Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Life-Giving Spring, Balikli – Constantinople

A famous shrine of Constantinople is the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pege), which is located outside the wall of the City, in the area known today as Balikli. There are two versions of a very old tradition which give us the information we know in regards to the origins of this ancient and significant shrine.
‘According to the first, related by the historian Procopius, Justinian (527-565) while hunting in a beautiful verdant part of the land with many trees and much water, had the vision of a small chapel with a large crowd of people and a priest in front of a spring. It is the spring of miracles, he was told, whereupon the Emperor built a monastery at the site using surplus materials from the church of Hagia Sophia. Cedrenus records that the monastery was built in 560.

The second version, narrated by the chronicler Nicephoros Callistos, says that the Emperor Leo I (457-474), when still a simple soldier, met at the Golden Gate a blind man who asked him for a drink of water. As he looked around for water, a voice directed him to the spring and enjoined him to build a church on the site when he would become emperor. Callistos describes this great church in detail «Description of the holy church of the Pege erected by Leo», P. G. Migne, vol. 147, 73-77), but the description agrees more with the church built by Justinian. It is historically confirmed that Zenon, Hegumen «of the house of the most holy and glorious Virgin Mary and Mother of God at Pege», participated in the Council of Constantinople, convened by the Patriarch Menas (536-552) in 536.

Zoodochos Pege (i.e. Life-giving Fount) is an epithet of the Holy Virgin and Her representation as Zoodochos Pege is related to the sacred spring. It soon became very popular and this type of icon spread throughout the Orthodox world, particularly in places where a spring was believed to be hagiasma. In the 9th century, Joseph the Hymnographer gave for the first time the title «Zoodochos Pege» to a hymn for the Mother of God.

A marble fountain, from which water flows, occupies the centre of the icon. Above, the Theotokos is holding Christ who makes the sign of blessing. Two angels hovering over Her head carry a scroll inscribed with the verse: «Hail! That you bear. Hail! That you are». Around the fountain the emperor and many ailing people are shown, in a variety of postures, being sprinkled with Holy Water. According to the tradition, a small pond with fish is painted to the side. Actually, it is the fish that have given its present name to the locality, for Balikli in Turkish means «a place with fish».
The Zoodochos Pege type of icon is found in many variations in all the Orthodox regions. Miniatures, mosaics, icons, woodcuts, copperplates have been in great demand these last centuries.’ [1]

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