|The Anastasis, Church of the St. Savior in Chora, Parekklesion, 1316-21|
Walking around the neighborhood surrounding Chora (Kariye Muzesi) today, with it's typical winding streets bordered with traditional Istanbul houses, artist's ateliers, gift shops and teahouses, it is really hard to imagine the monastery and church out in the middle of fields. If anything there is a very Ottoman aura about the whole neighborhood.
As hard as it is to visualize the urban landscape of 5th century Edirnekapi, as the area is known today, once inside the church, the visitor is treated to the splendid mosaics and spellbinding drama Byzantine churches were renowned for. The Byzantine church was not just the space where the fateful congregated and worshiped their lord, it was a complete concept that incorporated the architecture, the iconographic program as well as the objects used as part of the liturgy, reinforcing the church as symbol of heaven on earth.
|Inner Narthex Southern Dome,|
Geneology of Christ. Center medallion is Christ Pantocrator,
the 24 grooves representing his ancestors beginning with Adam.
... Byzantine church interior could be interpreted as an "emblem of temporality." The combination of monumental narrative and liturgical reenactment could combine to evoke the real presence of biblical events, transporting the worshipper from transient, linear time into eternal. divine time. Through the so-called Festival cycle and the accompanying annual program of liturgical celebration, events from the lives of Christ and the Virgin were both visually represented and ritually recreated, with the congregation acting as spectators to or participants in the unfolding drama. 1It is assumed that this enthralling drama was achieved by the artist, architect and church planner working congruently. The number of flutes in the two domes of the inner narthex matching the number of ancestor of Christ and the Virgin Mary (24 in the south and 16 in the north) are noted as being the prime example of the cooperation between the artisans who worked on the Chora.2
|Inner Narthex Northern Dome, Geneology of the Virgin. (photo Claus Kemp via Panoramio) Center medallion is Virgin as "the Mother of God"|
the 16 grooves below her are the 16 Kings of the House of David believed to be her ancestors
|Christ Healing Two Blind Men|
|Christ turns water|
into wine at Cana
a deaf and mute man
|Parekklesion (Side Chapel)|
|Donor Mosaic Entrance above the Naos, Theodore Metochites |
offering the church to Christ
|St. John of Damascus, the Four Hymnographers|
depicted on the four pendentives below the western dome
|Enrolment for Taxation at Bethlehem, Outer narthex|
|The Virgin Blachernitissa (Praying) and the angels|
|Deesis mosaic in the inner narthex. Prince Isaac Komnenos on the left of the Virgin and Princess Maria Palaiologos (Illegitamate daughter of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos) on the right of Christ.|
|The Patriarchs and Bishops of the Apse Wall|
Metochites, who referred to the Chora as his sanctuary ended up being an actual prisoner there after he was ousted from power and exiled to Thrace for two years. He lived as a disallusioned monk for two more years before dying in 1332 and being burried in the parakklesion in a tomb he had prepared for himself. Chora's artistic program which was almost contemporaneous with Giotto's Arena Chapel in Padua is considered to be the pinacle of late Byzantine art. It is a project that showed originality and innovation compared to earlier Byzantine works while complying with the demands of Orthodox liturgy. Although it is possible to see an interest in depicting perspective in the decorations of the Chora monastery, the treatment of the spatial elements does vary from its quattrocento counterparts. Especially in one particular wall painting, of the last tomb monument made in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, the Renaissance style is clearly noted in the foreshortening of the throne Virgin Mary is sitting on as well as the foot stool, and the receding marble floor.
|Wall Painting of Tomb G with the deceased woman in the presence of the Virgin and Child.|
Second quarter of the fifteenth century
|The Virgin and Child and Attendant Angels, Crown of the Parekklesion's Western Dome|
"Chora: this monastery was at first a chapel. Krispos, the prefect and son-in-law of Phokas the Cappadocian (602-610), was exiled there and built a beautiful and large church, also bestowing much property upon it. It was called Chora, because under Byzas (Constantine) a village (field) was there, as also Ta Stoudiou was a village outside <the city of> Byzas." 5The Byzantine church in the field is now a museum in the middle of a typical, traditional Turkish neighborhood that still manages to retain the intimate setting the monks must have experienced within its walls. Having said all that, the many layers of meanings different individuals can garner from Chora can be as varied and complex as the architectural and decorative program. As Robert Ousterhout states "like the mosaics and frescoes, the architecture of the Kariye is similarly artfully distorted, chaotic, asymmetrical and decorative." The interpretations can also vary from representations of stories from holy books to the reflection of the rituals of Byzantine liturgy on the spaces of a monastic church to "the patronage of one of Byzantium's greatest intellectuals; it is as sophisticated and erudite as a work of contemporary Byzantine literature, structured like a vast epic poem."6
tour from the Chora Museum official website. But my favorite and the definite recommendation is the Chora app from itunes which allows you to float around the different sections of the museum, understanding the spaces as they relate to each other as well as providing information on the fundamental details of the most important mosaics and frescoes. For more indepth information, history, images, plans, as well as 3-D animations, the website for an exhibit that took place at Colombia University, Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery in 2004 Restoring Byzantium: The Kariye Camii in Istanbul and the Byzantine Institute Restoration is a great resource although I have not run across any book, website or blog that can encompass all of the lavish decorations and duplicate the wonder of being surrounded by it all - for that you would have to travel to Istanbul.
|Angel rolling up Heaven, Parekklesion, Chora, Istanbul|
1 Robert Ousterhout, "Temporal Structuring in the Chora Parekklesion," Gesta, The University of Chicago Press, Vol. 34, No. 1 (1995), p. 63
2 Robin Cormack, Byzantine Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p206
3 Marina Mihaljevic, "Change in Byzantine Architecture," Approaches to Byzantine Architecture and Its Decoration: Studies in Honor of Slobodan Ćurčić. By Slobodan Ćurčić, Mark Joseph. Johnson, Robert G. Ousterhout, and Amy Papalexandrou. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012
4 Robert Ousterhout, "The Kariye Camii, Introduction"
5 trans. Albrecht Berger, The Patria: Accounts of Medieval Constantinople, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2013 3.184
6 Robert Ousterhout, "The Kariye Camii, Introduction"
"Restoring Byzantium: The Kariye Camii in Istanbul and the Byzantine Institute Restoration" Exhibition/Symposium website (link)
Robert Ousterhout, "The Kariye Camii, Introduction", Restoring Byzantium: The Kariye Camii in Istanbul and the Byzantine Institute Restoration Exhibition website (link)
Ministry of Culture and Tourism Museum website (link)