Built around the year 1000, the church of Hosios Loukas (Saint Luke for those of you English speakers) was a product of the thriving Byzantine monastic movement. Many citizens of the empire contributed to this movement, either financially or by spending part of their lives in a monastery or convent.
In the Eastern Roman Empire, as in the far east, it was common for older people to join a holy community as sort of a way of preparing for the afterlife. But true champions of the faith embraced this lifestyle at a much earlier age. The tenth-century saint for whom the church of Hosios Loukas is named left his parents at the age of 14 to join other monks. In time, a longing for solitude led him to a rugged hillside in Phocis where ancient Greeks had once worshipped the goddess Demeter. There, Loukas/Luke passed his last 8 years in a small cell, visited now and again by pilgrims, and acquiring a reputation as a healer and prophet. Before his death in 943, it was said, he foretold the liberation of Crete from Muslim control. When that prophecy was fulfilled in 961, Loukas/Luke’s reputation soared, and powerful patrons offered their support to the monastic community that had grown up around his dwelling. By one account, the church that arose there drew support from Basil II.
A fitting monument to power and piety, the building projected a fortress-like solidity, relieved by a host of graceful arches and windows that threw light on the sacred images housed within. Wrought of stone, brick, and tile, the exterior of Hosios Loukas reveals the building’s symbolic plan - a cross within a square, with the cross defined by the gable transepts projecting from the central dome. Hosios Loukas has endured as a shining example of Byzantine church architecture.