How the Shrine Envelops You
St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine in St. Augustine makes harmony of oppositions. It breaks open the box, as one of architect Ted Pappas’s sayings has it, then makes of it a frame for interior arches.
That box is the reconstructed Avero House, where Greeks first worshipped here, one of a handful of St. Augustine houses true to their original form that predate 1821, when Florida became a territory of the United States. The National Register of Historic Places dates the house to 1749.
The shrine uses several of Pappas’s favorite themes. He’s fascinated with intimate scale and loves to combine forward-thinking design with a deep appreciation of the past. Deep inside the shrine, standing in the chapel, it’s hard to believe that St. George Street, with its tourists buying postcards, sunglasses, and panama hats, is right outside.
From St. George Street, you enter not immediately into the building, but through a door into the courtyard. In the garrison style of architecture represented by St. Augustine’s colonial houses, you never enter a house directly from the street. The door, recessed in a wall of stucco, opens into a courtyard with high walls, which winds you around toward the entrance. You’re wound into the shrine, you’re enveloped, implicated.
Pappas frequently notes that motion is a central element, a material, in good architecture, and entering the shrine is an act of pilgrimage.