Category Archives: Turkey

Chora Church, in Istanbul

The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora is now a museum in the Fatih district of Istanbul. It is rich in mosaics.

This mosaic is over the doorway of the inner narthex. The Greek inscription reads: Jesus Christ, the Land of the Living. Jesus holds the scripture in his left hand and blesses us with his right hand.

To the left of Jesus is Theodore Metochites in his oriental garments. Theodore completed the construction all the church endowed it with its frescoes and mosaics.

Little Hagia Sophia

Istanbul-025425Little Hagia Sophia. This church was formerly the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

The church of Saints Sergius and Baccchus marks the first of the city’s harbors on the Marmara Sea.

Istanbul-025750No interior decoration remains. Notice how the orentation of worship changed. When it was a church the priest and people faced the east, that is, ad orientem when they prayed; the altar is the center of the apse. However Muslims pray facing Mecca so the prayer niche faces Mecca and is to the right.

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Wonderful byzantine capitals.

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The Studion

This monastery was the most important monastery in Constantinople. The monks were referred to as studites. The way of life in this monastery modeled the monastic discipline at Mount Athos.

The most famous monk was Theodore the Student who fostered academic study and spiritual reflection. The monastery was also a center for religious poetry and hymns written for the Orthodox. Unfortunately very little remains of this very important monastic complex.

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Hagia Sophia: the Deesis Mosaics

“In Byzantine art, and later Eastern Orthodox art generally, the Deësis or Deisis (Greek: δέησις, “prayer” or “supplication”), is a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty or Christ Pantocrator: enthroned, carrying a book, and flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, and sometimes other saints and angels. Mary and John, and any other figures, are shown facing towards Christ with their hands raised in supplication on behalf of humanity.”
Read the rest, from Wikipedia on “Deesis.”


The mosaics of Emperor Joannes I Comnenos and Empress Irene and Alexius II. The Emperor is holding a purse in his hand as a symbol of an imperial donation to the church. The Empress is holding a scroll in her hand with the inscription Pious Augusta Irene.

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Mosaic of Empress Zoe and Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos.

The Zero-Mile Marker

The Milion stone. This stone is the remnant of a road marker, originally constructed to have a door facing four sides and a dome embedded on four sides.


This used to be the starting point of all roads reaching Constantinople.
The signs say:
1377 KM (to) Rome
2040 KM (to) Tehran
2502 KM (to) London
DCCXXIII Miles (to) Babylon. This is 723 “miles” (Roman miles) or 665 statute miles, or 1070 KM.

Walking the Walls: Reliving the Last Great Siege

In the spring I spent several days in Constantinople which is known today as Istanbul. On May 29th 1453 the great city which stood as a center of Christianity for over a thousand years fell when it was besieged by the Muslims who conquered the city on May 29th 1453. While in Istanbul I read the book Constantinople, The Last Great Siege by Roger Crowley. This reading inspired me to walk the walls on the evening of the 28th and reconstruct the siege in my mind. Then on the following morning I was up at 6 a.m. which is the time when the Muslims poured into the city and panic spread throughout the population. Then at 8 a.m. I went to Hagia Sophia to remember that morning when the Muslims battered down the Imperial doors to the great church. My walking the walls was truly a vigil of remembrance of those final days.

I began the 24-mile walk around the perimeter of ancient Constantinople which fell to the Turkish Muslims on the morning of May 29, 1453. Since my grade school Constantinople has always offered me a fascination especially the walls which were the most important defense system in late antiquity.

The walk began along the the Sea of Marmara where the wall was low because the strong currents made an attack impossible.

This explains a little about the Sea of Marmara walls

The church of Saints Sergius and Baccchus marks the first of the city’s harbors on the sea.

The walk was long however my eyes were attentive to ruins along the way.

This is the only place where the ruins of the walls are on the sea.

Very little remains however in this vicinity right before the junction of the Theodosian land walls and the sea walls was the Gate of the Pomegranate that was close to the important monastery of Stoudious.

Although heavily restored this is the Marble Tower which is the junction of the wall on the Sea of Marmara and the Theodosian wall that extends 5.7 miles to the area of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus in the Blachernae quarter on the Golden Horn.

The walls at this point are heavily restored. They will rise sharply northeast to the Golden Gate.

To gain access to the Golden Gate is not possible however I took this picture from afar. This was the ceremonial gate that was only opened for the triumphal entry of the emperor although Pope Constantine entered in 710.

There was an inscription that read: Theodosius adorned these places after the downfall of the tyrant. He brought a golden age who built the gate from gold.

There is another legend associated with the gate. When the Muslim Turks entered the city an angel rescued the Emperor who was turned into marble and interred in a cave nearby where he waits to be resuscitated in order to conquer the city back.

The Belgrade gate has been heavily reconstructed however the large stones at the base of the wall are original.

This section of the walls is heavily reconstructed. These land walls were constructed by Emperor Theodosius from 413 to 439. They were 4.8 meters in width and 11 to 14 meters in height.

Silivri gate.

On the early morning of May 29 1453 was the decisive breakthrough. The gate had been inadvertently left unlocked. The Muslims entered, raised their flag, opened fire, spread panic and thus led to the fall.

The Gate of Charisus or Edirnekapi was the gate Mehmet triumphantly entered the city on 29 May 1453. This is also the gate where sultans left with ceremony on their campaigns to conquer Europe.

The Cannon gate or Topkapi was where the Basilic canon was placed during the seige

This is looking towards the Golden Horn where the walls of the Blachernae Palace connect with the Theodosian walls which terminate at the palace of Porphyrogenitus. From the the low walls were set back from the Golden Horn. The Blachernae since the 11th century was the residence of the Emperor.

Golden horn.

View of golden horn
Plaque about the Golden Horn

Another plaque commemorating the conquest. The Turkish narrative is that the Byzantines were corrupt and thus God delivered the city into their hands to demonstrate the superiority of Islam over Christianity.

Sultan Mehmet.

Tomorrow: the fall of Hagia Sophia.

Update: This article links to a very good video explaining how and why the walls were built. It includes reconstructions of what the walls would have looked like and how they were a defense of the city. The video is below.

Turkey Pilgrimage: Cappadocia

In our recent trip to Turkey, we visited Cappadocia, in the very center of the country. Cappadocia is mentioned twice in the bible, as one of the groups of god-fearing Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost and as one of the groups of dispersed Christians addressed in the first letter of Peter. St. Paul is said to have conducted several missionary trips here. This is where in the 4th century the foundations of our Catholic faith were thought through with such intellectual men as Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazienzen; and St. Gregory of Nyssa.

There was a pagan whose name was Gregory, who was exiled from Armenia and came to faith in Cappadocia, and returned as a missionary to Armenia. He converted the king of Armenia to Christianity, and the saint is known as St Gregory the Illuminator.

St. Basil is responsible for the third part of our creed about the Holy Spirit at the Council of Constantinople in 381: “I believe in the Holy Spirit…” Basil of Caesarea tempered the eccentricities of early Syriac monasticism and wrote a monastic rule. He did for monasticism in the East what Benedict did for the West a few centuries later.

We celebrated mass in a rock-cut cave church of over 1000 years old, a place where Mass had not been celebrated for over 800 years until just recently. Today very few Christians live in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country. Yet 1000 years ago, it was a thriving Catholic Christian culture. And today we still live that legacy here at Saint Benedict. Who knows, maybe in 600 years, there will be no Christianity in the United States. However, the faith will still manifest itself in another location with an even greater vibrancy.

On November 24th, the close of the Year of Faith, Pope Francis in his homily said, “Christ is the centre of the history of the human race and of every man and woman. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel [Lk 23:43].”

No matter what is going on in the world, and no matter what occupies our time from day to day, Advent should be ablaze with hope, for we follow the light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. [John 1:5].”