Δευτέρα 15 Ιανουαρίου 2024

Church of Agia Theodora, Vasta, Arcadia, Greece

The church of Agia Theodora is a unique phenomenon and is one of the most popular and noteworthy attractions of Arcadia. The church was built between 1050-1100 in honor of the holy martyr Theodora. It is located near the village of Vasta in Megalopolis, in a verdant idyllic ravine with a dense forest of giant oaks. The road access is from Isari after a beautiful downhill route.
The Church of Agia Theodora of the prefecture of Arcadia is located near the village of Vastas in a verdant idyllic ravine with a dense forest of giant oaks.
It is characterized as a miracle of nature as on top of a small Byzantine church there are 17 oak trees whose roots are nowhere to be seen, while the waters of a headwater spring from its foundations. This phenomenon must be due to the fact that the church is stone and vaulted with enough soil content. In this small amount of soil, a holly first grew, which slowly grew and dropped its own fruits. So on the roof of the church grew several holly trees, maples and chickpeas and then the 17 oaks that popular tradition attributed to a miracle.
Regarding the historical truth there are several beliefs. One theory holds that Saint Theodora was Augusta Theodora, daughter of Emperor Constantine VIII of the Macedonian dynasty, who is said to have reigned as a male from 1055 to 1056. Augusta Theodora according to the claims of her successor Michael VI the Military with movement she fell seriously ill and died, while others speculate that he himself murdered her and buried her here. However, according to tradition, Saint Theodora, in order to cover the obligations of her family, disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Byzantine army as "Captain Theodoris". There, following a conspiracy, he was unjustly accused of unlawful acts and was killed on the spot.
The martyr testified for her faith and was executed here by her persecutors. Shortly before he was executed, he prayed: "...Lord, make my body a Temple, my hair trees that testify to your protection in my purity and my blood water to water them. Amen." And so it happened, after her death these seventeen trees grew, as many as her years, which withstand every wind.

The church attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors every year. It celebrates on September 11.
The mystery of trees
Researchers from the University of Patras have studied the building and make the following observations: Many stories have come to light about the small church of Agia Theodora of special religious importance, mainly related to its creation, the Saint from whom it took its name and generally her story which also includes a "miracle". The building of the small church, which is visited by many believers every year, is from the Byzantine era and, apart from the jurisdiction of the Church, is under the Ministry of Culture, as a Byzantine Monument. In 1996, the Geophysics Laboratory of the University of Patras was invited by the Department of Restoration of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments to study the preserved building so that the Department could then proceed with its restoration. The problem was directly related to the "miracle" that happens there and the legend that is widespread around the creation of the small church and it is as follows: seventeen large trees and several smaller ones have grown on the roof of the building. Their roots are not visible under the few centimeters of the roof, nor inside or outside the church. The whole building is naturally under pressure due to this heavy load and has undergone many reconstruction operations during its life. These unprofessional interventions resulted in the destruction of its architecture. The problem to be solved about the trees on the roof was to ascertain where their roots were directed, without provoking the religious feeling of the church people and clergy, who were watchful guards throughout the investigation. After an on-site assessment of the situation it was decided that high-frequency ground-penetrating radar could be used on the walls of the building together with electrical tomography with very small electrodes, so that there would be a double check of the methodology. The results of this investigation shed a lot of light on the mystery and gave the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments Restoration Directorate all the necessary answers to proceed safely with the restoration of the Church of Agia Theodora. It turned out that the roots follow the gaps that exist inside the side walls almost a meter wide creating repulsive stresses between the stones and thus end up in the ground. This leads to the creation of a network of roots that strengthens the building from a static point of view by opposing the load of the roof, but at the same time destroying the stone walls. It was also shown that the south wall is almost intact while there seems to be a definite gap in the north.
The last restoration work took place between 1998 and 1999. In order not to dry out the tree roots, the masonry was cleaned and grouted without cementing. To protect the frescoes from moisture, the roof was cleaned of the existing layers of soil and leaves and a tarpaulin with a collar was placed around each tree, very carefully so as not to injure the roots, so as to minimize the moisture that passes under them . Finally, a slate roof was installed.