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Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 31

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CHAPTER XX

THE CHURCH OF THE GASTRIA, SANJAKDAR MESJEDI

This mosque is situated in the quarter of Psamathia, at a short distance to the north of the Armenian church of S. George (Soulou Monastir), which stands on the site of the Byzantine church of S. Mary Peribleptos.

Paspates,[464] who first recognized the Byzantine character of the edifice, regards it as the chapel attached to the convent of the Gastria ([Greek: Mone ton Gastrion, ta Gastria], _i.e._ in the district of the Flower-pots). His reasons for that opinion are: first, the building is situated in the district of Psamathia, where the convent of the Gastria stood; secondly, it is in the neighbourhood of the Studion, with which the convent of the Gastria was closely a.s.sociated during the iconoclastic controversy; thirdly, the copious and perennial stream of water that flows through the grounds below the mosque would favour the existence of a flower-garden in this part of the city, and thus give occasion for the bestowal of the name Gastria upon the locality. The argument is by no means conclusive. A more fanciful explanation of the name of the district is given by Byzantine etymologists after their wont. According to them the name was due to the circ.u.mstance that the Empress Helena, upon her return from Jerusalem with her great discovery of the Holy Cross, disembarked at Psamathia, and having founded a convent there, adorned its garden with the pots ([Greek: ta gastria]) of fragrant shrubs which accompanied the sacred tree on the voyage from Palestine.[465] More sober historians ascribe the foundation of the convent to Euphrosyne, the step-mother of the Emperor Theophilus,[466]

or to his mother-in-law Theoctista.[467] Both ladies, it is certain, were interested in the House, the former taking the veil there,[468]

while the latter resided in the immediate neighbourhood.[469] Probably the convent was indebted to both those pious women for benefactions, and it was unquestionably in their day that the monastery acquired its greatest fame as the centre of female influence in support of the cause of eikons. Theoctista was especially active in that cause, and through her connection with the court not only strengthened the opposition to the policy of her son-in-law, but also disturbed the domestic peace of the imperial family. Whenever the daughters of Theophilus visited her she took the opportunity to condemn their father's views, and would press her eikons on the girls' lips for adoration. One day, after such a visit, Pulcheria, the youngest princess, a mere child, in giving an account of what had transpired, innocently told her father that she had seen and kissed some very beautiful dolls at her grandmother's house.

Whereupon Theophilus, suspecting the real facts, forbade his daughter to visit Theoctista again. On another occasion the court fool, Denderis, surprised the Empress Theodora in her private chamber kissing eikons and placing them over her eyes. 'What are these things?' he inquired. 'My beautiful dolls which I love,' she replied. Not long afterwards the jester was summoned to amuse Theophilus while sitting at table. 'What is the latest news?' asked the emperor. 'When I last visited "mamma" (the jester's familiar name for the empress) I saw most beautiful dolls in her room.' Instantly the emperor rose, beside himself with rage, and rushing to his wife's apartments violently denounced her as a heathen and idolater. 'Not at all,' answered Theodora, in her softest accents, 'that fool of yours saw me and my maidens looking into a mirror and mistook the faces reflected there for dolls.' The emperor did not press the case, but a few days later the servants of Theodora caught Denderis and gave him a sound thrashing for telling tales, dismissing him with the advice to let dolls alone in the future. In consequence of this experience, whenever the jester was afterwards asked whether he had seen his 'mamma's' dolls recently, he put one hand to his mouth and the other far down his back and whispered, 'Don't speak to me about dolls.'[470]

Such were the pleasantries that relieved the stern warfare against eikons.

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

GASTRIA (SANJAKAR, MESJEDI). EAST END.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: GASTRIA (SANJAKAR, MESJEDI). THE ENTRANCE.

_To face page 268._]

On the occasion of the breach between Theodora and her son Michael III., on account of the murder of her friend and counsellor Theoctistos at Michael's order, she and her four daughters, Thekla, Anastasia, Anna, and Pulcheria, were confined in the Gastria, and there, with the exception of Anna, they were eventually buried.[471] At the Gastria were shown also the tombs of Theoctista, her son Petronas, Irene the daughter of Bardas, and a small chest containing the lower jaw of Bardas[472]

himself. It is this connection with the family of Theophilus, in life and in death, that lends chief interest to the Gastria.

_Architectural Features_

(For Plan see p. 267.)

Although the building is now almost a complete ruin, it still preserves some architectural interest. On the exterior it is an octagonal structure, with a large arch on each side rising to the cornice, and thus presents a strong likeness to the Byzantine building known as Sheik Suleiman Mesjedi, near the Pantokrator (p. 25). The northern, southern, and western arches are pierced by windows. The entrance is in the western arch. The interior presents the form of an equal-armed cross, the arms being deep recesses covered with semicircular vaults. The dome over the central area has fallen in. The apse, semicircular within and showing five sides on the exterior, is attached to the eastern arm. Its three central sides are occupied by a triple-shafted window. Two shallow niches represent the usual apsidal chambers. A similar niche is found also on both sides of the entrance and on the eastern side of the northern arm of the cross. In the wall to the west of the southern arch is a small chamber. The joint between the apse and the body of the building is straight, with no bond in the masonry; nor is the masonry of the two parts of the same character. In the former it is in alternate courses of brick and stone, while in the latter we find many brick courses and only an occasional stone band. Evidently the apse is a later addition. In view of these facts, the probable conclusion is that the building was originally not a church but a library, and that it was transformed into a church at some subsequent period in its history to meet some special demand.

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

GASTRIA (SANJAKAR). FROM THE WEST.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: GASTRIA (SANJAKAR). THE INTERIOR.

_To face page 270._]

[464] P. 304.

[465] Banduri, iii. p. 54.

[466] Leo Gram. p. 214.

[467] Zonaras, iii. p. 358.

[468] Theoph. Cont. pp. 625, 628, 790.

[469] _Ibid._ p. 90.

[470] Theoph. Cont. pp. 91-92.

[471] _Ibid._ pp. 174, 658, 823; Codinus, p. 208. The Anonymus (Banduri, iii. p. 52) and Codinus (_De aed._ p. 97) say that Theodora and her daughters were confined in the convent of Euphrosyne at the Libadia, [Greek: ta Libadia]. Their mistake is due to the fact that the convent at Gastria and the convent at Libadia were both connected with ladies named Euphrosyne. Cf. Codinus, p. 207.

[472] Constant. Porphyr. p. 647.

CHAPTER XXI

THE CHURCH OF S. MARY OF THE MONGOLS

The church of S. Mary of the Mongols ([Greek: ton Mongolion, ton Mougoulion, tou Mouchliou, Mouchliotissa]), which stands on the heights above the quarter of Phanar, a short distance to the west of the Greek Communal School, was founded in the thirteenth century by Maria Palaeologina, a natural daughter of the Emperor Michael Palaeologus (1261-1282). As the church has been in Greek hands ever since its foundation its ident.i.ty cannot be disputed. The epithet given to the Theotokos in a.s.sociation with this sanctuary alludes to the fact that Maria Palaeologina married a Khan of the Mongols,[473]

and bore the t.i.tle of Despoina of the Mongols ([Greek: Despoina ton Mougoulion]).[474] The marriage was prompted by no romantic sentiment, but formed part of the policy by which her father hoped to secure the goodwill of the world for the newly restored Empire of Constantinople.

While endeavouring to disarm the hostility of Western Europe by promoting the union of the Latin and Greek Churches, he sought to conciliate the people nearer his dominion by matrimonial alliances with their rulers. It was in this way that he courted, with greater or less success, the friendship of Servia, Bulgaria, the Duchy of Thebes, and the Empire of Trebizond. And by the same method he tried to win the friendship of the formidable Mongols settled in Russia and Persia.

Accordingly he bestowed the hand of one natural daughter, Euphrosyne, upon Nogaya,[475] who had established a Mongolian princ.i.p.ality near the Black Sea, while the hand of Maria was intended for Holagu, famous in history as the destroyer in 1258 of the caliphate of Baghdad. Maria left Constantinople for her future home in 1265 with a great retinue, conducted by Theodosius de Villehardouin, abbot of the monastery of the Pantokrator, who was styled the 'Prince,' because related to the princes of Achaia and the Peloponnesus. A rich trousseau accompanied the bride-elect, and a tent of silk for a chapel, furnished with eikons of gold affixed to crosses, and with costly vessels for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. When the mission reached Caesarea news came that Holagu was dead, but since reasons of state inspired the proposed marriage, the bridal party continued its journey to the Mongolian court, and there in due time Maria was wedded to Abaga, the son and successor of Holagu, after the bridegroom had received, it is said, Christian baptism.[476]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 93.--S. MARY OF THE MONGOLS. EXTERIOR.

(From a Photograph.)]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 94.--S. MARY OF THE MONGOLS. INTERIOR.]

In 1281 Abaga was poisoned by his brother Achmed,[477] and Maria deemed it prudent, and doubtless welcome, after an absence of sixteen years, to return to Constantinople. She appears again in history during the reign of her brother Andronicus II. Palaeologus, when for the second time she was offered as a bride to the Mongolian prince, Charbanda, who then ruled in Persia,[478] the object of this new matrimonial alliance being to obtain the aid of the Mongols against the Turks, who under Othman had become a dangerous foe and were threatening Nicaea. With this purpose in view Maria proceeded to that city, both to encourage the defence of an important strategic position and to press forward the negotiations with Charbanda. The Despoina of the Mongols, however, did not comprehend the character of the enemy with whom she had to deal. Her contemptuous demeanour towards Othman, and her threats to bring the Mongols against him, only roused the spirit of the Turkish chieftain, and before the Greeks could derive any advantage from the 30,000 Mongolian troops sent to their aid, Othman stormed the fortress of Tricocca, an outpost of Nicaea, and made it the base of his subsequent operations.[479]

The church was built for the use of a convent which the Despoina of the Mongols, like many other ladies in Byzantine times, erected as a haven of refuge for souls who had dedicated their lives to the service of G.o.d ([Greek: limena psychon kata theon prosthemenon bioun]). She also endowed it with property in the immediate neighbourhood ([Greek: peri ten topothesian tou Phanari]), as well as with other lands both within and beyond the city, and while Maria lived the nuns had no reason for complaint. But after her death the property of the House pa.s.sed into the hands of Isaac Palaeologus Asanes, the husband of a certain Theodora, whom Maria had treated as a daughter, and to whom she bequeathed a share in the convent's revenues. He, as soon as Theodora died, appropriated the property for the benefit of his family, with the result that the sisterhood fell into debt and was threatened with extinction. In their distress the nuns appealed to Andronicus III. Palaeologus for protection, and by the decision of the patriarchal court, to which the case was referred as the proper tribunal in such disputes, the convent in 1351 regained its rights.[480]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 95.--S. MARY OF THE MONGOLS. THE DOME.]

As already intimated, to this church belongs the interest of having always preserved its original character as a sanctuary of the Greek Orthodox Communion. This distinction it owes to the fact that the church was given to Christoboulos, the Greek architect of the mosque of Sultan Mehemed, as his private property, to mark the conqueror's satisfaction with the builder's work. The grant was confirmed by Bajazet II. in recognition of the services of the nephew of Christoboulos in the construction of the mosque which bears that Sultan's name. Twice, indeed, attempts were subsequently made to deprive the Greek community of the church, once under Selim I. and again under Achmed III. But, like the law of the Medes and Persians, a Sultan's decree altereth not, and by presenting the hatti sheriff of Sultan Mehemed the efforts to expropriate the building were frustrated.[481]

Among the Turks the building is known as Kan Kilisse, the church of Blood, and the adjoining street goes by the name Sanjakdar Youkousou, the ascent of the standard-bearer,[482] terms which refer to the desperate struggle between Greeks and Turks at this point on the morning of the capture of the city.[483]

_Architectural Features_

Although the building has always been in Christian hands it has suffered alterations almost more drastic than any undergone by churches converted into mosques. The interior has been stripped of its original decoration, and is so blocked by eikons, chandeliers, and other ornaments as to render a proper examination of the church extremely difficult. In plan the church is a domed quatrefoil building, the only example of that type found in Constantinople. The central dome rests on a cross formed by four semi-domes, which are further enlarged below the vaulting level by three large semicircular niches. It is placed on a drum of eight concave compartments pierced by windows to the outside circular and crowned with a flat cornice. Externally the semi-domes and apse are five-sided. From the interior face of the apse and on its northern wall projects a capital, adorned with acanthus leaves, which, as it could never have stood free in this position, probably formed part of an eikonostasis in stone. The narthex is in three bays, the central bay being covered by a barrel vault, while the lateral bays have low drumless domes on pendentives. The entrance is by a door in the central bay, and from that bay the church is entered through a pa.s.sage cut in the central niche of the western semi-dome, and slightly wider than the niche. The end bays open, respectively, into the northern and southern semi-domes by pa.s.sages or aisles terminating in a diagonal arch. The arches between these aisles and the western semi-dome are pierced, and thus isolate the western dome piers. On the south the church has been greatly altered; for the entire southern semi-dome and the southern bay of the narthex have been removed and replaced by three aisles of two bays each. These bays are equal in height, and are covered by cross-groined vaults with strong transverse pointed arches supported on square piers, the whole forming a large hall held up by two piers, and showing the distinct influence of Italian Gothic work. This part of the building is modern.

On the eastern wall is a large picture of the Last Judgment.

The plan of this church may be compared with that of S. Nicholas Methana (Fig. 97).

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 96.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 97. S. NICHOLAS METHANA (Lampakes).]

[473] Pachym. i. pp. 174-75.

[474] _Ibid._ ii. pp. 620-37.

[475] _Ibid._ i. p. 231

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Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 31 summary

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