Where is Thessalonica where St. Paul caused a riot?
St. Paul and Silas left the city of Philippi in Macedonia and took the road through Amphipolis, an ancient city in eastern Macedonia on the Struma river, which was the headquarters of the Roman governor of Macedonia. Amphipolis was famous for its lion sculpture from the fourth century B.C. Several early Christian basilicas have been excavated there.
Paul and Silas continued down the road to Apollonia, a Macedonian town 30 miles southwest of Amphipolis. Then they came to Thessalonica (modern Thessaloniki), a seaport city in west-central Macedonia (or northern Greece) at the head of the Gulf of Salonika. Today Thessaloniki is the main city of Macedonia with over 400,000 people. Thessalonike was the sister of the famous Alexander the Great.
At Thessalonica St. Paul entered the Jewish synagogue and spoke about Jesus as the promised Messiah who had to suffer and rise from the dead. Some of the Jews, a great number of Greeks, and prominent women agreed with Paul. But this aroused the resentment of unsympathetic Jews who engaged loafers from the public square to form a mob and start a riot. The angry Jews told the magistrates that Paul was disregarding the Roman emperor’s decrees and claiming that Jesus was king. Here the Jews were distorting Paul’s proclamation of Jesus’ religious kingship into a political sense. Because of this dangerous situation, Paul and Silas left Thessalonica.
Baedeker mentions some of the sites in Thessalonica. The Arch of Galerius has carvings depicting the emperor’s campaigns against the Persians in 297. To the south were the Imperial Palace, the Hippodrome where many people were massacred in 391, which ushered in complaints by St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan in Italy. Nearby is the Rotunda, converted into a Christian church dedicated to St. George in 400.
When I was in Thessaloniki, the huge White Tower on the seafront was the main imposing structure in the city that you usually see in pictures. Nearby is the church of Ayia Sofia, a domed cruciform church from the eighth century with beautiful mosaics. Nearby is the early Christian basilica of Ayia Paraskevi from the fifth century. Further on is the Church of Panayia Khalkeon from 1028, called the Church of the Mother of God of the Coppersmiths. The main church in the city is Ayios Dimitrios, a five-aisled fifth-century basilica built over a Roman bath-house. The emperor Galerius caused an officer named Demetrius to be confined in the baths and subsequently killed in 306 A.D. Thereafter St. Demetrius became the town’s patron saint. Finally there is the citadel, an imposing stronghold with seven towers.
St. Paul wrote two epistles to the Thessalonians that are the earliest books of the New Testament written around 51-52 A.D. These epistles were written before the Gospels and thus show us the very early teaching of the Catholic Church.
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