There are not just one but two churches of St Andrew in Patras.
St Andrew was a busy bee as far as Apostles go. He visited Byzantium and ordained the first bishop of what would later become the patriarchate of Constantinople. He travelled around the Black Sea in today’s Georgia, Romania, Crimea and the Ukraine. Descending through modern Greece to the Peloponnese, he stopped at Patras to preach Christianity.
St Andrew performed the obligatory miracles in Patras: he cured Sossios, the man he took abode with “of an incurable disease” as well as the Roman Consul Lesbius (no sniggering at the back).
When Emperor Nero heard of this, he sent a new consul, Aegeatis, to replace Lesbius. With impeccable timing, Aegeatis’s wife Maximilla fell sick. St Andrew cured her and, although Aegeatis proposed to pay St Andrew, the saint refused, “requesting only payment from God”.
Annoyed, Aegeatis left for Rome and when he returned he found that both his wife and his brother Stratocles had embraced Christianity. In a rage, Aegeatis tortured St Andrew to death on an X-shaped cross in 66 AD.
Now, unlike other relics St Andrew’s have a good chance of being real, mainly because his body was venerated by local Christians in secret.
St Andrew’s cross was also kept and then displayed in the first paleochristian church, built on the old temple of Demeter, where St Andrew was crucified. The saint’s relics were carried to Constantinople on 3 May 357 with great aplomb and kept in the Church of the Apostles.
In 1204, during the fourth Crusade, Cardinal Peter of Capua took them to the cathedral of Amalfi where they remain to this day. The church in Patras was sacked and the cross was carried to Marseilles, where it was housed in the church of St Victor.
According to the Greek Orthodox church, St Andrew’s skull was returned there in 870 from where Thomas Palaiologos and carried it to Italy in 1462 after the Ottoman capture of the Peloponnese. I note that Thomas was given a palace in Rome and 6,000 ducats pension per annum by the then Pope Pius II.
500 years later, in a gesture of goodwill, Pope Paul VI returned St Andrew’s skull to Patras in 1964 (adding a finger for good measure) and Pope John Paul II returned the cross in 1980.
So to the churches: the first church burned down in 1770 and a new modest but extremely pretty basilica was built in the 1830s. It contains some of the relics and a tomb of St. Andrew which contains the cross from Marseille.
The second church is as interesting. Its construction started in 1908 and claims to be the largest church in the Balkans; there are elements of eclecticism – it incorporates Russian, Mughal and Byzantine elements – and its interior is decorated with a whiff of Greek art nouveau.
Oh and it contains the Holy Skull and Finger. Should you find yourself in Patras on Oct 30, you’ll see them carried through the streets in a procession.