A Brief History
From 50 AD St. Paul established Christian communities throughout Asia Minor, especially along the coast. His first journey took him to Attalia (Antalya). His last was to take him to Rome but instead left him shipwrecked in Patara, 45 minutes along the coast from Oludeniz.
Patara has an impressive history. Not only was it one of the principal cities and trading centres of Lycia, it was also the birthplace of St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, whose outstanding efforts to give to those in need formed the basis of our modern day Santa Claus. It was here that St. Paul settled and carried out important missionary work.
In 325 AD Constantine at Nova Roma (Istanbul) ordered a synod to be held to consolidate the beliefs of the Christian communities. The Bishops of Christendom attended, including the Bishop of Myra (St. Nicholas). Records show that Nicholas came to Symbola (Oludeniz) more than once, visiting the church of the Archangel and the church here at Ecclesia, St. Demetrius.
After the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion, Christian communities grew along the coast. Oludeniz and the surrounding bays offered ships good anchorage and were en-route to Jerusalem, making them ideal places to settle. There are the remains of six churches in Oludeniz and Gidrak, and a number of others on nearby islands, leading historians to believe that the entire region was most likely a place of teaching and pilgrimage.
St. Demetrius was the largest church in the area. Its barrel vault construction was most likely built using spoilage left over from the Roman period.
The Church Interior
The construction would have started from the apse and worked West. The Basilica consists of a wide apse with a chapel to its right, a central nave, and two side naves, the North being the wider. The floor of the narthex bears a mosaic dedication to two donors, Stephanus and Euchutios. Additional mosaics have been discovered, including a rare, vibrantly coloured pomegranate. Behind stood a rectangular, open-air atrium allowing views of the church through its columns and juniper or cedar beams. This area may also have housed a reflective pool, as no cistern has been found.
During the 7th Century the area was pillaged by pirates from the North African coast and the church was burnt down. As a result, the majority of the mosaics were damaged by falling debris. Thankfully the mosaics in the Northern nave still remain in excellent condition despite 1300 years of abandonment, and are a highlight of the church.
Today St. Demetrius is covered by protective roofing to allow restoration on the mosaic floor to continue during the winter months. It is our hope that the work will reach completion in the next few years.