Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Istanbul Travel . . . St. Savior’s Chora Church - A Treasure among the Sultans’ Jewels.

St. Savior's Church Chora
Istanbul is a city of never ending experiences. Here Roger and I find a few real jewels among the Sultan’s treasures. 

The Seven Hills Hotel with its delicious roof top seafood restaurant overlooking the Bosporus, a horse-drawn phaetom ride through Bayukada in the Princes’ Islands just a short breezy ferry trip from the city and what I consider the highlight of our visit - a small 1300th century church containing some of the finest Byzantine mosaics and frescoes – St. Savior’s Church Chora, in Turkish  - Kariye Műzesi. 

The church is simply the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Originally known as the Church of the Holy Savior Outside the Walls, it is a little off the tourist track; thank goodness after the crowds at Topkapi Palace! 

Plaza at Chora Church
Tucked in a quiet neighborhood on one side of a beautiful tree canopied plaza near the city’s western walls, it is a small island of tranquility in the middle of Istanbul’s chaos. A few street vendors sell the obligatory souvenirs but there is a delightful collection of very nice shops. On the restaurants’ patios locals sip their Turkish coffees leisurely enjoying the pleasures of a quiet afternoon. But for me, the treasure here is the ancient church.  

On the southern wall of the arch of the aspe (the semi circular recess 
of the sanctuary) is the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus on her lap.
The Chora Church deserves your undivided attention. Take your time to savor its unparalleled beauty and drink in its majesty. Every space in this small compact church is covered with colorful stylized mosaics and frescoes of extraordinary quality that depict the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Because of it smaller scale, the encounter takes on a mystical up-close-and-personal aura.  The low ceilings and the diminutive size of the rooms allow you to drink in every vivid detail of the art. 

The main body of the Church 
“Chora” means “in the country” which is where the church was when the monastery it was attached to was built outside the city’s walls. The church you see today dates from the 11th century.  Theordore Metochites, the auditor of the treasury under Emperor Andronikos II (1282-1328) and noted theologian, philosopher and poet, added the mosaics and frescoes in the 1300s. The mosaic, above the door to the nave (the center aisle of the church), depicts Theordore presenting the Chora Church to Christ.

Theordore Metochites presenting the Chora Church to Christ
The original monastery was destroyed by an earthquake during the reign of Justinian (527-565) and rebuilt as a basilica and then restored again in 843. During the 11th century another round of extensive renovations were funded by Alexios Komenos, Byzantine Emperor from 1081 -1118. Then from 1315-1321, the church was enlarged and redecorated with the beautiful mosaics by Metochites. 

The Last Judgement
In the vaulted dome in front of the arch of the aspe is depicted the Last 
Judgement. This picture is only the left hand side of the mosaic. On the far 
right is the Virgin Mary in the dark cloak. Seated are the twelve
 Apostles with angels behind them.  
In 1511, the Chora Church was rededicated as a mosque after Constantinople (Istanbul) fell to the Turks. Praise Allah that it was considered blasphemous by Muslims to destroy these pieces of art because they depicted people. They just covered up the images with plaster and wood facades.  It wasn't until 1948 that the Byzantine Institute of America began the meticulous restoration of these masterpieces and the mosque became a museum. 
Location: Kariye Camii Sokak, Edirnekapi, Phone: 0212-631 9241 

My pictures can only give you a sense of the grandeur. 
Visit of the three Maji
On the right is King Herod sitting on his throne with a guard standing near. 
The three Maji are standing in front of the King informing him that a child is 
born who will lead Israel. On the left are the three Maji astride their horses.
Joseph brings the Virgin Mary to his home
Miracle at Cana
At a wedding ceremony in Cana Jesus turn water into wine.

Underneath the wall of the aspe are depicted Saint Basil, Saint Gregory
 and Saint Cyril of Alexandria
Virgin Mary, Child Jesus and Angels 
In the middle of the dome in the Parecclesion (a side chapel) are the figures 
of the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus as he gives a blessing 
with his two hands. Surrounding them are twelve angels 

The Trip to Bethlehem
On the left Joseph is sleeping when an angel approaches him to tell him 
the good news. On the right is the Virgin Mary astride a donkey 
accompanied by another family traveling to Bethlehem. 

Jesus Christ give his blessing while holding the Holy Book 
Enrollment for taxation
Cyrenius, the Governor of Syria, is seated on the left. A Roman soldier 
confers with Joseph as the Virgin Mary looks on.  
Birth of Jesus
In the middle of the mosaic Mary is seen awake and resting after giving 
birth to Jesus. Above Mary a light shines down over Jesus who is
wrapped in swaddling clothes. On the right an angel talks to shepherds. 
At the bottom Joseph is sitting. On the left the bathing of Jesus is depicted.

The Annunciation
The Virgin Mary receives the news of her pregnancy from an Angel. In
 front of the house stands her mother Anne who is praying to God.  
Presentation of Virgin Mary 
On a decorative medallion in the middle of the vault three priests sit and  
Joachim, holding the Virgin Mary, presents his daughter to them.    
John the Baptist, Jesus and Satan
On a medallion on the northern side of the church John the Baptist shows 
Jesus to the people standing behind him on the shores of the River Jordan.  
On the right side is Satan.

The Death of the Virgin Mary
In the nave of the church above the entrance door is the death scene of the 
Virgin Mary. In the middle is Mary lying on a catafalque. On both sides are 
the apostles, clerical dignitaries and women from Jerusalem. Jesus holds 
a baby in his arms symbolically representing the soul of the Virgin Mary. 
Above Jesus are angels.  
Mary's marks her choice of  husband
Mary is seating in front of 12 sticks inside the cyborion from which she must
mark her choice of husband. Chief Priest Zaccharian is praying on his knees.

In the middle of the vault is a flying angel carrying a snail 
representing  the"Cosmos" and "Paradise." This is the first time in 
Byzantine art that a snail is used to depict "Paradise."


  1. Thanks for sharing you marvelous pictures. Mrs. C. and I visited Turkey earlier this year and we were amazed by the country, its people and its history.

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed . . . I think I could Istanbul every weekend and never get bored!!!

  2. The pictures are fabulous. Thank goodness they did such a good job on the restorations. The mosaic and paintings are far more beautiful than what you can see in Egypt's Valley of the Kings (Of course, those are much older.) Thanks for sharing. Great post! :-)

    1. I was not kidding when I said this small out-of-the-way church was my most favorite place in Istanbul. I could go back in a minute and spend a whole day there. Glad you enjoyed.

  3. thanks for sharing.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I am headed there. I will look for this church. Thanks for writing about it.

    1. Don't miss it! It is a treasure. If you want any other pointers, I have additional posts on our travels to Istanbul and Ephesus,Turkey. Look on the right had side of the page for the "word cloud" table of contents and select Turkey Travel and all those posts will come up. Enjoy your trip.

  6. Thanks for the splendid pictures, I'm a teacher and I will use the last one in class tomorrow, if you don't mind. By the way, it is no snail. It is the end of time, the show is over and this angel is rolling up the cloth with the sun, moon and stars.


    1. Hope your class enjoys the photo. The information regarding the ":snail" was taken from a book I purchased on the church. I like your idea better!

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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