The church of Saint Nicholas in Eleusis seems out of place. It is located within the boundaries of the archaeological site, but this is not what is odd about it. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, so one would expect to find his church closer to the sea. This one, though, is erected on a fairly steep hill. Mountaintops are traditionally reserved for Elijah the Prophet, who seems to have taken on the attributes of Zeus and his powers over rain and thunder. So why did Saint Nicholas turn mountaineer?
The miracle worker
Saint Nicholas was born in Asia Minor. From a very young age, he is said to have performed incredible acts of piety and kindness. One of the most famous involved him saving three poor girls from a future as prostitutes, by throwing bags of gold coins through their window so that their father could pay their dowries. He continued to perform miracles throughout his life, including the resurrection of three children who had been murdered and pickled in brine by a butcher eager to sell them as pork at a time of great famine across the land. He is also said to have rebuked the waves that threatened his ship on a voyage to the Holy Land, causing the storm to subside. It is this miracle that turned him into the patron of seamen and fishermen. Saint Nicholas is one of the most beloved saints in Greece and his feast day (6 December) is a day of celebration throughout Greece.
Old Saint Nicholas
Eleusis is no exception. The little church of Saint Nicholas only opens to the public on 5-6 December. The climb is steep but the view from the top is stunning since it encompasses the Bay of Eleusis, the industrial zone, part of the town, and the distant mountains. The white church is fairly plain, both inside and outside. There are no frescoes or mosaics; just a few portable icons. The oldest one depicts Saint Nicholas and is located to the left of the entrance to the sanctuary. The icon of the Holy Trinity was painted in 1925 at the expense of workers from the “Titan” cement factory (whose chimneys dominate the skyline outside).
The story of the church is intimately associated with the birth and growth of “Titan”. Initially, the church (originally built at an unknown time) was located in the cold between the acropolis of Eleusis and the hill to the west. There were numerous windmills nearby and the people of Lepsina (as the community was known back then) came here to mill their grain and socialize. In 1902 the land near the church was acquired by “Titan” and the owners gained permission to extract limestone from the neighboring hills. Eventually, the demand for raw materials grew to the point that the company requested that the church be moved to a new location.
Mind the saint
The Ministry of Education soon granted the necessary permits and the church was demolished. This act of destruction soon became entwined with folk tales about the sad fate of the men who supervised the demolition. Local legend claims that the supervisor who lit the dynamite lost his arm in a traffic accident. A different story attributes the loss of the arm to a snapped steel wire.
“Titan” financed the rebuilding of the church in its current position. For many years workers at the factory received overtime compensation for working on the saint’s feast day, even though it was not an official state-sanctioned holiday. Once again, the people of Eleusis attributed this generosity to the miraculous intervention of Saint Nicholas, who is said to have caused a power outage when a worker refused to show the proper respect towards him when someone complained about having to work on the feast day. This tiny church reminds us of the wealth of stories waiting to be discovered in Eleusis.