Hephaistos’ MDT – Day 12: Temples & Holy Places

Χαίρετε ἀναγνώστες!

So, for the first time, I completely forgot to do a blog post for one of these Month” of Devotional Thought”-projects. Like, actually forgot. I thought of it late last night and was like “FUUUUUUUUUCK”! But it was quite late and I was sleepy, so I didn’t consider myself in a proper mindset to do one late last night, so I’m doing it now. You’ll get two posts today then. This post, yesterday’s, is on temples and holy places of Hephaistos. Let get into it.


The Hephaisteion on the Athenian agora. Image taken from http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/students/modules/greekreligion/database/clulbx/ on 13 May 2017.

I’m going to start with the Hephaisteion on the Athenian agora, which is one of the best preserved Doric style temples in Hellas and even one of the best preserved, period. The archaeological evidence suggests the temple was built in the first quarter of the 5th century BCE, with nothing to suggest a previous sanctuary on this spot. At least, nothing permanent or very extensive. The temple is built from white marble. For a long time, people thought it to be Theseion given the imagery showing the works of Theseus on the metopes of the north and south side. However, remains of the cult images were found nearby, linking the temple to Hephaistos. The temple was not just dedicated to Hephaistos, but also to Athena Ergane (Worker), both as patrons of artisans and craftsmen. A Hephaisteia festival was linked to this temple, but other than the sacrifice of goats during this festival, little is known about it. When Christianity took root, this temple was desecrated, the cult images smashed and removed, and the temple became usurped as a church dedicated to Saint George Akamates, including 69 burials in and around the temple. This usurpation ended in 1834 when it was turned into a museum and also as a burial place for non-Orthodox Europeans who had fought for Hellas in the War of Independence. This lasted another hundred years until it was made into an archaeological monument and extensive archaeological research was allowed.

As important as Lemnos is to the mythology surrounding Hephaistos, I haven’t found much concrete information on sanctuaries there. He has a forge there, named Aithaleia, from αἰθαλόεις (sooty, smoky), which may show a volcanic character to it. Perhaps it is Mt. Mosykhlos, from which it was said that fire occasionally came forth. I haven’t found any actual references to this and it comes from Wikipedia, so take it with some salt. I do know for certain, however, that two main settlements existed on Lemnos. Myrina and Hephaistia. The latter clearly is related to Hephaistos and would have no doubt have a sanctuary dedicated to him and a whole festival cycle relating to various mythological events. I haven’t found anything on a temple or much about festivals.

The temple near Mt. Etna, where Hephaistos had another forge, attended by the primaeval Kyklopes, originally belonged to the Sikelian Deity Adranos, father to the Palikoi deities of the nearby hot springs. As Hellenes colonised parts of Sicily, they identified this Adranos with Hephaistos as transposed his mythology and temple to Hephaistos as Hephaistos Aitnaios/Adranos. I found little archaeological evidence, but there is the story of the dogs, which I have already told a few times in these blog posts. To recapitulate, the temple had a pack of sacred dogs that welcomed the pure and were tame around them, but who chased away the impure.

A final temple I wish to mention is the temple of Hephaistos/Vulcanus in ancient Akragas, today Agrigento, a town in Sicily, so Greater Hellas like the previous paragraph. This temple lies in the Valley of the Gods (Valle dei Templi), which is actually a ridge above the city and not a valley at all. However, the complication here is that the identification is mostly just renaissance tradition with little evidence to support it, as is the case for the other temples in Akragas. So it is uncertain if this actually was a temple of Hephaistos, but I thought I should include it here. It is a Doric style building from the 5th century BCE. The temple is 43 x 20.85. It contained a sacellum within the cella, a sacellum measuring 13.25 x 6.50 meters. I don’t have measurements for the cella. For those who don’t know, a cella is a restricted area or niche where the cult image is located, this would usually be accessible only to priests and perhaps workers to repair any damage that may have occurred.  A sacellum is like a small shrine. I am unsure what this means in terms of layout, but my interpretation is that the cult statue was placed inside a sacellum, which was surrounded by a cella, which was surrounded by the rest of the temple.

That’s enough, I think.



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