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THE MONASTERY OF THE HOLY SAVIOR IN CHORA

Parecclesion of the Anastasis. The entire chapel is storied with wall paintings related to the splendid scene of the Descent into Hell (most often referred to as the Anastasis), the Orthodox iconographic version of Christ’s resurrection, one of the greatest wall paintings of all time.

The Holy Savior in Chora — The surviving building (now known as Kariye Camii) comprises the main church, two narthexes and the parecclesion of the Anastasis.  It is considered as the most important monument in the Paleologan age and its unique iconographic program makes it an outstanding masterpiece of Byzantine art.

Drawing by D. Galanakis for A. G. Paspatis’ book, Byzantine Studies (1877) p. 326-327.

The Church of the Holy Savior of Chora, called in Turkish, Kariye Camii, is after Hagia Sophia the most interesting Byzantine church in the city. Not so much for the building itself, pretty as that is, as because of the superb series of mosaics and frescoes which it preserves and which have been magnificently restored and cleaned by the Byzantine Institute of America.

The name of the church,"in Chora" means "in the country" because the very ancient monastery to which it was attached was outside the walls of the Constantinian; later when it was included within the Theodosian walls, the name remained the Holy Savior of Chora.

Oil pointing by Ch. Xanthopoulos dedicated to Patriarch Photius II in 1934 (Patriarchal House).

The semicircular, main apse to the east is flanked by two smaller, three-sided apses. A large dome rises above the nave, two smaller domes above the esonarthex, and one above the parecclesion.


Theodore Metochites, Grand Logothete of the Treasury in the reign of Andronicus II Paleologos (1282-1328), devoted a great part of his life and fortune to the restoration of the monastery of The Holy Savior in Chora (1303-1321). Metochites is believed to have planned and supervised the magnificent iconographic programme of the monument. The mosaic shows him presenting a model of the church to Christ.

The mosaics and frescoes are by far the most important and extensive series of Byzantine paintings in the city and among the best and most beautiful in the world.

The origin of the monument cannot be traced with certainty. The earliest reference is found in the Synaxarion (Legendary) of 4 September by Symeon Metaphrastes, according to which the relics of St. Babylas who was martyred in 298, were removed from the Golden Horn to the northwest part of the City, at a place outside the walls "where there is a monastery called Chora."

The mosaic in the lunette over the doorway to the esonarthex portrays Christ as “The Land of the Living”.  The composition reflects the theological and philosophical interpretation of the term, expounded by Metochites and other scholars of his time (1315-1321).


In this splendid and impressive Deesis, dated to the 12th century, Christ is portrayed in the type of the Chalkites. To His right, the Holy Virgin intercedes with Christ for mankind.  The composition includes miniature portraits of Isaac Comnenus, co-emperor with John II (1118-1143), and of the sister of Andronicus II as the nun Melane (whose figure was added in the 14th century).

The Holy Savior in Chora — Plan (after Giroux — W. Müller-Wiener).

An anonymous 9th century biographer assigns the foundation of the monastery to St. Theodore, uncle of the Empress Theodora, whom Justinian had called to Constantinople to help the Church in the struggle against the sect of the Theopaschites (536). Theodore settled outside the walls at Chora, where there was a small church and a group of cells.

With the assistance of the Emperor and Empress, Theodore founded the monastery. Destroyed by an earthquake in 557, it was rebuilt by Justinian, this time larger, with a domed church revetted in marble, consecrated to the Holy Virgin. At the same time were built three parecclesia, dedicated to St. Anthemius, the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and the Archangel Michael, and also a bath and a hospice, i.e. a wholecomplex of buildings (Gedeon).


The scene of the infant Virgin Mary caressed by her parents, Joachim and Anna.

Detail from the mosaic of the Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple  — Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Theotokos, lead the infant Virgin Mary, where she is met by the High Priest

The Virgin Mary blessed by Priests.

Tradition has it that St. Savvas (439-532) travelled from Palestine to Constantinople and was given hospitality at the monastery in Chora. Thenceforth, monks from Palestine were always welcome.

Codinus writes that the monastery was erected "large and beautiful" by Crispus a relative of Emperor Phocas, whom Heraclius (610-641) confined to the Chora "because he was contemplating a rebellion against him."

The Massacre of the Innocents.


The Temptation of Christ.

Nicephorus Gregoras, who lived at the monastery and wrote its history in the 14th century, records that it was founded by Justinian. On the other hand, the historian Procopius remains silent on this point.

Be that as it may, it would appear that the origins of the monastery in Chora can be traced back to the 3rd century, and this is why the site was considered sanctified.


Mosaic decoration in one of the domical vaults of the esonarthex with scenes from the Life of the Virgin based on the Apocrypha

The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.

Parecclesion of the Anastasis. The scene of the Descent into Hell (Anastasis), painted in the conch of the apse, shows Christ raising Adam and Eve and other Biblical figures from the dead, conveying through the centuries the message of the resurrection of humankind.

From its foundation/redecoration of the 14th century by Theodore Metochites, the monastery was associated with many events, a few of which are mentioned below:

The Patriarch Germanus I (715-730), a staunch supporter of icon veneration, was deposed and confined to the monastery in Chora for his refusal to subscribe to the iconoclast policy of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian.


Christ Chalkites. Detail of the Deesis mosaic. This unparalleled portrayal of Christ probably reproduces the famous icon placed over the Chalke (=Brazen) Gate since early Christian times and destroyed by the Iconoclasts in 729.

Main church. The Virgin with the Christ Child as “The Dwelling-place of the Uncontainable”.

The Virgin from the Deesis mosaic.

In the reign of Constantine V (780-797), the most crucial phase of the iconoclast controversy, the monastery was deserted.

The name of Symeon, abbot of the monastery in Chora, appears among the participants in the 8th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787), which restored the veneration of icons.

Miniature portrait of Isaac Comnenus. Detail of the Deesis mosaic.

Over the west entrance to the church the Virgin is pictured, between two angels, as “The Dwelling-place of the Uncontainable” with the bust of Christ within a roundel.


Detail of the Virgin as “The Dwelling-place of the Uncontainable," with the bust of Christ within a roundel.

In the second phase of the Iconomachy the iconoclast revival of the 9th century, Michael Syncellus and his two disciples Theophanes and Theodore the Graptoi came over from Palestine and settled in the monastery.

After a period of decline the monastery was restored in the 11th century by Maria Ducaena, grand-daughter of Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria and a relative of Empress Catherine, wife of Isaac I Comnenus (1057-lO59). The ruined basilica was replaced by a new church of the Greek-cross plan with dome.


The Holy Savior in Chora, mosaic of St. Peter — St. Peter and St. Paul, the two “Princes of the Apostles," are portrayed to theleft and right of the door leading in to the nave

The Holy Savior in Chora, mosaic of St. Paul — St. Peter and St. Paul, the two “Princes of the Apostles," are portrayed to theleft and right of the door leading in to the nave.

Main Church. The Dormition of the Virgin, over the entrance from the Narthex. The only surviving scene from the Twelve Feasts cycle, it is a fine mosaic composition of classical conception and renderingç

Many Patriarchs are connected with the history of the monastery-among others, Cosmas I Hierosolymites (1075-1081) and Athanasius I (1289 1293, 1304-1310).

In the early 14th century, the church was restored and redecorated by Theodore Metochites, Grand Logothete of the Treasury in the reign of Andronicus II Palaeologus (1282-1328).


North dome of the esonarthex.  Medallion of the Virgin and Child surrounded by Biblical figures.

South dome of the esonarthex.

The Journey to Bethlehem.

Metochites devoted a great part of his life (1303-1321) and immense fortune to the restoration and redecoration of the monastery of The Holy Savior in Chora and is believed to have inspired the magnificent iconographic programme of the church.

A man of vast learning and great abilities, Theodore Metochites found himself, at the turn of the 13th to the 14th century, in the midst of the movement for new spiritual pursuits and the promotion of humane studies, and associated his name with one of the greatest epochs of artistic creation.

The Journey to Bethlehem.


The Miracle at Cana.

St. Aphthonius and St. Pegasius.

At a period when the structure of the state was steadily disintegrating and finances deteriorating, when the Empire, torn by the quarrel between Andronicus Il and his grandson Andronicus III, had to face incursions by the Turks, the Catalans and the Genoese, a group of scholars rallied around Andronicus II and with their works on the classic authors and the exact sciences sparked a new flowering of the letters and arts, known as the Palaeologan Revival. The group included the well-known historian and tutor of Metochites's children Nicephorus Gregoras and the writer Nicholas Mesarites.

At the close of the 15th century, the church of The Holy Savior in Chora was converted into a mosque known as Kariye Camii. Today it is a museum. After the Conquest, the mosaics and wall paintings of the church were apparently plastered over. This would explain why the descriptions left by Petrus Gyllius (1561) and other travellers speak of the beauty of the marble revetments but make no mention of the mosaic decoration. In the course of time the monument was severely damaged by fires and earthquakes.

The mosaics in the church of The Holy Savior in Chora and the wall paintings in the parecclesion of the Anastasis bear witness to the high standard ideological background, classical trends, artistic achievements and outstanding character of the Palaeologan Revival in the 14th century. Indeed, this monument is one of the finest and most interesting art galleries in the world.

The Enrollment for Taxation of Joseph and the Virgin Mary.

One of the Miracles of Christ.


Parecclesion of the Anastasis. The entire iconographic programme of the funerary chapel revolves around the magnificent figure of the Risen Christ, dressed in white within a glory studded with stars. With a forceful motion, Christ pulls by their hands  Adam and Eve — and with them the whole of humanity — out of their tombs and back to life. Byzantinologists consider this depiction of Christ unique, a perfect blend of style and ethos, an artistic achievement without parallel.

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