Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chora Church (1321)

In Turkey there is a city called Istanbul. From 330 to 1930, however, that city was called Constantinople.

In that city, in an unimportant area, there is a brick building that looks very unimportant. It was first called the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora. Chora means “the country.” This church building was first constructed in the early 400s. At that time it was outside the walls of the city.

Big changes were made to this unimportant building between 1077 and 1081. These big changes were ordered and paid for by Maria Dukaina. Maria was mother of the empress Irene and mother-in-law of the emperor Alexius 1st Comnenus. Even after these big changes, the building was still small: only about 8,000 square feet (740 square meters). Early in the 1100s, an earthquake made part of this building fall down. Isaac Comnenus, one of Maria’s grandsons, paid to have the building repaired.

Between 1315 and 1321 the unimportant Chora Church became very important. That was when Theodore Metochites, a rich and powerful man, paid to have the very plain building decorated with very beautiful mosaics. Sadly, we do not know the names of the artists who created such beauty. When Theodore lost his money and power, he was allowed to live as a monk at Chora Church. He was allowed to enjoy the beauty he had paid others to create. He died two years later.

While unknown artists were creating beautiful mosaics in Chora Church, another person was creating beautiful music down the street in Hagia Sophia. His name was John Koukouzeles. His music was so beautiful that the Orthodox Church later named him a saint.

In 1453, Muslim armies conquered Constantinople. Around 1500, the Chora Church became a mosque. Because no pictures of humans are allowed in mosques, the church's beautiful mosaics were covered with a thick layer of plaster.

In 1948, the building stopped being used as a mosque. At that time, a group of Americans started to take the thick layer of plaster off the mosaics. In 1958 their work was finished and the building reopened as a museum. Now we all can enjoy the very beautiful mosaics to be found in this very plain building.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.