Friday, June 1, 2012

Imrahor Mosque, Saint Stoudios Monastery and the Church of John the Baptist

It is located in Samatya, on İmrahor Ilyas Bey Avenue, behind the St. Constantine Church in İmam Asir Street. Unfortunately, the local people don’t know the name of the building either as Imrahor Mosque or as St. Stoudios Monastery. If you wish to reach there by asking the address to the local people around, you had better use the name “Imrahor Ilyas Bey Anıtı (Imrahor Ilyas Bey Monument)”. The building is in a rather bad condition and it doesn’t have a roof. Naturally, it neither serves as a church nor as a mosque. As can be understood from the signboard on its door, its current status is a “Monument” not a museum. Nevertheless; people are not allowed in. I hope it would be taken to maintenance as soon as possible, opened for visitors as a museum and taken under protection. This article will be about a building into which I wasn’t able to enter despite all my requests to the guard at the door on the grounds that I didn’t have “a special permit from the St. Sophia Museum”, and which I was only able to see from a distance by standing on haulage of a parked truck and peeping over the wall. So unfortunately again, for the details, I will use photos taken inside by others.  
The Chuch of Saint John the Baptist - Northern Side Wall

The building is the oldest church that has survived until today in Istanbul. Despite the fact that it is referred as St. Stoudios Monastery in the title of the article, the part that has survived is exclusively its
church which was constructed in basilica style and consecrated to Saint John the Baptist. Roman Senate Council, Stoudios, who had settled in Constantinople, had the monastery constructed in 462 A.C. It belonged to the sect of Acoemetae, i.e., the Sleepless (“a” is a negative prefix and “coemetae” means to sleep). The name of the sect comes from the fact that they prayed twenty four hours a day. In the past, the monks in the monastery prayed day and night in turns and kept the service going. According to John Freely and Ahmet Cakmak’s book named as “The Byzantine Monuments of Istanbul”, the number of monks in the monastery reached up to a thousand in its most crowded times.
Saint Theodore the Studite (759-826)

The monastery lived its golden age in 799, when Saint Theodorus became the head of monks. Saint Theodorus was a man of the cloth who was very active in political and intellectual issues. He protested iconoclasm -albeit unsuccessfully- , the period in seventh and eight centuries, which prohibited all kinds of religious pictures and sentenced their drawers to death. Theodorus was expelled from the city for three times, yet he returned back each time. During his management period, the monastery became the religious, artistic and intellectual center of the region; the monks copied ancient manuscripts, composed hymns and drew icons.
The Chuch of Saint John the Baptist - Southern Side Wall

The monastery also witnessed significant events in history. When Emperor Michael the 5th was dethroned, he took shelter in Stoudios Monastery, but the angry crowd had him come out, blinded him with hot iron and exiled to Chios.  Emperors Isaac Komnenos the 1st and Michael Doukas the 7th took monastic vows in this monastery. When Emperor Michael Palaiologos the 8th entered in the city through ceremonies when he conquered the city back after the fifty-seven years of Latin invasion, he walked in this  monastery as the first thing and prayed, then he continued to St. Sophia on horseback. Yet, the most interesting story is of course the story of Prince Yusuf, who was the son of Sultan Beyazid. A certain truth is that; Prince Yusuf came to Constantinople somehow, chose Christianity, changed his name as Demetrios, lived, died and got buried in this monastery. The controversial part is in the details: While Jonathan Harris (Professor of Byzantine History in the University of London) claims in his book named as “The End of Byzantium” that Prince Yusuf, who admired Greek literature and Constantinople, escaped and took shelter in Byzantium; on the other hand, Alexander Van Milingen states in his book named as “The Byzantine Churches in Constantinople” that, Beyazid gave Yusuf as hostage to Byzantine Empire. Considering that Beyazid went on a campaign with the Byzantine Prince at the same years, the second scenario claiming that the Ottoman Prince Yusuf was given as hostage but he became Christian and did not return back seems more realistic to me than the first scenario, in which the Prince admired Greek literature and Constantinople and escaped to Byzantine Empire.

Corinthian Style Column Capitals

Today there aren’t any traces from Saint Stoudios Monastry except for the Church of Saint John the Baptist. The church was constructed as a rectangular basilica. The right side interior columns are destroyed, only the ones in the left side have survived today. The capitals are in Corinthian style and one can see their beauties from the pictures. We get to the document about the inside of the church through the memories of the traveler Spanish Ambassador, Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, which he wrote in the fifteenth century. The ambassador that came to Constantinople mentioned about the inside of the church with the below lines:
“… there are seven altars inside of it; its ceiling, walls and halls are ornamented with rich mosaics telling stories and there are twenty four green columns in the main hall.”
We understand from these lines that; inside of the church was covered with wonderful mosaics from the base to the ceiling.

The building was mostly damaged during the Latin invasion, and following the big fire in 1782 and the earthquake in 1894, it became today’s ruins. When the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453, the chief stableman of Beyazid the 2nd, Ilyas Bey restored it and turned it into a mosque. It was abandoned in 1908, when its roof collapsed.

The poem written by the monks of the monastery most probably in the sixth or seventh century:
“No barbarian looks upon my face; no woman hears my voice.
For a thousand years no useless man has entered the monastery of Studius; none of the female sex has trodden its court.
I dwell in a cell that is like a palace; a garden, an oliveyard, and a vineyard surround me.
Before me are graceful and luxuriant cypress trees.
On one hand is the city with its market-place; on the other, the mother of churches and the empire of the world....”

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