Lechaion after the Basilica
Readers of my blog know about my near obsession with the Mighty Lechaion Basilica. I return to it as often as I can on my increasingly infrequent and short visits to Greece and every visit to the great church reveals another interesting aspect of its history.
This last visit got my thinking about the later history of the church. At some point in the 7th century or later, the building collapsed. At some point, a small chapel appears in the baptistery of the church and this seems to have required the movement of the baptismal font from the center of the octagonal space to the southeastern wall. It may be that this space served the community who continued to venerate at the site in the immediate aftermath of the damage to the main church.
Once the main church had collapsed, much of the rubble of the superstructure was stripped away and at least some of the marble sculpture likely vanished at this point. In the apse of the church, the community constructed a small chapel. At present we don’t know enough about the chronology of the building – and its attendant ceramics – to assign a date to this small building. The position of the foundations of the later church below the level of the earlier basilica’s floor indicates that the builders had removed the majority of the collapse from the main basilica prior to its construction.
Considering the massive size of the collapsed masonry from the churches half-domed apse, this must have been a massive job. The absence of large quantities of collapse around the site, however, suggests that the quarrying activity at the church after its collapse may have been systematic. There is similar evidence for such systematic quarrying activities across the Mediterranean (I’ve even blogged about it before!) and the quantity of prestige materials used in the building must have made it an appealing source for building material.
In fact, the builders of the later church used spolia heavily (and predictably) in the foundations of the little church including parts of Proconnesian marble columns, various bits of architectural sculpture, and what appears to be “verde antico” engaged columns. In fact, the buildings seem to have tried to use the verde antico columns symmetrically in the foundations suggesting that the use of spolia, even in structural parts of this building, was not random or completely opportunistic, but systematic.
Reused bricks appear in the foundation courses of the mostly destroyed semi-circular eastern apse and the buildings used large, ashlar blocks – probably spolia originally used in the basilica itself and now in tertiary use in the smaller late church – at the architecturally sensitive join between the apse and the nave. In short, this building while modest in size, has indications of careful construction.
From what I can tell, there is no plan of this building and very limited discussion of it in the preliminary reports on the Lechaion church. Moreover, this building does not appear on the plans of the basilica even though it clearly represents an important, late chapter to the life of this important site on the Gulf of Corinth.