Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 24

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The church is mentioned for the first time in the earlier half of the eighth century as a chapel ([Greek: eukterion]) which Thekla, the eldest daughter of the Emperor Theophilus, restored and attached to her residence at Blachernae.[341] The princess was an invalid, and doubtless retired to this part of the city for the sake of its mild climate. To dedicate the chapel to her patron saint was only natural. As already intimated, the church was rebuilt from the foundations, in the eleventh century, by Isaac Comnenus, in devout grat.i.tude for his escape from imminent death[342] in the course of his campaign against the barbarous tribes beside the Danube, when he was overtaken at the foot of the Lovitz mountain by a furious tempest of rain and snow. The plain on which his army was encamped soon became a sheet of water, and many of his men and animals were drowned or frozen to death. Thunder, lightning, and hurricane combined to produce an awful scene, and there were moments when the whole world seemed on fire. The emperor took shelter under a large oak, but, fearing the tree might be thrown down by the furious wind, he soon made for open ground. Scarcely had he done so when the oak was torn up by the roots and hurled to the earth. A few moments later the emperor would have been killed. This narrow escape occurred on the 24th September, the festival day of S. Thekla, and, therefore, attributing his deliverance to her intervention, Isaac rebuilt and greatly beautified the old sanctuary dedicated to her in Blachernae, and frequently attended services there in her honour. Anna Comnena[343]

speaks of the restored church in the highest terms. According to her it was built at great cost, displayed rare art, and was in every way worthy of the occasion which led to its erection. Zonaras[344] is not so complimentary. He describes the church as a monument of the n.i.g.g.ardliness of Isaac Comnenus. In any case, it was pulled down and rebuilt in the following century by the Emperor John Comnenus in splendid style, and dedicated to the Saviour.[345] As the beauty and wealth of a Byzantine sanctuary were exhibited in the lavish adornment of the interior, it is possible that the church of S. Thekla, though small and outwardly plain, may have been a beautiful and rich building in its latest Christian character. It had then the honour of seeing among the worshippers before its altar Anna Dala.s.sena, the mother of the Comneni. For, when charged with the government of the Empire during the absence of Alexius Comnenus from the capital, that able woman came often to pray in this church, 'lest she should be immersed in merely secular affairs.'[346]

_Architectural Features_

(For Plan see p. 206)

The building is an oblong hall, m. 13.55 by m. 5.4, divided into three compartments. It is now covered with a wooden roof, but the arrangements of the breaks or pilasters on the walls indicate that it had originally a dome. At the east end is a single apse, the usual side-apses being represented by two niches. The western compartment served as a narthex.

During the repairs of the mosque in 1890, frescoes of the eikons which once decorated the walls were brought to view. On the exterior the apse shows three sides, crowned with a corbelled cornice. The central side is pierced by a window of good workmanship, divided by a shaft into two lights, and above the window are two short blind concave niches. High blind concave niches indent the other sides of the apse. In the northern wall are the remains of a triple window, divided by shafts built in courses. Above this is a row of three small windows.

[334] _Ancient and Modern C.P._ p. 46.

[335] Paspates, p. 359.

[336] For this information I am indebted to Rev. H. O. Dwight, LL.D., late of the American Board of Missions in Constantinople.

[337] Paspates, p. 357, note.

[338] Anna Comnena, vol. i. p. 168.

[339] Scylitzes, p. 647 (Cedrenus, vol. ii.); Zonaras, iii. p. 672.

[340] If the mosque Aivas Effendi could be proved to stand on the site of a church, the argument against the identification of Toklou Dede Mesjedi with the church of S. Thekla would be stronger.

[341] Theoph. Cont. p. 147.

[342] Anna Comnena, vol. i. p. 168.

[343] _Ibid._ vol. i. p. 168.

[344] Zonaras, iii. p. 672.

[345] _Ibid. ut supra._

[346] Anna Comnena, vol. i. p. 169.



The reasons which favour the identification of the mosque Eski Imaret Mesjedi, which is situated on the heights above Aya Kapou (Gate of S.

Theodosia), with the church of S. Saviour Pantepoptes, the All-Seeing ([Greek: pantepoptes]), are the following: first, the tradition to that effect,[347] which in the case of a building so conspicuous can scarcely be mistaken; secondly, the correspondence of its position to that of the Pantepoptes, on a hill commanding an extensive view of the Golden Horn;[348] and finally, the architectural features which mark it to be what the church of the Pantepoptes was, a building of the Comnenian period. The church of the Pantepoptes was founded or restored by Anna Dala.s.sena,[349] the mother of Alexius I. Comnenus (1081-1118), one of the most remarkable women in Byzantine history, combining to a rare degree domestic virtues with great political ambition and administrative ability. For twenty years she was a.s.sociated with her son in the government of the Empire, and was the power behind the throne which he owed largely to her energy and devotion. About the year 1100 she laid aside the cares of state, and without renouncing altogether her royal style retired to rest in the monastery she had built, until her death, five years later, at an advanced age.[350] There is nothing of special importance to record in the annals of the House. Its inmates were occasionally disturbed by the confinement among them of some dignitary who had offended the Government, or by the theological disputes that agitated the ecclesiastical circles of the capital.[351] But for the most part life at Pantepoptes was quiet and peaceful. Only once does the monastery stand out conspicuous before the eyes of the world. When the Venetian ships under Henrico Dandolo, with the army of the Fourth Crusade on board, lined the sh.o.r.e of the Golden Horn from Ispigas and the church of S. Saviour the Benefactor to Blachernae (_i.e._ from Jubali Kapoussi to Aivan Serai) on Easter Monday, 12th April 1204, the Emperor Alexius Murtzuphlus established his headquarters beside the Pantepoptes. There he pitched his vermilion tent, marshalled his best troops, and watched the operations of the enemy. And thence he fled when he saw the walls on the sh.o.r.e below him carried by storm, and Flemish knights mounted on horses, which had been landed from the hostile fleet, advancing to a.s.sault his position. So hurried was his flight that he left his tent standing, and under its shelter Count Baldwin of Flanders and Hainault slept away the fatigue of that day's victory.[352] During the Latin occupation the church pa.s.sed into the hands of the Venetians, and was robbed of many of its relics for the benefit of churches in the West.[353] Upon the Turkish conquest it served for some time as an imaret or refectory for the students and teachers of the _medresse_,[354] then in course of construction beside the great mosque of Sultan Mehemed. Hence its Turkish name. After serving that purpose it was converted into a mosque later in the reign of the conqueror.

[Ill.u.s.tration: PLATE LVII.



_To face page 212._

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 72.]

_Architectural Features_

In plan the church belongs to the 'four column' type, and has two narthexes. The dome, placed on a drum, circular within and twelve-sided without, is carried on four piers which the Turks have reduced to an irregular octagonal form. It is divided into twelve bays by square ribs, and is lighted by twelve semicircular-headed windows. The cornice-string is adorned with a running leaf spray of a pleasing and uncommon design.

The arms of the cross have barrel vaults, while the chambers at its angles are covered with cross-groined vaults. The apsidal chambers are small, with shallow niches on the north, south, and west, and a somewhat deeper niche on the east where the apse stands. These niches are carried up through a vaulting string-course, carved with a repeating leaf ornament, and combine with the groined vault above them to produce a charming canopy. The southern transept gable, though much built up, still displays the design which occurs so frequently in Byzantine churches, namely, three windows in the lunette of the arch (the central light rising higher than the sidelights), and three stilted arches below the vaulting string-course, resting on two columns and containing three windows which are carried down to a breastwork of carved marble slabs between the columns. The floor of the church is paved with square red bricks, except in the apses, where marble is employed. The gynecaeum, above the inner narthex, is divided into three bays separated by broad transverse arches. The central bay, which is larger than its companions, is covered with a dome vault, and looks into the body of the church through a fine triple arcade in the lunette of the western arm of the cross. The smaller bays are covered with cross-groined vaults. As elsewhere, the vaulting-string in the gynecaeum is decorated with carved work. The inner narthex, like the gynecaeum above it, is divided into three bays covered with cross-groined vaults, and communicates with the church, as usual, by three doors. Its walls seem to have been formerly revetted with marble. In the northern wall is a door, now closed, which gave access to a building beyond that side of the church. The exonarthex is also divided in three bays, separated by transverse arches, and communicates with the inner narthex by three doors and with the outer world by a single door situated in the central bay. That bay has a low dome without windows, while the lateral bays have groined vaults.

Turkish repairs show in the pilasters and the pointed arches which support the original transverse arches. The doors throughout the building are framed in marble jambs and lintels, adorned in most cases with a running ornament and crosses. In the case of the doors of the exonarthex a red marble, _breche rouge_, is employed, as in the exonarthex of the Pantokrator, another erection of the Comnenian period.

On the exterior the building is much damaged, but nevertheless preserves traces of considerable elaboration. The walls are of brick, intermixed with courses of stone, and on the three sides of the central apse there are remains of patterned brickwork. On the b.u.t.tresses to the southern wall are roundels with radiating voussoirs in stone and brick, and if one may judge from the fact that the string-course does not fit the face of the wall, parts of the exterior of the church were incrusted with marble. The round-headed windows of the dome cut into its cornice. Under the church is a cistern[355] which Bondelmontius deemed worthy of mention.[356] Until some twenty years ago extensive substructures were visible on the north-east of the church, affording homes for poor Greek families.[357] They were probably the foundations of the lofty monastery buildings whose windows commanded the magnificent view of the Golden Horn that doubtless suggested the epithet Pantepoptes, under which the Saviour was worshipped in this sanctuary.

[Ill.u.s.tration: PLATE LVIII.



_To face page 214._

S. Saviour Pantepoptes is the most carefully built of the later churches of Constantinople. The little irregularities of setting out so common in the other churches of the city are here almost entirely absent. This accuracy of building, the carving of the string-courses, and the remains of marble decoration both within and on the exterior, prove exceptional care.

For details see Figs. 68, 72, 75.

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 73.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 74.]

[347] Patr. Constantius, pp. 70-80.

[348] Nicet. Chon. p. 752.

[349] Glycas, p. 622.

[350] _Ibid._ For the career of this distinguished woman, see Diehl, _Figures byzantines_.

[351] Nicet. Chon. pp. 315-16; Pachym. i. pp. 314-15, ii. p. 185.

[352] Villehardouin, _La Conquete de C.P._ pp. 141-44; _Chroniques greco-romaines_, pp. 96, 97.

[353] Riant, _Exuviae sacrae_, p. 178.

[354] Paspates, p. 314.

[355] _Die byzantinischen Wa.s.serbehalter von K.P._, von Dr. P.

Forcheimer und Dr. J. Strzygowski, pp. 106-7.

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