Martinos Center Benefactors Honored by the Greek Orthodox Church

Thanassis Martinos was recognized for his role in helping to restore the Church of Saint George in Egypt. Photo courtesy of Nikos Monginos / Amen.gr

Many biomedical research centers have been named in honor of the donors who, through their generous support, are helping to advance work done in the particular areas of investigation. We know these donors’ names, and associate them with the research the centers produce. Less familiar to us, though, are the myriad other ways in which the benefactors are working to improve the world around them.

The Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital was named in memory of the daughter of Thanassis and Marina Martinos of Athens, Greece. Over the past nearly two decades the Martinos’ have been linked to cutting-edge advances in the development and application of a range of imaging technologies. But science and medicine aren’t the only areas to benefit from their munificence: Thanassis and Marina have also devoted themselves to the faith that has sustained them and many millions of others. In May of this year, they were honored for their role as benefactors in the restoration of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, a historic and archaeologically important site in Old Cairo, Egypt.

Built upon the round, northern tower of the Fortress of Babylon, and echoing its shape, the Church of Saint George has long served as a shrine and a monastery, and occasionally also as a hospital, a school, a home for the elderly and the poor, and a refuge for the persecuted. Its precise origins are unknown, but scholars trace its early history to the 10th century or even before. For more than a millennium, then, the church has played a meaningful role in the Orthodox tradition.

Time takes its toll, of course, and by the end of the 20th century the church and monastery were in need of repair. Flooding due to a rising water table in Old Cairo, itself the result of the construction of a new metro line, had damaged the original Roman tower on which the church was built. This in turn created a number of structural issues with the iconic rotunda, which was added to the church in 1904. To address these many concerns, an expansive joint project was launched, with archaeologists, engineers, architects and conservation workers banding together to repair the structures and return the rotunda to its original splendor. The restoration was completed in 2014; the official inauguration of the church, an elaborate, festive occasion, took place the following year.