Demeter’s MDT – Day 12: Temples & Holy Places

Χαίρετε ἀναγνώστες!

Today I will discuss temples and other places sacred to Demeter.

The obvious, major Holy Site of Demeter would be Eleusis. There is a large sanctuary there, dedicated to Demeter and Persephone, site of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It is perhaps one of the most sacred sites of the Hellenic religion, the location where Demeter taught the art of agriculture to Triptolemos, once Persephone was returned to her.

A British tourist in 1738, a John Montague, said many of the sculptures had been destroyed by the Turks who were inhabiting the site. In 1812 the site was partially excavated by the Society of the Dilettanti, who were unable to excavate everything because there was a village on top of part of the site. They did discover the Telesterion, however, the sacred precinct wherein the Initiates would experience the Mysteries.


Site plan of the Sanctuary of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Image taken from, 12 September 2017.

There is an interesting anecdote from 1803 when another Brit found a Karyatid statue and wished to take it with him to England. The locals were greatly opposed to this as they believed it was a statue of “Saint Dimitra” (!), a Saint who protected their crops. During the first attempt of removing the statue, he got it to his ship, but it mysteriously returned overnight to its proper place. The second attempt succeeded, but the ship sank on the journey back to England. The statue was later recovered and now rests in the Fitzwilliam Museum. It should be noted that for years after the removal of the image, the crops of the people living at Eleusis failed.


The Telesterion was a large rectangular hall, probably columned, in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis (Greece). It served as the initiation Hall and Temple for the Eleusinian Mysteries. Date of construction: c. 435 BCE – 421 BCE. Image taken from on 12 September 2017. This image was first published on Flickr. Original image by Carole Raddato. Uploaded by Carole Raddato, published on 03 January 2015 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

The first temple at the site was built around 1500 BCE, during the reign of the mythical (perhaps also historical?) King Keleus. When Eleusis became part of the polis of Athens, it was expanded upon and fortified during the reign of the Tyrant Peisistratos, ca. 550-510 BCE. In 479 BCE the site was sacked by the Persians, then rebuilt under Kimon and later Perikles. This rebuilding made the Telesterion larger than before. The Peloponnesian War did not touch the Sanctuary, the Lakonians (Spartans) were always described, even by their enemies, as a deeply devout people, explaining why this major Sanctuary was left alone. In 360 BCE the fortifications were enlarged by Lykourgos, and the old 6th century BCE Ploutoneion was replaced with a larger building.

During the Roman period, several Emperors added to the Sanctuary, aggrandizing it further. Especially after the Sanctuary was sacked by Sarmatians. Marcus Aurelius restored and aggrandized the site further, and as permitted as the only lay person ever to enter the Anaktoron, the Inner Sanctum where the Sacred Objects were kept, which only the Hierophants of the Mysteries were permitted to enter.

In 379 CE the Sanctuary was closed under Theodosius I, the last remnants of the Mysteries and the Sanctuary were destroyed by invading Visigoths, at the time Arian Christians, in 395 CE.

Athens also had an Eleusinion temple at the foot of the Acropolis, where the Sacred Objects would be brought to on the first day of the Eleusinian Mysteries, to be brought back to Eleusis with the procession of the Initiates over the Holy Road (Hiera Odos).

Another temple of Demeter was built on Naxos in the Late Archaic Period, ca. 530 BCE. The temple was built entirely from Naxian marble and is one of the earliest Ionic style temples. It is located in Ano Sangri on Naxos. Unlike the typical Hellenic temple, which had an elongated rectangular ground plan, the temple at Sangri is almost square, the sides being 13,29 x 12,73 m. Rather than the usual eastern, or more rarely western, orientation, this temple faces the south. The columns also are unusual, as they don’t get broader with height, to create the optical illusion of columns that are equally broad over the entire length. Instead, they actually get narrower towards the top, increasing the natural tendency of columns to look narrower as you look further up. And these are but a few of the unusual elements to this temple. These many unusual features must have been very conscious decisions on the part of the architect and builders, but it is unknown what their significance is. The site was desecrated and demolished in 6th century CE, its stone was used to build a Christian basilica in the same location.


The partially restored Temple of Demeter at Sangri, on Naxos. By Olaf Tausch (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons. Taken from WikiCommons on 12 September 2017.

This temple first investigated by Nikolaos Kondoleon, and later excavated from 1976 to 1985 by Vassilis Lambrinoudakis and Gottfried Grubenas. This excavation project was a joint venture of the University of Athens and the Technical University of Munich. Part of the structure was restored, and a small museum was built on site, which opened in August 2001.

There are undoubtedly far more temples and Sanctuaries of Demeter out there, such as the Sanctuary of Demeter Erinys, of Demeter Melaina, and countless others, but these are the ones I have been able to find the most information on.



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