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Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 33

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[499] When Paspates (p. 360) visited the chapel, the eikons were more distinctly visible than at present, although they bore marks of deliberate injury by Moslem iconoclasts.

[500] See p. 23.

CHAPTER XXIII

THE CHURCH OF S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA, KAHRIe JAMISSI

According to the historian Nicephorus Gregoras,[501] who was long and closely connected with the church, the Chora was founded by Justinian the Great, and then presented the form of a basilica. But there is reason to believe that the edifice erected by that emperor was the reconstruction of an older shrine. The fame of a restorer often eclipsed the memory of the founder of a sanctuary, especially when the restorer was the superior in rank and reared a larger and more beautiful building.

According to Symeon Metaphrastes,[502] the site of the Chora was first consecrated by the interment of S. Babylas and his eighty-four disciples, who were martyred in 298 during the reign of Maximianus. The scene of their execution, indeed, was Nicomedia; but friendly hands obtained possession of the bodies of the champions of the faith, and taking them to Constantinople, buried them outside the walls of the city, towards the north, in the place subsequently occupied by the monastery of the Chora. As will appear, the relics of S. Babylas and his disciples formed part of the treasures of the Chora in the ninth century.[503]

[Illustration: PLATE LXXXI.

S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA, FROM THE WEST.]

[Illustration: S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA, FROM THE SOUTH-EAST.

_To face page 288._]

The settlement of the approximate date of the foundation of the church depends, ultimately, upon the meaning to be attached to the term Chora ([Greek: Chora]). There are some writers who incline to the idea that in this connection that term was employed from the first in a mystical sense, to denote the attribute of Christ as the sphere of man's highest life; and there can be no doubt that the word was used in that sense in the fourteenth century. That is unquestionably its meaning in the legends inscribed on mosaics which adorn the walls of the building.

[Greek: IC XC MeR THY He CHoRA He CHoRA TOU ToN ZoNToN ACHoReTOU]

And it is in that sense that the term is employed by Cantacuzene[504]

and Phrantzes.[505] On this view the description of the church as 'in the Chora' throws no light on the date of the church's foundation. Other authorities,[506] however, maintain that the term Chora was originally associated with the church in the obvious topographical signification of the word, to denote territory outside the city limits, and that its religious reference came into vogue only when changes in the boundaries of Constantinople made the literal meaning of Chora no longer applicable. According to this opinion the church was, therefore, founded while its site lay beyond the city walls, and consequently before the year 413, after which the site was included within the capital by the erection of the Theodosian wall.

Hence, the phrase 'in the Chora' had the same signification as the style 'in the fields' which is attached to the church of S. Martin in London, or the style _fuore le mura_ which belongs to the basilica of S. Paul and other churches beyond the walls of Rome to this day.

It is certainly in this topographical sense that the term Chora is understood by the Byzantine writers in whose works it first appears.

That is how the term is used by Simeon Metaphrastes[507] in his description of the site of the monastery in his day, and that is how the Anonymus[508] of the eleventh century and his follower Codinus[509]

understand the term; for they take special care to explain how a building which lay within the city in their day could be styled 'Chora'; because, say they, it once stood without the walls, on territory, therefore, called by the Byzantines, [Greek: chorion], the country. The literal meaning of a word is earlier than its artificial and poetical signification. And one can easily conceive how, when the style Chora was no longer literally correct, men abandoned the sober ground of common-sense and history to invent recondite meanings inspired by imagination and sentiment.

This conclusion is confirmed by the history of the Chora given in the Life of S. Theodore,[510] an abbot of the monastery, which Mr. Gedeon discovered in the library of the Pantokrator on Mount Athos. According to that biography, S. Theodore was a relative of Theodora, the wife of Justinian the Great, and after serving with distinction in the Persian wars, and winning greater renown as a monk near Antioch, came to Constantinople about the year 530, at the invitation of his imperial relatives, to assist in the settlement of the theological controversies of the day. Once there he was induced to make the capital his permanent abode by permission to build a monastery, where he could follow his high calling as fully as in his Syrian retreat. For that purpose he selected a site on the property of a certain Charisius, situated, as the Chora is, on the slope of a hill, descending on the one hand steeply to the sea, and rising, on the other, to the highest point in the line of the Theodosian walls, the point marked by the gate named after Charisius (now Edirne Kapoussi). The site was already hallowed, says the biographer of S. Theodore, by the presence of a humble monastic retreat and a small chapel.

The edifice erected by S. Theodore was, however, soon overthrown by the severe earthquake which shook the city in 558, and all the hopes of the good man would also have been dashed to the ground had the disaster not called forth the sympathy and aid of Justinian. In the room of the ruined buildings the emperor erected a magnificent establishment, with chapels dedicated to the Theotokos, the Archangel Michael, S. Anthimus of Nicomedia, and the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. There also stood a hostel for the special accommodation of Syrian monks on a visit to Constantinople, and a hospital for diseases of the eye.[511]

In this account of the early history of the Chora, there may be, as Schmitt[512] thinks, many inaccuracies. It was easy, even for a member of the House who aspired to authorship, to confuse persons, to err in the matter of dates, and to overlook the changes which the buildings with which he was familiar had undergone before his day. But surely the biographer of S. Theodore can be trusted where his statements are supported by more reliable authorities, and we may therefore accept his testimony on the following points: that the original church of the Chora was earlier than the reign of Justinian; that under Justinian the old sanctuary was replaced by a new and statelier building; that the Chora maintained intimate relations with monasteries in Syria; and that with it was associated a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

NOTE

The association of a church dedicated to S. Michael with the Chora, and the fact that the Chora stood on the property of Charisius, raise an interesting question. For among the subscriptions to the letter of the monks to Pope Hormisdas in 518, and the subscriptions to the Acts of the Synod held in Constantinople in 536, stands the name of the abbot of the monastery of the Archangel Michael of Charisius.[513] Was that monastery identical with the Chora? If it was, that fact would be additional evidence that the Chora was earlier than Justinian's time.

On the other hand, it is always dangerous to identify buildings because they were situated in the same quarter of the city and dedicated to the same saint. The absence of all reference to the monastery of S. Michael of Charisius after the reign of Justinian, and yet the association of a church of S. Michael with the Chora after his reign, may be due either to the ruin of that monastery in the earthquake of 558, or to the subsequent union of the two establishments on account of their proximity.

The next important event in the history of the House was the confinement there of the celebrated general Priscus, Count of the Excubiti, at the command of the Emperor Heraclius (610-641).[514] Priscus had taken a leading part in the revolution which overthrew his father-in-law, the infamous Phocas, and placed Heraclius upon the throne. But notwithstanding that service, the attitude of the general towards the new regime was not considered satisfactory, and with the cruel taunt, 'Wretch, thou didst not make a good son-in-law; how canst thou be a true friend?' Heraclius relegated him to political nonentity by forcing him to become a monk at the Chora. The new brother did not live long, but his wealth furnished the fraternity with the means for the erection of a large and beautiful church.

Schmitt, indeed, thinks that the biographer of S. Theodore, already cited, failed to recognise the identity of the person concerning whom he wrote, and assigned events which occurred in the time of Heraclius to the reign of Justinian. According to Schmitt, S. Theodore is really Priscus under his name in religion, and to him, and not to Justinian, was the Chora indebted for its first great era of prosperity. One thing is certain, the splendid church with which the biographer of S. Theodore was acquainted, and the wealth and beauty of which he extols in extravagant terms, was not the church erected by Justinian at the Chora.

The latter was a basilica;[515] while the church alluded to in the biography of S. Theodore was a domical building.[516] Probably the fame of Justinian veiled not only what others had done for the Chora before him, but also the services performed by others after his day.

[Illustration: PLATE LXXXII.

S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA, FROM THE NORTH-EAST.]

[Illustration: S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA. THE NORTH SIDE.

_To face page 292._]

In 712 the Patriarch Kyros was confined in the Chora by the Emperor Philippicus for adherence to the tenets of the Sixth General Council (680),[517] which condemned the attribution of a single will to the person of Christ. The fidelity of the patriarch to orthodox opinion was commemorated annually in the services held at the Chora, as well as in S. Sophia, on the 8th of January.

The monastery was also honoured by the burial there, in 740, of the Patriarch Germanus (714-730), famous for his piety, his learning, and above all for his opposition to Leo the Isaurian, when that emperor commenced the crusade against eikons. The tomb of the patriarch was reputed to perform wonderful cures.[518] Another notable personage buried at the Chora was the patrician Bactagius, an associate of Artavasdos in the effort, made in 743, to drive Constantine Copronymus from the throne. Upon the failure of that attempt Bactagius was captured, beheaded in the Kynegion, and while his head was displayed to public view in the Milion for three days, his mutilated body was taken to the Chora. This might have seemed sufficient revenge. But the rebel's offence so rankled in the emperor's memory, that even after the lapse of some thirty years his resentment was not allayed. The widow of Bactagius was then forced to proceed to the Chora to disinter the bones of her husband from their resting-place in holy earth, and carry them in her cloak to the dreary burial-ground of Pelagion, where the corpses of persons who committed suicide were thrown.[519]

Like similar institutions the Chora suffered severely during the iconoclastic period. Because of its connection with the Patriarch Germanus it became the special object of the hatred of Constantine Copronymus for monks and was almost ruined. What he left of it was turned into a secular residence, and devoted to the confinement of Artavasdos and his family. There also that rebel, and his nine children and his wife, Constantine's sister, were eventually buried.[520]

With the triumph of the iconodules, in 842, under Michael III. and his mother the Empress Theodora, happier days dawned upon the Chora. It was then fortunate in the appointment of Michael Syncellus as its abbot, and under his rule it rapidly recovered from poverty and desolation. The new abbot was a Syrian monk distinguished for his ability, his sanctity, and his devotion to eikons. He came to Constantinople in 814, to remonstrate against the religious policy of Leo the Armenian, and, according to the custom of monks from Palestine on a visit to the capital, lodged at the Chora. But so far from succeeding in the object of his visit, Michael was imprisoned and then banished to one of the monasteries on Mount Olympus in Bithynia. Accordingly, when the cause for which he suffered proved victorious, no honour seemed too great to bestow upon the martyr.

It was even proposed to create him patriarch, but he declined the office, and supported the appointment of his friend Methodius to that position. Methodius, in return, made Michael his syncellus and abbot of the Chora.[521] Under these circumstances it is not surprising that funds were secured for the restoration of the monastery, and that the brotherhood soon gained great influence in the religious circles of the capital. There is, however, no mention now of the church of the Archangel Michael or of the church dedicated to the Theotokos. Possibly the death of the abbot in 846 and lack of money prevented the reconstruction of those sanctuaries. The only churches attached to the Chora noticed in the biography of Michael Syncellus are the church of S.

Anthimus, containing the relics of S. Babylas and his eighty-four disciples, the dependent chapel of S. Ignatius, and the church of the Forty Martyrs.[522] Let it also be noted that there is yet no mention of a church specially consecrated to the Saviour.

After its restoration in the 9th century the Chora does not appear again in history until the reign of Alexius I. Comnenus (1081-1118), when, owing to its great age, it was found in a state of almost complete ruin.[523] If for no other reason, the proximity of the church to the palace or Blachernae, which had become the favourite residence of the court, brought the dilapidated pile into notice, and its restoration was undertaken by the emperor's mother-in-law, Maria, the beautiful and talented granddaughter of Samuel, the famous king of Bulgaria, and niece of Aecatherina, the consort of Isaac I. Comnenus. Maria had married Andronicus Ducas, a son of Michael VII., and the marriage of her daughter Irene Ducaena to Alexius was designed to unite the rival pretensions of the families of the Comneni and the Ducas to the throne.

It had been strenuously opposed by Anna Dalassena, the mother of Alexius, and its accomplishment in 1077, notwithstanding such formidable opposition, is no slight proof of the diplomatic skill and determination of the mother of the bride. Nor can it be doubted that Irene's mother acted a considerable part in persuading Alexius, when he mounted the throne, not to repudiate his young wife, as he was tempted to do in favour of a fairer face. Perhaps the restoration of the Chora was a token of gratitude for the triumph of her maternal devotion.

The church was rebuilt on the plan which it presents to-day, for in the account of the repairs made in the fourteenth century it is distinctly stated that they concerned chiefly the outer portion of the edifice.[524] To Alexius' mother-in-law, therefore, may be assigned the central part of the structure, a cruciform hall; the dome, so far as it is not Turkish, the beautiful marble incrustation upon the walls, the mosaic eikons of the Saviour and of the Theotokos on the piers of the eastern dome-arch, and the exquisite marble carving above the latter eikon--all eloquent in praise of the taste and munificence that characterised the eleventh century in Constantinople. Probably the church was then dedicated to the Saviour, like the three other Comnenian churches in the city, the Pantepoptes, the Pantokrator, and S. Thekla.

The mother-in-law of Alexius I. was, however, not alone in her interest in the Chora. Her devotion to the monastery was shared also by her grandson the sebastocrator Isaac. Tall, handsome, brave, but ambitious and wayward, Isaac was gifted with the artistic temperament, as his splendid manuscript of the first eight books of the Old Testament, embellished with miniatures by his own hand, makes clear.[525] If the inscription on the mosaic representing the Deesis found in the inner narthex really refers to him, it proves that his influence was felt in the decoration of the building.[526] He certainly erected a magnificent mausoleum for himself in the church. Later in his life, indeed, he became interested in the restoration of the monastery of Theotokos Kosmosoteira at Viros, and ordered that mausoleum to be dismantled, and the marbles, bronze railing, and portraits of his parents which adorned it to be transported to Viros; but he still allowed his own portrait 'made in the days of his youthful vanity' to remain in the Chora.[527]

NOTE

Uspenski has identified Viros with Ferejik, a village situated 30 kilometres from Dedeagatch, and 20-25 kilometres from Enos, 'aux embouchures desertees et marecageuses de la Maritza.'

The church is now the mosque of the village. It has five domes and three apses. The central apse is pierced by a modern door. The exonarthex has disappeared and the old principal entrance is walled up. The plan of the church is almost identical with the plan of the Chora. While the architectural details are poor and indicate haste, the dimensions of the building imply considerable expense and the wealth of the restorer. There are traces of painting on the walls of the interior, especially in the domes (the Virgin) and in the two lateral apses. An epitaph of seven lines in the middle of the mosque contains the title 'despotes.' According to Uspenski, the sebastocrator died soon after 1182, the year during which he was engaged on the Typicon of the monastery at Viros. The monastery was visited by the Emperor Andronicus Comnenus in 1185, by Isaac Angelus in 1195, and by Villehardouin in 1205. Early in the fourteenth century it was converted into a fortress, and the country round it was ravaged in 1322 by the Bulgarians. It was attacked in vain by John Cantucuzene, but was captured in 1355 by John VI. Palaeologus.

[Illustration: PLATE LXXXIII.

S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA. THE INNER NARTHEX, LOOKING SOUTH.]

[Illustration: S. SAVIOUR IN THE CHORA. THE INNER NARTHEX, LOOKING SOUTH.

_To face page 296._]

Another name associated with the Chora at this period is that of the Patriarch Cosmas, who was commemorated annually in the church on the 2nd of January. He had occupied the patriarchal seat in days troubled by the intrigues and conflicts which drove first Michael VII. Ducas, and then Nicephorus Botoniates from the throne, and invested Alexius Comnenus with the purple. They were not days most suitable to a man who, though highly esteemed for his virtues, was without education or experience in public affairs, and nearly ninety years old. Still, to his honour be it said, it was at his earnest request that Botoniates finally agreed to forego a bloody contest with the Comneni, and to withdraw quietly to the monastery of the Peribleptos. Moreover, when it seemed uncertain whether the victorious Alexius would remain faithful to Irene Ducaena and raise her to the throne, Cosmas, notwithstanding all the efforts of Anna Dalassena (who was ill-disposed towards Irene) to persuade him to lay down his office, firmly refused to resign until he had placed the imperial crown upon the emperor's lawful wife. Soon after that event, on the 7th of May 1081, the festival of S. John the Evangelist, Cosmas, having celebrated service in the church dedicated to that apostle at the Hebdomon (Makrikeui), turned to his deacon, saying, 'Take my Psalter and come with me; we have nothing more to do here,' and retired to the monastery of Kallou. His strength for battle was spent.

After its restoration under the Comneni, the Chora again disappears from view until the reign of Michael Palaeologus (1261-1282). In the interval the fortunes of the Empire had suffered serious reverses, what with domestic strifes and foreign wars. Bulgaria had reasserted her independence and established the capital of a new kingdom at Tirnovo, while Constantinople itself had been captured by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and made the seat of a Latin kingdom. Consequently, it is not surprising to find that the Chora, like other churches of the ravaged city, was in a deplorable condition at the close of those calamitous days. Nothing seemed to have been done for the repair of the church immediately upon the recovery of the capital in 1261. The ruin which the Latin occupants of Constantinople left behind them was too great to be removed at once. The first reference to the Chora at this period occurs some fourteen years after the restoration of the Byzantine Empire, when the monastery, owing to its proximity to the palace of Blachernae, was assigned to the Patriarch Veccus as the house in which to lodge on the occasion of his audiences with Michael Palaeologus, on Tuesdays, to present petitions for the exercise of imperial generosity or justice. But the decay into which the establishment had fallen could not be long ignored, and a wealthy, talented, and influential citizen who resided in the neighbourhood, Theodore Metochites,[528] decided to restore the edifice as a monument of the artistic revival of his own day.

Theodore Metochites was one of the most remarkable men of his day. His tall, large, well-proportioned figure, his bright countenance, commanded attention wherever he appeared. He was, moreover, a great student of ancient Greek literature and of the literature of later times, and although never a master of style, became an author and attempted verse.

He was much interested in astronomy, and one of his pupils, the historian Nicephorus Gregoras, recognised the true length of the year and proposed the reform of the calendar centuries before Pope Gregory.

Theodore's memory was so retentive that he could converse on any topic with which he was familiar, as if reading from a book, and there was scarcely a subject on which he was not able to speak with the authority of an expert. He seemed a living library, 'walking encyclopaedia.' In fact, he belonged to the class of brilliant Greek scholars who might have regenerated the East had not the unfortunate political situation of their country driven them to Italy to herald and promote the Renaissance in Western Europe. Theodore Metochites was, moreover, a politician. He took an active part in the administration of affairs during the reign of Andronicus II., holding the office of Grand Logothetes of the Treasury; and such was his devotion to politics, that when acting as a statesman it might be forgotten that he was a scholar.

The unhappy strife between Andronicus II. and Andronicus III. caused Theodore Metochites the profoundest anxiety, and it was not his fault if the feud between the grandfather and the grandson refused to be healed.

His efforts to bring that disgraceful and disastrous quarrel to an end involved great self-sacrifice and wrecked his career. For the counsels he addressed to Andronicus III. gave mortal offence, and when the young emperor entered the capital and took up his quarters in the palace of the Porphyrogenitus (Tekfour Serai), his troops sacked and demolished Theodore's mansion in that vicinity. The beautiful marbles which adorned the residence were sent as an imperial present to a Scythian prince, while the fallen statesman was banished to Didymotica for two years.

Upon his return from exile Theodore found a shelter in the monastery which he had restored in his prosperous days. But there also, for some two years longer, the cup of sorrow was pressed to his lips. A malady from which he suffered caused him excruciating pain; his sons were implicated in a political plot and thrown into prison; Andronicus II., between whom and himself all communication had been forbidden, died; and so the worn-out man assumed the habit of a monk, and lay down to die on the 13th of March 1331, a month after his imperial friend. His one consolation was the beautiful church he bequeathed to succeeding generations for the worship of God.

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