Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chora Church, Constaintople

Chora Church Orthodox Monastery, currently known as Kariye Museum, contains one of the best preserved collections of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in the world. Built in the 11th century and decorated in the 14th, it is one of the key attractions in modern day Istanbul, reminding the visitor of the glorious and creative Byzantine epoch.

The first Church on this site was built in the 4th century AD as part of a monastery complex outside the city walls of Constantinople, which at that point was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. However, the present building dates from the 11th century AD. As one enters this magnificent Church one sees a beautiful mosaic of Jesus Christ, entitled Ιησούς Χριστός Η Χώρα των Ζώντων (Jesus Christ The Country of the Living), hence why this monastery is called Chora. Also it received this name because it was originally situated in the countryside. The Church was situated within the new walls around the city that Emperor Theodosius II built later. Nevertheless, despite in the city, the Church retained the name Chora.  Through the following centuries, the Church was damaged by earthquakes and was largely abandoned.

During the years 1077 to 1081 AD the Church was rebuilt by the mother in law of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, Maria Ducaena, in the form of an inscribed cross, a popular architectural style of the period. After having been again damaged by earthquakes, restoration work on the Church was done in the 12th century by Isaac Comnenus. During 1315 to 1321, a major reconstruction effort was commissioned by Theodore Metochites during which most of the mosaics and frescoes seen to this day were added. The mosaics remain among the finest examples of the Palaeologian Renaissance.

When the Church was converted into a mosque in the 16th century AD, the Byzantine mosaics were covered in plaster. A minaret was built on the outside; however, early in the 20th century, the minaret toppled during an earthquake, and fell onto one of the domes, destroying it and its mosaics. While remaining a mosque, the building continued to deteriorate.

The mosaics were first uncovered in the 19th century; however, the government ordered that those in the prayer hall section of the mosque be re-covered. American archaeologists uncovered the mosaics for good during World War II and the Church turned mosque became a secular museum in 1947.

There are about 50 mosaic panels that date back to the beginning of the 14th century in the Chora Church. Most of these are in very good condition. Each of the four major sections of the Church are covered with mosaics. Those in the external narthex generally relate to the life of Jesus Christ. Those in the internal narthex generally relate to the Theotokos. The main frescoes in the parecclesion (the chapel) are the Resurrection (the masterpiece which all the icons of the Resurrection in the Orthodox iconographic tradition copy) and the Second Coming.

In another important scene within the Church, Christ Enthroned is depicted receiving the donor of the Church. The scene follows the Byzantine convention of depicting an architectural donation with an image of Christ in the centre and the donor kneeling besides him, holding a model of his donation. The donor, Theodore Metochites, kneels on Christ’s right in the clothes of his office and Metochites offers to Christ a representation of the Chore Church in his hands.

Additionally, a beautiful feature within this Church are its domes, which in many respects are unique. They are greatly detailed, depicting many figures within a small space. The most intriguing ones depict Jesus Christ with His ancestors and The Virgin Mary with the Angels.  

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