Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 25

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[356] _Librum insularum Archipelagi_, 65.

[357] Paspates, p. 314.



According to the tradition current in the city when Gyllius[358] and Gerlach[359] explored the antiquities of Constantinople, the large Byzantine church, now the mosque Zerek Kilissi Jamissi, overlooking the Golden Horn from the heights above Oun Kapan, was the famous church of S. Saviour Pantokrator. There is no reason for doubting the accuracy of this identification. The church was so important, and so closely a.s.sociated with events which occurred late in the history of the city, that its ident.i.ty could not be forgotten by the Greek ecclesiastical authorities soon after the Turkish conquest. Moreover, all indications of the position of the church, although too vague to determine its precise site, are in harmony with the tradition on the subject. For, according to Russian pilgrims to the shrines of Constantinople, the Pantokrator could be reached most readily from the side of the city on the Golden Horn,[360] and stood in the vicinity of the church of the Holy Apostles[361]--particulars that agree with the situation of Zerek Kilissi Jamissi.

The church was founded by the Empress Irene,[362] the consort of John II. Comnenus (1118-1143), and daughter of Ladislas, King of Hungary. She came to Constantinople shortly before 1105 as the Princess Pyrisca, a beautiful girl, 'a plant covered with blossoms, promising rich fruit,'

to marry John Comnenus, then heir-apparent to the crown of Alexius Comnenus, and adorned eight years of her husband's reign by the simplicity of her tastes and her great liberality to the poor. The monastic inst.i.tutions of the city also enjoyed her favour, and not long before her death in 1126 she a.s.sumed the veil under the name of Xene.

The foundations of the church were, probably, laid soon after her husband's accession to the throne, and to the church she attached a monastery capable of accommodating seven hundred monks;[363] a xenodocheion, a home for aged men, and a hospital.[364]

But the pious and charitable lady had undertaken more than she could perform, and was obliged to turn to the emperor for sympathy and a.s.sistance. Accordingly she took him, one day, to see the edifice while in course of erection, and falling suddenly at his feet, implored him with tears to complete her work. The beauty of the building and the devotion of his wife appealed so strongly to John Comnenus that he forthwith vowed to make the church and monastery the finest in the city, and altogether worthy of the Pantokrator to whom they were dedicated;[365] and so well did he keep his promise, that the honour of being the founder of the church has been bestowed on him by the historian Nicetas Choniates.[366]

The imperial typicon or charter of the monastery,[367] granted in 1136, made the monastery an autonomous inst.i.tution, independent of the patriarch or the prefect of the city, and exempt from taxes of every description. At the same time it was provided with vineyards and richly endowed.

According to Scarlatus Byzantius[368] and the Patriarch Constantius,[369] a mosaic in the building portrayed the Emperor Manuel Comnenus (1141-1180) in the act of presenting the model of the church to Christ. If that was the case the church was completed by that emperor. As will immediately appear, Manuel certainly enriched the church with relics.

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


_To face page 220._]

The history of the Pantokrator may be conveniently divided into three periods: the period of the Comneni; the period of the Latin Empire; and the period of the Palaeologi.

During the first the following incidents occurred: Here, as was most fitting, the founders of the church and monastery were laid to rest, the Empress Irene in 1126,[370] the Emperor John Comnenus[371] seventeen years later. Here their elder son Isaac was confined, until the succession to the throne had been settled in favour of his younger brother Manuel. That change in the natural order of things had been decided upon by John Comnenus while he lay dying in Cilicia from the effects of a wound inflicted by the fall of a poisoned arrow out of his own quiver, when boar-hunting in the forests of the Taurus Mountains, and was explained as due to Manuel's special fitness to a.s.sume the care of the Empire, and not merely to the fact that he was a father's favourite son. But when the appointment was made Manuel was with his father in Cilicia, while Isaac was in Constantinople, in a position to mount the throne as soon as the tidings of John's death reached the capital.

The prospect that Manuel would wear the crown seemed therefore very remote. But Axuch, an intimate friend and counsellor of the dying emperor, started for Constantinople the moment Manuel was nominated, and travelled so fast, that he reached the city before the news of the emperor's death and of Manuel's nomination was known there. Then, wasting no time, Axuch made sure of the person of Isaac, removed him from the palace, and put him in charge of the monks of the Pantokrator, who had every reason to be loyal to the wishes of the deceased sovereign. The wily courtier then set himself to win the leading men in the capital over to the cause of the younger brother, and, by the time Manuel was prepared to enter Constantinople, had secured for him a popular welcome and the surrender of Isaac's claims.[372]

In 1147, the famous eikon of S. Demetrius of Thessalonia was transferred from the magnificent basilica dedicated to the saint in that city to the Pantokrator. This was done by the order of Manuel Comnenus, at the request of Joseph, then abbot of the monastery, and in accordance with the wishes of the emperor's parents, the founders of the House.[373] It was a great sacrifice to demand of the Macedonian shrine, and by way of compensation a larger and more artistic eikon of S. Demetrius, in silver and gold, was hung beside his tomb. But Constantinople rejoiced in the greater sanct.i.ty and virtue of the earlier picture, and when tidings of its approach were received, the whole fraternity of the Pantokrator, with the senate and an immense crowd of devout persons, went seven miles out from the city to hail the arrival of the image, and to bear it in triumph to its new abode, with psalms and hymns, lighted tapers, fragrant incense, and the gleam of soldiers' spears. Thus, it was believed, the monastery gained more beauty and security, the dynasty of the Comneni more strength, the Roman Empire and the Queen of cities an invisible but mighty power to keep enemies afar off.

In 1158 Bertha, the first wife of Manuel Comnenus, and sister-in-law of the Emperor Conrad of Germany, was buried in the church.[374] Twenty-two years later, Manuel Comnenus himself was laid in its heroon in a splendid sarcophagus of black marble with a cover cut in seven protuberances.[375] Beside the tomb was placed the porphyry slab upon which the body of Christ was supposed to have been laid after His deposition from the cross. The slab was placed there in commemoration of the fact that when it was brought from Ephesus to Constantinople, Manuel carried it on his broad shoulders all the way up the hill from the harbour of the Bucoleon (at Tchatlady Kapou), to the private chapel of the imperial residence near S. Sophia.[376] Nicetas Choniates thought the aspect of the tomb and of its surroundings very significant. The seven protuberances on its cover represented the seven-hilled city which had been the emperor's throne; the porphyry slab recalled the mighty deeds which he whose form lay so still and silent in the grave had wrought in the days of his strength; while the black marble told the grief evoked by his death. Robert of Clari, who saw the tomb in 1203, extols its magnificence. 'Never,' says he, 'was born on this earth a holy man or a holy woman who is buried in so rich and splendid a fashion as this emperor in this abbey. There is found the marble table on which Our Lord was laid when taken down from the cross, and there are still seen the tears which Our Lady shed upon it.'[377]

Some seven months after Manuel's death a strange spectacle was witnessed at his tomb. His cousin, Andronicus Comnenus, the torment of his life and one of the worst characters in Byzantine history, taking advantage of the intrigues and disturbances which attended the minority of Manuel's son and successor, Alexius II. Comnenus, left his place of exile in Paphlagonia and appeared in Constantinople at the head of an army, as though the champion of the young sovereign's cause. No sooner had he reached the city than he proceeded to visit Manuel's tomb, to show the regard he professed to feel for a relative and sovereign. At the sight of the dark sarcophagus Andronicus gave way to the most violent paroxysms of grief. So deep and prolonged, indeed, did his distress seem, that his attendants implored him to control his feelings and leave the sad spot. But the mourner protested that he could not quit so hastily a place hallowed by such sacred and tender a.s.sociations.

Moreover, he had not yet said all he had to tell the dead. Bending, therefore, again over the grave, Andronicus continued to address the deceased. The words were inaudible, but they seemed a fresh outpouring of sorrow, and deeply affected many of the spectators, for, as the mourner had not lived on the best terms with his imperial cousin, his grief appeared to be the victory of a man's better nature. But those who knew Andronicus well interpreted his conduct as the performance of a consummate actor, and understood his whispers to mean curses and vows of vengeance upon his dead and helpless relative. Events justified this interpretation. For Andronicus ere long usurped the throne, murdered Alexius, insulted his remains, ordered his head to be cut off, and cast the mutilated corpse into the Sea of Marmora to the strains of music.[378]

During the Latin occupation the church was appropriated for worship according to the ritual of the Roman Communion, and many of its relics, its vessels of gold and silver, its jewels and vestments, were carried off to enrich S. Mark's at Venice, and other shrines of Western Christendom. How great a value was set upon such trophies, and by what strange methods they were secured, is seen in the account which Guntherus,[379] a contemporary historian, gives of the way in which some of the relics of the church were acquired. As soon as the Crusaders captured the city in 1204 and gave it over to pillage, a numerous band of looters made for the Pantokrator in search of spoil, having heard that many valuables had been deposited for safe keeping within the strong walls around the monastery. Among the crowd hastening thither was Martin, abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Parisis in Alsace, who accompanied the Crusade as chaplain and chronicler. The fever of plunder raging about him was too infectious for the good man to escape. When everybody else was getting rich he could not consent to remain poor. His only scruple was not to defile his holy hands with the filthy lucre which worldlings coveted. To purloin sacred relics, however, was lawful booty. Entering, therefore, the Pantokrator with his chaplain, Martin accosted a venerable, white-bearded man who seemed familiar with the building, and in stentorian tones demanded where the relics of the church were to be found. The person addressed was, in fact, a priest, though Martin had mistaken him for a layman on account of the strangeness of the Greek clerical garb. The priest did not understand Latin any more than the abbot understood Greek, and the situation became awkward, for the pitch of Martin's voice made it evident that he was not a person to be trifled with. The old man therefore tried what the Romance patois, which he had picked up from foreign residents in the city, could do to establish intelligible intercourse with the rough visitor. Fortunately the crusader also knew something of that patois, and made the purpose of his visit sufficiently clear. As soon as the iron safe containing the coveted relics was opened, abbot and chaplain plunged four greedy hands into the h.o.a.rd and stowed relic after relic under the ample folds of their robes until there was no room for more.

Thus laden, the pious thieves made as fast as they could for the ship in which they had come to Constantinople, not stopping to converse with friends on the way, and giving to all curious inquiries the brief and enigmatical reply, 'We have done well.' Upon reaching the ship Martin found himself the happy possessor of no less than sixty-two relics, including a piece of the Holy Cross, and drops of 'the blood shed for man's redemption.' Martin wished to start immediately for Alsace, but circ.u.mstances obliged him to remain in Constantinople for several months. Thanks, however, to the priest of the Pantokrator, whom the abbot had treated generously, Martin secured a small chapel where to conceal his spoils until an opportunity to return home should occur. A fellow-countryman, indeed, the only other person let into the secret, advised him to secure by means of the relics an abbotship, if not a bishopric, in the Holy Land. But Martin was above personal ambition, and notwithstanding all the difficulties involved in the attempt to carry the relics to the West, waited patiently till he could smuggle them out of the city. At length his chance came; whereupon he embarked for Venice, and after a hard and tedious journey of eight months reached home safely. Again and again on the way he had narrowly escaped the loss of his treasures at the hands of pirates on the sea and of brigands upon land. But all toils and dangers were forgotten when, on the 24th of June 1205, at the head of the brotherhood of which he was the chief, Martin placed the relics purloined from the Pantokrator of Constantinople upon the high altar of the church of Parisis with a conqueror's pride and joy, while the people shouted, 'Blessed be the Lord G.o.d, the G.o.d of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.' There is archaeology even in morals.

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



_To face page 224._

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 75.]

But while called thus to deplore the removal of many of its valued relics, the Pantokrator came during the Latin period into possession of a sacred object which compensated the house abundantly for all losses of that kind. The church became the shrine of the eikon of the Theotokos Hodegetria. No relic was held in higher estimation. It was considered to be the portrait of the mother of our Lord painted by S. Luke, and was brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople by the Empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II., as a present to her sister-in-law Pulcheria. It led the hosts of the Empire to victory, and shared the honours of their triumphal entry into the capital. When enemies besieged the city, the eikon was carried in procession through the streets and around the fortifications, or was placed near the post of danger. After the capture of the city by the Latins the picture was first taken to S. Sophia, then the cathedral of the Venetian patriarchs of Constantinople. But the Venetian clergy of the Pantokrator claimed the sacred picture as their own, in virtue of a promise made to them by the Emperor Henry; and when their claim was ignored, they persuaded the podesta of the Venetian community to break into S. Sophia and seize the eikon by force. In vain did the patriarch appear upon the scene with candle and bell to excommunicate the podesta, his council, and his agents for the sacrilegious act. The coveted prize was borne off in triumph to the Pantokrator. In vain did the Papal Legate in the city confirm the excommunication of the guilty parties, and lay their churches under interdict. In vain were those penalties confirmed by the Pope himself.[380] The eikon kept its place in the Pantokrator notwithstanding all anathemas until the fall of the Latin Empire, when it was removed from the church to lead the procession which came through the Golden Gate on the 15th August 1261, to celebrate the recovery of Constantinople by the Greeks.[381]

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



_To face page 226._]

Towards the close of the Latin occupation the monastery became the residence of the Latin emperor, probably because the condition of the public exchequer made it impossible to keep either the Great Palace or the palace of Blachernae in proper repair. Money was not plentiful in Constantinople when Baldwin II., the last Latin ruler of the city, was compelled to sell the lead on the roof of his palace for a paltry sum, and to use the beams of his outhouses for fuel, nor when he had to leave his son and heir in the hands of the Capelli at Venice as security for a loan. Still, the selection of the monastery for the emperor's abode, even under these trying circ.u.mstances, implies the importance and comparative splendour of the building. Here Baldwin was in residence when the forces of Michael Palaeologus, under the command of Alexius Strategopoulos, approached the city, and here he received the intelligence, early in the morning of the 25th of July 1261, that the Greeks had entered the city by the Gate of the Pege[382] (Selivri Kapoussi), and set fire to the capital at four points. Baldwin's first impulse was to make a brave stand. But his fleet and the greater part of his army were absent from the city, engaged in the siege of Daphnusium on the coast of the Black Sea. Meantime the fires kindled by the Greeks were spreading and drawing nearer and nearer to the Pantokrator itself.

So casting off sword and helmet and every other mark of his station, Baldwin took ship and led the flight of the Latin masters of Constantinople back to their homes in the West.[383]

The first incident in the history of the Pantokrator after the restoration of the Greek Empire was not fortunate. The monastery then became the object upon which the Genoese, who had favoured that event, and been rewarded with the grant of Galata as a trading post, saw fit to vent the grudge they bore against certain Venetians who, in the course of the feud between the two republics, as compet.i.tors for the commerce of the East, had injured a church and a tower belonging to the Genoese colony at Acre. To destroy some building in Constantinople a.s.sociated with Venice was thought to be the best way to settle the outstanding account, and so a band of Genoese made for the Pantokrator, over which the banner of S. Mark had recently floated, and tore the monastery down to the ground, making it a greater ruin than the Venetians had made of the Genoese buildings in Syria. Then, not only to deprive the enemy of his property but to turn it also to one's own advantage, the scattered stones were collected and shipped to Genoa for the construction of the church of S. George in that city.[384]

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



_To face page 228._]

In the reign of Michael Palaeologus, a member of the n.o.ble family of the princes of the Peloponnesus became abbot of the Pantokrator, and acquired great influence. He led, as we shall see, the mission which conducted the emperor's daughter Maria to the Mongolian court, and when the patriarchal seat was vacant in 1275, a strong party favoured his appointment to that position instead of Veccus.[385]

During the period of the Palaeologi the church frequently served as a mausoleum for members of the imperial family. Here in 1317 was buried Irene, the second wife of Andronicus II., a Spanish princess and daughter of the Marquis of Monferrat. She came to Constantinople in 1285, when only eleven years old, a beautiful girl, Yolande by name, distinguished for the elegance of her manners, and for a time was the idol of the court. But what with the desire which she developed to ama.s.s wealth, and to see her sons share in the government of the Empire, she ultimately proved the cause of much unhappiness to her husband.[386] She deserves to be remembered for bequeathing the funds which enabled Andronicus II. to build the b.u.t.tresses supporting the walls of S. Sophia on the north and east.[387]

Here, in 1425, Manuel II. was laid to rest after his long and troubled reign.[388] Beside him were buried his wife Irene (1450)[389] and his three sons, Andronicus (1429),[390] Theodore (1448),[391] John VI.

Palaeologus (1448).[392] Here also was placed the tomb of the Empress Maria of the house of Trebizond, the fourth wife of John VII.

Palaeologus;[393] and not far off was the grave of Eugenia, the wife of the despot Demetrius and daughter of the Genoese Gatulazzo, who had helped to overthrow John Cantacuzene and to recover the throne for the Palaeologi.[394] As we follow to the grave this procession of personages so closely a.s.sociated with the fall of Constantinople, one seems to be watching the slow ebbing away of the life-blood of the Empire which they could not save.

In 1407 John Palaeologus, then heir-apparent, added to the endowments of the church by giving it a share in the revenues of the imperial domains at Ca.s.sandra.[395] It would appear that the affairs of the monastery about this time were not in a satisfactory state, for on the advice of the historian Phrantzes they were put for settlement into the hands of Macarius, a monk from Mt. Athos.[396]

A protosyngellos and abbot of the Pantokrator was one of the amba.s.sadors sent by John VII. Palaeologus to Pope Martin V. to negotiate the union of the Churches.[397]

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



_To face page 230._]

The most famous inmate of the Pantokrator was George Scholarius, better known as Gennadius, the first patriarch of Constantinople after the Turkish conquest. On account of his learning and legal attainments he accompanied the Emperor John VII. Palaeologus and the Patriarch Joseph to the Council of Ferrara and Florence in 1438, to take part in the negotiations for the union of Christendom. As submission to the Papal demands was the only hope of obtaining the aid of the West for the Roman Empire in the East, the emperor, with most of the Greek clergy in attendance at the council, subscribed the decrees of that a.s.sembly, and on the 8th July 1438 the two Churches were officially reconciled and bound to common action. But it was a union without sufficient religious motive on the one side and without strong political interest on the other. Instead of improving the situation it made matters worse. But drowning men clutch even unsubstantial objects, and accordingly the Emperor Constantine Dragases, a few years later, implored again the a.s.sistance of the Pope, begging him to send a commission of Roman ecclesiastics to Constantinople to confer once more with Greek theologians with the hope of making the union more effective. In response to that request a Commission was appointed, having at its head Cardinal Isidore, a Greek ecclesiastic, who at the Council of Florence had cast in his lot with the Latins and been created cardinal and t.i.tular archbishop of Kiev. Isidore and his colleagues were welcomed with great demonstrations of joy, and after several meetings with representatives of the Eastern Church terms of union were once more devised. The event was celebrated by a religious service in S. Sophia, according to Roman rite, in the presence of the emperor, the senate, and a large body of ecclesiastics. In the order of the prayers offered that day in the cathedral of the East the name of the Pope was mentioned first. But these proceedings only exasperated the opponents of the union, who had the advantage in numbers and in pa.s.sionate convictions.

Seeking for a leader they flocked to the monastery of the Pantokrator to consult Gennadius. It was a critical moment. Gennadius retired to his cell. Then opening the door he affixed his answer in writing upon it, and again shut himself in. The oracle had spoken: 'Wretched Romans, whither have ye strayed, and gone far from hope in G.o.d to put your trust in the Franks? Your city and your religion will perish together. You abandon the faith of your fathers and embrace impiety. Woe unto you in the day of judgment.' The words spread like wildfire and enflamed the excited crowd within and around the monastery. Anathemas, cursing all supporters of the union in the past, in the present, and in the future resounded on every hand. The answer of Gennadius was carried through the city and found an echo among all cla.s.ses of the population. Men ran to the taverns to drink undiluted wine, in derision of the Roman practice of mixing water with the wine of the Holy Communion; they shouted themselves hoa.r.s.e with maledictions on the unionists; they drank to the honour of the Theotokos, invoking her aid as in the days of old, when she delivered the city out of the hands of the Persians, the Avars, and the Saracens. Far and wide rose the cry, 'Away with the help and the worship of the Latin eaters of unleavened bread.'[398] The two scenes witnessed, on the 12th December 1452, in S. Sophia and at the Pantokrator displayed a discord that hastened the downfall of New Rome.

That day the party with the watchword, 'Better the turban of the Turk than the tiara of the Pope,' gained the victory.

Upon the capture of the city, the Greek community, owing to the recent death of the Patriarch Athanasius, found itself without an ecclesiastical chief. The conqueror, anxious to conciliate his Greek subjects, proclaimed complete religious toleration, and gave orders that they should forthwith proceed to the free election of a new patriarch.

Under the circ.u.mstances there could be no question as to the right man for the place. Gennadius, who had opposed the unprofitable Latin alliance, and saved the national Church notwithstanding the ruin of the Empire, was unanimously chosen to be the first guide of his people along the strange and difficult path they were now to follow. The choice being confirmed by the Sultan, Gennadius left the Pantokrator to do homage to the new master of the realm. Every mark of honour was paid to the prelate. He was invited to the royal table and granted a long audience, at which, following the practice of Byzantine emperors, the Sultan presented him with a magnificent pastoral staff, and promised to respect all the ancient privileges of the patriarchal see. When Gennadius took leave, the Sultan accompanied him to the foot of the stairs of the palace, saw him mounted on a fine and richly caparisoned horse, and ordered the notables of the court to escort him to the church of the Holy Apostles, which was to replace S. Sophia as the cathedral of the Greek Communion.[399] It was certainly fortunate for the Orthodox Church at that cruel moment in its history to find in one of the cells of the Pantokrator a man able to win the goodwill of the Empire's conqueror.

When nothing could save the State, Gennadius saved the nation's Church, and with the Church many forms of national life. Muralt, looking at these transactions from another standpoint, says, 'C'est ainsi que les Grecs virent accompli leur voeu d'etre delivres de l'union avec les Latins.'[400]

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

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