The church of The Holy Savior in Chora is the most important monument of the Palaeologan age. Its unique iconographic programme, the quality and beauty of the mosaics and wall paintings, make it one of the outstanding masterpieces of Byzantine art.

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.

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).

Photo of The Holy Savior in Chora


The best known and most celebrated shrine of the Holy Virgin in Constantinople was the church of Panagia of Blachernae. The history of the shrine, the fame of which had spread throughout the Christian world, extends over the entire Byzantine era, and the great events associated with it are linked with the history of the City.

The first church at the site of the sacred spring was built and decorated by the Augusta Pulcheria between 450-453 (the year of her death) and her husband, the Emperor Marcian (450-457). The church was completed and embellished further by the Emperor Leo I (457-474), who added theHagiasma (fountain of holy water) and the Hagion Lousma (sacred bath). Leo I also built the parecclesion of the Hagia Soros to house the holy mantle and robe of the Virgin that had been brought from Palestine to Constantinople in 473. It was then that the church was endowed with large estates. Procopius writes that Justinian, during the reign of his uncle Justin I (518-527) had altered and improved the original building. Procopius's description suggests that the basilica was given a dome supported by columns forming a semicircle. This renovation is mentioned in two epigrams of the Palatine Anthology.

At times, Emperors showed their personal interest for the church by making donations and adding new constructions and decorations. Justin 11 (565-578) added two apses remodelling the plan into a trefoil transept, and some centuries later Romanus III Argyrus (1028-1034) decorated with gold and silver the intrados of the arches. A measure of the importance of the shrine is found in Emperor Heraclius's Neara, which appoints a total of 74 persons to the service of the church: 12 presbyters, 18 deacons, 6 deaconesses, 8 sub deacons, 20 readers, 4 chanters and 6 door keepers .

In 1070 a fire destroyed the church, which was rebuilt by the Emperors Romanus IV Diogenes (1067-1078) and Michael VII Ducas (1071-1078). The entire complex of buildings was ruined in 1434, shortly before the Conquest, when "some young noblemen wishing to catch nestlings" (G. Phrantzes) climbed on the roof and inadvertently started a fire.

The best known and most significant historic event occurred in 626, when Constantinople was besieged by the Avars while Emperor Heraclius and his troops were campaigning against the Persians in Asia Minor. The icon of the Virgin Blachernitissa was carried along the battlements in a procession headed by the son of the absent Emperor and the Patriarch Sergius (610-638). The Avars raised the siege and the saving of the City was attributed to the direct intervention of the Mother of God. The entire population gathered at the church with the famous icon and in an all-night vigil they sang standing the Akathistos Hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary.

In 834 the Iconoclast movement collapsed and the Feast of Orthodoxy commemorating the restoration of icons was celebrated for the first time at the church of Blachernae. Tradition has it that in 944 the image of Christ (known as the Holy Mandylion) and the letter of King Abgar were brought from Edessa and placed in the parecclesion of the church.

After 1204 the shrine passed into the hands of the Latins until John III Ducas Vatatzes (1222 1254), Emperor of the Nicaean Empire, purchased from the Catholics the church of Panagia of Blachernae along with many other monasteries of Constantinople. In 1348 Genoese pirates caused damages to the shrine.After the destructive fire of 1434 and the Fall of Constantinople, nothing remained from the once rich and famous shrine except for the site of the Sacred Spring. The place passed into Ottoman hands until 1867, when it was purchased by the Guild of Greek Orthodox Furriers, who built a small church containing the hagiasma.



Theophanes, Codinus and other historians attribute the founding of the church of Hagia Eirene to Constantine the Great. The historian Socrates, however, mentions that an earlier small church was rebuilt larger by the Emperor, who named it Hagia Eirene. From Constantine to Justinian this church was considered as the most important one in Constantinople. A source of later date, the "Life of St. Stephen the Younger", written in 808, records that the Second Ecumenical Council, which in 381 condemned Macedonius the Pneumatomachian and proclaimed the dogma of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity, was held in Hagia Eirene.

The church of Hagia Eirene shared the fate of the famous church of Hagia Sophia. Besides, both stood within the same precincts, to the east of the Emperor s Sacred Palace, and were in effect separated by the building of the benevolent institution known as Hospice of Samsom The "narrative" of the construction of Hagia Sophia mentions that Bishop Nectarius (381-397) was forced to transfer his see to Hagia Eirene and stay there, when in 397 the Arians burned the roof of Hagia Sophia. Before long, in September 404, the angry mob of Christians protesting against the second banishment of John Chrysostom burned the whole building to the ground. Until 415, when Hagia Sophia was rebuilt, Hagia Eirene was the see of the Bishop of Constantinople.

Gutted by fire during the Nika revolt, the church of Hagia Eirene was rebuilt by Justinian. Its size was such that, as recorded by the historian Procopius, Constantinople had no churches larger than the Hagia Eirene and the Hagia Sophia. In 564 a new fire destroyed the atrium and the narthex, which were immediately restored. In 738 the church was severely damaged by an earth-quake and restored. In 867 the Patriarch Ignatius convoked in this church a council against his opponent Photius. It is also known that the Ecumenical Patriarch officiated here except on the occasion of great celebrations and ceremonies attended by the Emperor, when he conducted the Liturgy at Hagia Sophia. Hence, most of the chroniclers and historians of the time refer to Hagia Eirene as "the Patriarchate".

The church of Hagia Eirene was never converted into a mosque. Since, however, it stood within the enclosure of the Saray and next to the barracks of the Janissaries it served for a long time as an arsenal. In 1846 it became a Museum of Antiquities and in 1874 a Military Museum. In 1946 the collections of armaments were removed and archaeological excavations were begun. Remains of two ancient temples, dedicated to Apollo and Aphrodite, have been discovered within and around the church.

Photo of The church of Hagia Eirene


It was built by Constantine the Great in 4th century. The Emperor died in Nicomedia in 337, before the completion of the church. When the building of the church was completed, the relic of Constantine the Great was transferred to the mausoleum of the Holy Apostles by Constantius, his son and successor.

ln 356 or 357, Constantius brought to Constantinople the relics of St. Andrew from Achaia and those of St. Luke the Evangelist and St. Timothy from Ephesus. Two centuries after its completion, the church of the Holy Apostles required total reconstruction. According to Procopius and other later historians, the church was rebuilt by Justinian. Justinian's church, designed and built by the celebrated architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus.

Emperor Basil I "the Macedonian" (867-886) renovated the building. In 1328 a severe earthquake toppled the statue of the Archangel Michael which Michael Viii Palaeologus (1261-1282) had set atop a tall pillar to commemorate the recapture of the capital by the Byzantines and the end of the Latin control. The church, once again restored to a large extent by Andonicus 11 Palaeologus (1282-1328), was thenceforth abandoned to the ravages of time and neglect .

Till the 11th century, most emperors and many patriarchs and bishops were buried in this church and the relics of many of them were venerated by the faithful. In addition to the skulls of St. Andrew the Apostle, St. Luke the Evangelist and St. Timothy, it had the relics of the great Patriarchs and Fathers of the Church St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian, placed in reliquaries on either side of the Lord stable. There were also rows of reliquaries containing the relics of a great number of other saints and martyrs. Part of the so-called "Column of Flagellation", to which Christ had been bound and flogged, was transferred to the church of the Holy Apostles. This venerated relic is today preserved in the patriarchal church of St. George at the Phanar.

Most of the reliquaries, the gold and silver vessels decorated with precious stones, the icons, the imperial crowns, the sumptuous hieratic vestments and other important objects of the church of the Holy Apostles were carried off to Western Europe, when the Byzantine capital was looted by the Crusaders in 1204. To this day, these inestimable treasures enrich the collections of various museums, especially those of Rome and S. Marco Venice. The historian Nicetas Choniates records that the Crusaders plundered the imperial tombs and robbed them of gold and gems. Not even Justinian's tomb was spared.

In 1461 Mehmet II demolished the church of the Holy Apostles and built on the site an mosque.



The church of Panagia Mouchliotissa is located at the Phanar quarter, between the Megale Schole and the Joachimian Girls' School, not far from the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre. In older days the origin of the church's name had given rise to a minor philological argumentation. S. Kugeas maintained that the name derived from Mouchlion, at Mystra, the inhabitants of which had settled in this area of the Phanar quarter in 1242. H. Gregoire, M. Lascaris and Gennadios Metropolitan of Heliopolis, believed that it is the Greek rendering of the Slavonic word mogyla. Indeed, the church was known by the names St. Mary of the Mongols or Mougouls and more commonly Panagia of Mouchlion or Mouchliotissa (Paspatis).

The history of the church provides the answer. Maria Palaeologina, daughter of Michael VIII Palaeologus (1261-1282), was given in marriage to the Khan of the Mongols, Hulagu or Abagu (Pachymeres). After the death of her husband she returned to Constantinople and founded the convent and church, probably in 1285. The founding of the convent is mentioned in the Paris Codex Gr. 2625. According to written sources, the convent of Mouchlion was built on the site of an earlier monastery dedicated to the Theotokos Panagiotissa, which had been ruined, apparently by the Latins (Pasadaios). Maria Palaeologina bought the grounds with the vineyards and whatever structures existed, repaired some of them, erected new ones, and organized the women's convent. She endowed the monastery with relics, valuable vessels, manuscripts, lands in Constantinople and Rhaedestus, spending all her fortune.

After the Conquest, Mehmet II made a present of the church to the Greek architect Christodoulos, as a reward for the construction of the Mosque of the Conqueror (Fatih Camii) at the site of the demolished church of the Holy Apostles. The firman issued by Mehmet the Conqueror saved the church from being converted into a mosque under Selim I, and the Panagia Mouchliotissa has remained an Orthodox church to this day.

The church, of irregular plan, stands within an enclosure within a small courtyard. Its most remarkable architectural feature is the elegant dome supported by four piers, though its size is rather disproportionate to the dimensions of the building. The apse to the east has survived. while traces of a second apse to the north reveal the old triconchial plan of the sanctuary.