The landmark of Argyro Pigadi is the Holy Temple of Saint George, the Neomartyr, built in a beautiful location on a hill between Argyro Pigadi and Amvrakia Village.
It is built on the ruins of an older building, perhaps an Aetolian beacon, which proves the continuous presence of human life in the area.
The temple is a unique example of 19th-century Church Architecture in the prefecture of Aetoloakarnania. The architectural type of the temple is characterized as a five-domed cross-in-square church with a central dome.
According to architect Christos Katsimbinis: “From an architectural point of view, the church belongs to the post-byzantine monuments, and it is unique in the region of Aetoloakarnania. It resembles the Church of the Holy Cross in Krania, Aspropotamos, and it seems that the same builders built the temple.”
The temple’s dimensions are 7.78m wide and 10.50m long, not including the protruding part of the bema. It covers an area of 84.70sq.m.
The central dome from the inside is 8.30m high, and from the outside is 8.50m.
The central cylindrical dome stands on four arches and four columns just at the union of the semicylindrical domes of the antennas of the formed cross. The four cylindrical domes occupy the corner parts of the temple. Two apses lie between the lateral domes of the temple.
On the top of each dome is a metal cross in the form of a dagger.
A carving depicting the double-headed eagle is in the center of the temple’s floor.
A double-headed eagle
The Holy table
It is the first temple built in honor of Saint George, the Neomartyr. Its building began in 1841, just three years after the Saint’s martyrdom. It was completed in 1847 after the vast contribution of the inhabitants of Argyro Pigadi and the broader area in the form of money and animal donations, mining stones, and carrying the building materials.
The building inscription on the outside of the central dome states:
FOUNDER OF AGIOS GEORGIOS NEOMARTYR VASILIS TALAGANIS
According to a local tradition, Vasilis Talaganis was commanded in his dreams by the Saint himself to build the temple, and after some hesitation, he obeyed.
But apart from the miraculous aspect of the event, it is also logical that the rebels coming from Epirus and finding refuge in Argyro Pigadi were the ones who received the news of the martyrdom of the Saint.
Vasilis Talaganis, with the surname Thanasopoulos, came to the village in the years before the Greek Revolution after being chased by the Turks from his village, Halkiades, in Arta.
During the Revolution, we find him among the fighters who fought with chieftain “Apokouro,” who came from Argyro Pigadi, also known as Kostas Siadimas.
Vasilis Talaganis was shocked by the news about the martyrdom of St. George, and he decided to build the temple in honor of the Saint. In addition to his contribution, he set up a fundraising committee across the prefecture.
The prominent supporter and financier seemed to have been the chieftain Nikolaos Kaskaris, who came from Souli but lived in Agrinio. He was the one who offered the icon with the Saint’s martyrdom inscribed as follows:
“Supplication of the Servant of God Nikolaos Kaskaris
1847 July 21. K. Lambrou’s Hand».
While Saint George is usually depicted with a fez on his head, this icon shows him without one. This probably happened because the fez was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
He always appears wearing a “foustanella”(attire of that time), hence the nickname “Foustanellas,” and he has been declared the Patron Saint of the Greek Presidential Guard.
In any case, it is not irrelevant that people who carried rifles were interested in building the temple. So, on all four sides of the temple, there are firing ports so the people inside the temple can control the surrounding area.
In the area next to the temple, there are two cells, destroyed today,
in which, at different periods, at least three monks from Argyro Pigadi lived.
The first one was Vasilis Talaganis, the founder of the temple and the cells. The second one was Parthenios Kotsalos (see photo), who lived some years here and then left. And the third one was Filaretos, his old name Photios Apostolou Karageorgos, who, according to Yiannis Kotsalos, spent some years as a monk here and then went to the monastery of Dervekista and from there, his trace was lost.
Over time, the church was damaged. Repair made by local craftsmen occasionally was not always the best.
The earthquakes in 2007 and 2008 caused significant damage and cracks while stones fell from the building. Something had to be done urgently.
The architects Christos Katsimbinis and Dimitris Papakonstantinou of the Municipality of Thermo made all the necessary studies. Still, unfortunately, there was no funding source for the work, although the Ministry of Culture has characterized the temple as a monument in need of special state protection.
The danger of the temple collapse led the inhabitants to take action. The “Association of People originating from Argyro Pigadi,” together with the local Church Council, took the initiative to address the originating from Argyro Pigadi people first and then to the inhabitants of the wider area so that everyone could offer whatever they could to save the temple, something that happened to a great extent.
Christos Katsimbinis, an architect, points out:
“ The Department of Byzantine Monuments of the Ministry of Culture approved studies for the restoration of the church, and the repair began under the supervision of the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Ephorate. We started with the underpinnings. We fixed and cleaned the domes and then the floor. We reinforced the arches with tractors, then the masonry; we filled cracks and more. Of course, all these were done over a long period. Today we have the chance to present this monument and evaluate this restoration, an example of a good repair. We assess this work, which happened due to the village inhabitants, who, with significant financial and personal sacrifices, have managed to restore the temple and make it a pilgrimage for the area. “
Thus, they restored the church, and they shaped the surrounding area. A part of the bema, Platytera, was painted, pews were placed, etc., so today, it is a jewel for the whole area.
The memory of Neomartyr Saint George of Ioannina is honored on January 17, and when the weather permits, the Saint is celebrated in the temple. However, because there are few inhabitants in the area’s villages, and the winter weather is generally harsh and challenging, many years ago, they decided to have a feast in the summer, on the Saturday before the Assumption.