What did St. Paul see and do in Athens?
St. Paul probably first landed by ship at Piraeus, the port of Athens in Greece since the 5th century B.C. Piraeus is now the largest port in Greece. I landed and took off from Piraeus to visit the Greek islands. Baedeker says at Piraeus you can see ancient boatsheds under water, the remains of a Greek theater, the old city walls and a shipping museum.
At Athens, St. Paul saw the famous hill of the acropolis (Greek for high city). Ancient cities were often built on a hill for better defense. The most beautiful and famous structure on the acropolis is the Parthenon or temple to the goddess Athena. You can spend a lot of time staring at this architectural wonder.
St. Paul would have entered the acropolis through the Propylaea, a monumental structure consisting of three wings. The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament says that St. Paul spoke to the people from the Areopagus or Hill of Ares, the god of war. Baedeker says this rocky hill was the seat of the supreme court of ancient Athens.
St. Paul had seen many temples to pagan gods in Athens and he was upset. Someone even joked that there are more gods in Athens than people. So St. Paul spoke to the men of Athens about their temple he saw dedicated to an unknown God. Paul then said this “unknown God” is the true God who created the world. His Son Jesus rose from the dead and will judge and save the world. A modern bronze tablet here today is inscribed with St. Paul’s sermon. On the northern slopes of the Areopagus are the remains of a basilica dedicated to St. Dionysius, a member of the court of the Areopagus who was St. Paul’s first convert in Athens.
Other sites in Athens include the odium or theater of Herodes Atticus that St. Paul would have seen. It is so excellently preserved that musical performances are still held there today. St. Paul would have visited the Agora, or Greek marketplace, where there was an Altar of Mercy. There is the Erechtheion, a temple housing the wooden cult image of Athena from 406 B.C. St. Paul could have seen the gymnasium of Ptolemy with a stone statue of the god Hermes. A later addition below the acropolis is the Church of the Holy Apostles built in the 11th century. Meinardus says that every June 29, the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, a vesper service is conducted upon the rock of the Areopagus. A large wooden cross is set up on the top of the rock behind a portable altar, which is flanked by a life-size icon of St. Paul. The archbishop of Athens usually performs the ceremony. There is a St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Athens. But the patron saint of Athens is Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Paul’s first convert there. An early document mentions an epistle of St. Paul to the Athenians, but we do not have a copy of it.
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