Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 1

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Byzantine Churches in Constantinople.

by Alexander Van Millingen and Ramsay Traquair and W. S. George and A. E. Henderson.


This volume is a sequel to the work I published, several years ago, under the title, _Byzantine Constantinople: the Walls of the City, and adjoining Historical Sites_. In that work the city was viewed, mainly, as the citadel of the Roman Empire in the East, and the bulwark of civilization for more than a thousand years. But the city of Constantine was not only a mighty fortress. It was, moreover, the centre of a great religious community, which elaborated dogmas, fostered forms of piety, and controlled an ecclesiastical administration that have left a profound impression upon the thought and life of mankind. New Rome was a Holy City. It was crowded with churches, hallowed, it was believed, by the remains of the apostles, prophets, saints, and martyrs of the Catholic Church; shrines at which men gathered to worship, from near and far, as before the gates of heaven. These sanctuaries were, furthermore, constructed and beautified after a fashion which marks a distinct and important period in the history of art, and have much to interest the artist and the architect. We have, consequently, reasons enough to justify our study of the churches of Byzantine Constantinople.

Of the immense number of the churches which once filled the city but a small remnant survives. Earthquakes, fires, pillage, neglect, not to speak of the facility with which a Byzantine structure could be shorn of its glory, have swept the vast majority off the face of the earth, leaving not a rack behind. In most cases even the sites on which they stood cannot be identified. The places which knew them know them no more. Scarcely a score of the old churches of the city are left to us, all with one exception converted into mosques and sadly altered. The visitor must, therefore, be prepared for disappointment. Age is not always a crown of glory; nor does change of ownership and adaptation to different ideas and tastes necessarily conduce to improvement. We are not looking at flowers in their native clime or in full bloom, but at flowers in a herbarium so to speak, or left to wither and decay. As we look upon them we have need of imagination to see in faded colours the graceful forms and brilliant hues which charmed and delighted the eyes of men in other days.

In the preparation of this work I have availed myself of the aid afforded by previous students in the same field of research, and I have gratefully acknowledged my debt to them whenever there has been occasion to do so. At the same time this is a fresh study of the subject, and has been made with the hope of confirming what is true, correcting mistakes, and gathering additional information. Attention has been given to both the history and the architecture of these buildings. The materials for the former are, unfortunately, all too scanty. No continuous records of any of these churches exist. A few incidents scattered over wide tracts of time constitute all that can be known. Still, disconnected incidents though they be, they give us glimpses of the characteristic thoughts and feelings of a large mass of our humanity during a long period of history.

The student of the architecture of these churches likewise labours under serious disadvantages. Turkish colour-wash frequently conceals what is necessary for a complete survey; while access to the higher parts of a building by means of scaffolding or ladders is often impossible under present circumstances. Hence the architect cannot always speak positively, and must leave many an interesting point in suspense.

Care has been taken to distinguish the original parts of a building from alterations made in Byzantine days or since the Turkish conquest; while, by the prominence given to the variety of type which the churches present, the life and movement observable in Byzantine ecclesiastical art has been made clear, and the common idea that it was a stereotyped art has been proved to be without foundation.

Numerous references to the church of S. Sophia occur in the course of this volume, but the reader will not find that great monument of Byzantine architectural genius dealt with in the studies here offered.

The obstacles in the way of a proper treatment of that subject proved insuperable, while the writings of Salzenberg, Lethaby, and Swainson, and especially the splendid and exhaustive monograph of my friend Mr. E.

M. Antoniadi, seemed to make any attempt of mine in the same direction superfluous if not presumptuous. The omission will, however, secure one advantage: the churches actually studied will not be overshadowed by the grandeur of the 'Great Church,' but will stand clear before the view in all the light that beats upon them.

I recall gratefully my obligations to the Sultan's Government and to the late Sir Nicholas O'Conor, British Ambassador at Constantinople, for permission to make a scientific examination of the churches of the city.

To the present British Ambassador, Sir Gerard Lowther, best thanks are due for the facilities enjoyed in the study of the church of S. Irene.

I have been exceedingly fortunate in the architects who have given me the benefit of their professional knowledge and skill in the execution of my task, and I beg that their share in this work should be recognized and appreciated as fully as it deserves. To the generosity of the British School at Athens I am indebted for being able to secure the services of Mr. Ramsay Traquair, Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Lecturer on Architecture at the College of Art in Edinburgh. Mr. Traquair spent three months in Constantinople for the express purpose of collecting the materials for the plans, illustrations, and notes he has contributed to this work. The chapter on Byzantine Architecture is entirely from his pen. He has also described the architectural features of most of the churches; but I have occasionally introduced information from other sources, or given my own personal observations.

I am likewise under deep obligation to Mr. A. E. Henderson, F.S.A., for the generous kindness with which he has allowed me to reproduce his masterly plans of the churches of SS. Sergius and Bacchus, S. Mary Panachrantos, and many of his photographs and drawings of other churches in the city. I am, moreover, indebted to the Byzantine Research and Publication Fund for courteous permission to present here some of the results of the splendid work done by Mr. W. S. George, F.S.A., under unique circumstances, in the study of the church of S. Irene, and I thank Mr. George personally for the cordial readiness with which he consented to allow me even to anticipate his own monograph on that very interesting fabric. It is impossible to thank Professor Baldwin Brown, of the University of Edinburgh, enough, for his unfailing kindness whenever I consulted him in connection with my work. Nor do I forget how much I owe to J. Meade Falkner, Esq., for kindly undertaking the irksome task of revising the proofs of the book while going through the press.

I cannot close without calling attention to the brighter day which has dawned on the students of the antiquities of Constantinople since constitutional government has been introduced in the Ottoman Empire.

Permission to carry on excavations in the city has been promised me. The archaeology of New Rome only waits for wealthy patrons to enable it to reach a position similar to that occupied by archaeological research in other centres of ancient and mediaeval civilizations. But the monuments of the olden time are perishable. Of the churches described by Paspates in his _Byzantine Studies_, published in 1877, nine have either entirely disappeared or lost more of their original features. It was no part of wisdom to let the books of the cunning Sibyl become rarer and knowledge poorer by neglecting to secure all that was obtainable when she made her first or even her second offer.



[Greek: Polis ekklesion galouche, pisteos archege, orthodoxias podege.]





At the beginning of the fifth century, which is a suitable point from which to date the rise of Byzantine architecture, three principal types of church plan prevailed in the Roman world:--

I. The Basilica: an oblong hall divided into nave and aisles, and roofed in wood, as in the Italian and Salonican examples, or with stone barrel-vaults, as in Asia Minor and Central Syria.

II. The Octagonal or Circular plan covered with a stone or brick dome, a type which may be subdivided according as (1) the dome rests upon the outer walls of the building, or (2) on columns or piers surrounded by an ambulatory.

The Pantheon and the so-called Temple of Minerva Medica at Rome are early examples of the first variety, the first circular, the second a decagon in plan. S. George at Salonica is a later circular example. An early instance of the second variety is found in S. Constanza at Rome, and a considerable number of similar churches occur in Asia Minor, dating from the time of Constantine the Great or a little later.

III. The Cross plan. Here we have a square central area covered by a dome, from which extend four vaulted arms constituting a cross. This type also assumes two distinct forms:

(1) Buildings in which the ground plan is cruciform, so that the cross shows externally at the ground level. Churches of this class are usually small, and were probably sepulchral chapels rather than churches for public worship. A good example is the tomb of Galla Placidia at Ravenna.

(2) In the second form of the Cross church the cross is enclosed within a square, and appears only above the roofs of the angle chambers. An example is seen in the late Roman tomb at Kusr en Nueijis in Eastern Palestine. In this instance the central square area is covered with a dome on continuous pendentives; the four arms have barrel-vaults, and the angles of the cross are occupied by small chambers, which bring the ground-plan to the square. The building is assigned to the second century, and shows that true though continuous pendentives were known at an early date[10] (Fig. 8).

Another example is the Praetorium at Musmiyeh, in Syria,[11] which probably dates from between 160 and 169 A.D. At some later time it was altered to a church, and by a curious foreshadowing of the late Byzantine plan the walls of the internal cross have entirely disappeared from the ground-plan. The dome rests on four columns placed at the inner angles of the cross, and the vaulted cross arms rest on lintels spanning the space between the columns and the outer walls.

From these three types of building are derived the various schemes on which the churches of the Byzantine Empire were planned.

Of the basilican form the only example in Constantinople that retains its original plan is S. John the Baptist of the Studion (p. 56), erected _c._ 463 A.D.

The church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus (p. 70) and the baptistery of S.

Sophia (p. 78) represent respectively the two varieties of the octagonal plan. In the former the dome rests on piers surrounded by an ambulatory; in the latter the dome rests upon the outer walls of the buildings. Both are foundations of Justinian the Great.

Of the Cross church plan showing the cross externally at the ground level no example survives in the city. But at least one church of that form was seen at Constantinople in the case of the church of the Holy Apostles. This was essentially a mausoleum, built originally by Constantine the Great and reconstructed by Justinian to contain the sarcophagi of the sovereigns and the patriarchs of New Rome.[12]

The church of S. Mark at Venice was built on the plan of the Holy Apostles. It is a cruciform church with aisles, but the galleries which might have been expected above them are omitted. The central dome rests on four piers, and four smaller domes cover the arms.

Professor Strzygowski gives examples of cross-planned cells in the catacombs of Palmyra,[13] and in many Eastern rock tombs.[14] Such cross plans are found also in the Roman catacombs. These subterranean chapels, of course, do not show the external treatment, yet there can be little doubt that the external cross plan was originally sepulchral, and owes its peculiar system of planning to that fact. On the other hand, it was adopted in such churches as S. Mark's at Venice and in the French examples of Perigord for aesthetic or traditional reasons.

In passing now to a consideration of the distinct forms developed from these pre-Byzantine types of church building, the classification adopted by Professor Strzygowski may be followed. In his _Kleinasien_ he has brought forward a series of buildings which show the manner in which a dome was fitted to the oblong basilica, producing the domed basilica (_Kuppelbasilica_), an evolution which he regards as Hellenistic and Eastern. In contrast to this, Strzygowski distinguishes the domed cross church (_Kreuzkuppelkirche_), of which S. Theodosia in Constantinople (p. 170) is the typical example and which is a Western development. A comparison of the two forms is of great importance for the study of certain Constantinople churches.

[Illustration: FIG. 1.--KASR IBN WARDAN (Strzygowski).]

The domed basilica, as the name indicates, is a basilica with nave and aisles, in which a square bay in the centre of the nave is covered by a dome on pendentives. To north and south, within the arches supporting the dome, appear the nave and gallery arcades of the basilica; and as the galleried basilica is a usual Eastern form galleries are usual in the domed basilica. As seen from the central area, therefore, the north and south dome arches are filled in with arcades in two stories, and the side aisles and galleries are covered with barrel vaults running parallel to the axis of the church. At the west end a gallery over the narthex may unite the two side galleries. At Kasr ibn Wardan, instanced by Strzygowski as a typical domed basilica,[15] there is such a western gallery (Fig. 1). According to Strzygowski the domed basilica is older than the fifth century.

The domed basilica remains always an oblong building, and whilst the two sides to north and south are symmetrical, the western end retains the basilican characteristics--it has no gallery or arcade communicating with the central area. The narthex communicates with the nave by doors, and if a gallery is placed above it, both narthex and gallery are covered by barrel vaults.

In the domed cross church (_Kreutzkuppelkirche_) the central dome rests on barrel vaults which extend to the outer walls of the building and form the arms of the cross, the eastern arm forming the bema. The lighting of the church is by windows in the gable walls which terminate the north, south, and west cross arms. The prothesis and diaconicon open off the side arms, and two small chambers in the western angles of the cross bring the plan externally to the usual rectangular form.

The domed cross church may have galleries, as in S. Theodosia (p. 170), or may be without them, as in SS. Peter and Mark (p. 193). Where galleries are present they are placed in the cross arms and are supported by arcades at the ground level. The vaults beneath the galleries are cross-groined. The domed cross church is a centrally planned church, in contrast to the domed basilica, which is oblong, and therefore we should expect that where galleries are used they will be formed in all three arms of the cross, as is the case in S. Theodosia.

There are a number of churches which vary from these types, but which can generally be placed in one class or the other by the consideration of two main characteristics: if the dome arches extend to the outer walls the building is a domed cross church; if the galleries are screened off from the central area by arcades the building is a domed basilica.

The church at Dere Aghsy,[16] for instance, if we had only the plan to guide us, would appear to be a typical domed basilica (Fig. 2), but on examining the section we find that the north and south dome arches extend over the galleries to the outer walls and form cross arms (Fig.

3). The building is, in fact, a domed cross church with no gallery in the western arm. Above the narthex at the west end, and separated from the western cross arm, is a gallery of the type usual in the domed basilica, so that Dere Aghsy may be regarded as a domed cross church with features derived from the domed basilica. S. Sophia at Constantinople, the highest development of the domed basilica, has a very similar western gallery.

[Illustration: FIG. 2.--DERe AGHSY (Rott).]

The church of S. Nicholas at Myra[17] (Fig. 4) has a gallery at the west end, but the cross arms do not appear to be carried over the galleries.

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