Something unique happens in Arnaia and is related to the holy Metropolitan church of St. Stephen. It is the only temple in Greece that, while operating normally, serving the needs of the faithful, at the same time it is built on important antiquities of inestimable historical value, which are most visible to them. Apart from being a place of religious worship, it is also a site of historical and archaeological interest.
But let’s take things from the beginning. The metropolitan church of Arnaia, as it appears from a marble inscription plaque that is built on its front, was built in 1812 and is commemorated in the memory of St. Stephen, since there was a metohi of the monastery of Kostamoniti on Mount Athos, whose Katholikon is also dedicated to memory of St. Stephen. The church belongs to the architectural type of the three-aisled basilica measuring 41×19.5 meters. During the revolution of 1821 it was burned down by foundations, like the whole village, whose inhabitants abandoned it and dispersed it in the surrounding area. Later they returned, rebuilt the village and the church, where they placed a wooden iconostasis and ornate despotic throne, from the few woodcutters in the area. The unique technical temple was a donation of the monastery of Kostamonitou and included 70 smaller wooden icons and 14 large ones lined with silver.
On the evening of September 5, 2005, a great fire erupted inside the temple and destroyed it almost completely. Its cause remains unknown until today and left behind intact only the stone-made masonry. The roof collapsed. Everything inside the temple – the icons, books, heirlooms and objects of inestimable historical and artistic value, the unique silver-plated and painted wooden iconostasis, the elaborate wood-carved despot-throne – turned into ashes. Immediately the Ministry of Culture through the 10th Ephorate Byzantine Antiquities under the jurisdiction of the temple, with the cooperation of the ecclesiastical authorities and the local institutions, but also with the full support of the citizens of Arnaia and the wider region began the rehabilitation project.
During the reconstruction and renovation works, the interior of the temple revealed the existence of three older buildings: a large three-aisled Early Christian basilica dated around 400, a small one-room Byzantine temple of the 10th-11th century and a large rectangular post-Byzantine building without its niche 16th-17th century. At the same time, numerous findings from the Early Christian era to the period of Ottoman domination have come to light: clay, marble, glass and metal objects, mortars and wall paintings.
Fifteen burials were also discovered, some of which date back to the Early Christian period and others in the 16th century AD. Thus, due to the reconstruction work of the burned building and the systematic excavations of the 10th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, a very important aspect of the history of the area was discovered: The uninterrupted human presence and activity in Arnaia, and especially the place where the St. Stephen’s temple.
After the completion of the restoration work and the excavation research, the series had the protection and the preservation of the findings. At the same time, the archaeological site was shaped to reveal the buried history of the place. In the renovated floor of the temple were placed special transparent “panels” on which visitors can stand, walk or be ecclesiastical, observing at the same time illuminated and specially shaped the archaeological site and the finds found under the temple.