to back-track. Not that that happened to me or anything . . .

Anyway, with the literal “struggle bus” experience aside, let’s move closer to the main point: Saint Paul and ancient Corinth. Like I previously mentioned, I have a special devotion to Saint Paul. Allow me to elaborate a smidgen. One of the many beautiful things about the Catholic Church is that we have hundreds of men and women each with their own unique story and personality who have devoted theirs whole lives to serving God that we can look to for guidance and encouragement. Individual devotions, for me at least, rise up with the feeling of connection to a specific Saint’s writing, life, or patronage; whether out of similarity or differences. Saint Paul made a couple appearances in my life before making his way into my personal litany. The church I attend (and where two of my older siblings frequented while attending UW) in Madison is named after Saint Paul as well as the city where my sister went to college which created a little bond of our family. Then I somehow landed myself int a Religious Studies class about Saint Paul’s letters where I was in way over my head but ended up falling in love with his writing. You can locate his letters in my bible just by finding the page-edges that are the dirtiest from use. Saint Paul lived during the 1st century AD, a Hellenistic world. It is easy to think of the words in the bible as something completely separate from what you learn in history books, but the truth is that they coexist! Not the most revolutionary thought, but it was a realization that blew me away. As a Classics major I read a lot about the ancient Greeks, Constantinople, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. As a Catholic I read scripture about the Prodigal Son, the life of Christ, the troubles of the citizens in Ephesus and Corinth. But for some reason I had never really tried to work the two loves of my life together by putting them in context. I began looking at Saint Paul as Hellenistic man living as an early Christian and since then he has been dear to my heart not only as a Saint but as a symbol of the marriage between my studies and my faith. 

As my hope of reaching my destination decreased with my lost-ness increasing (an unfortunate inverse relationship), I arrived much to my surprise. My tear-lined eyes finally landed on the site of ancient Corinth and I released a sigh mixed with relief, peace, and wonder coming straight from my heart rather than my lungs. I made it. It was a rainy day so, as expected, I had the site almost to myself which was lovely. I did not expect, however, to be greeted by a very nearby school blasting jams including the Macarana and La Bamba. Happy Carnival?

The site has a long history and includes many constructions (stores, stoas, statues, etc) but I will only mention a few.

Fountain of Glauke

Fountain of Glauke

First you are greeted with the Fountain of Glauke. This is a large limestone block that had four reservoirs for the water but was not a natural spring. It was originally built in the 6th century BC and has a little myth to go with it! Story time. Glauke was a princess of Corinth who was promised in marriage to a hero, Jason, who also happened to be married already to a sorceress. Medea was less than thrilled about being tossed aside and poisoned Glauke’s wedding dress, causing her to burst into flames. In effort to extinguish the flames, it is said that she threw herself into this fountain. It didn’t work. Medea followed up that gruesome act with the murder of Glauke’s father and her two children then exited the scene on her dragon-drawn chariot.

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

Next is the Temple of Apollo.  An archaic temple built in the 6th century BC with it’s strangely majestic monolithic (“one stone”) columns is the most prominent in the site. Of course it was altered from it’s original state over time, especially when the Romans gained occupation. Let’s just give a brief shout out to Pausanias who wandered around and documented a bunch of monuments in the 2nd century AD.

The Bema or Rostra

The Bema or Rostra

Now for my main attraction: the Bema. This is the place where Saint Paul would have proclaimed the Gospel to the citizens of Corinth. Wow. Even though a worker thought I was a crazy person as he watched my like a hawk as I inspected this monument, I took my time. It is a raised marble platform that was probably close to brand spanking new when Saint Paul stood on it. A gift from God came in the form of a school bell ringing releasing the children from school and ceasing the crazy music.

To my great delight, I was surprised to find that you could actually walk on top of it! Saint Paul didn’t wear socks and even if he did I doubt that they would have had Christmas pigs on them, but I felt it was appropriate to document my dream moment of standing where he stood.

"In the footsteps of Saint Paul"

“In the footsteps of Saint Paul”

 

When the brief moment of shock passed, I joyfully found a place to sit on top and settled in and flipped open my Interlinear Greek-English New Testament to read some of Saint Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It was so beautiful to picture the city as it was and imagine these letters being read to the public in Paul’s absence.

 

I then headed into the museum to see the numerous artifacts belonging to the site. After having my fill of beautiful sculptures, mosaics, and pottery (of course) I headed back out to pray my rosary. Two decades in I realize that I am being yelled at in Greek to leave because they were closing. Or at least that’s what I assume she was saying based on purely context clues and the close to zero Greek that I know.

111

 

Although I would have preferred to make a real pilgrimage to Corinth, setting out with nothing but sandals and a walking stick, as Saint Paul did, my bus/metro/taxi adventure was a pretty crazy journey within itself. I am so thankful to have made it to Corinth on my mini retreat; growing a little closer to God with the aide of my friend Saint Paul.

 

 

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2Corinthians 12:9-10

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