September 21, 2014

The Rod of Moses in Constantinople

Rod of Moses at Topkapi Museum

By John Sanidopoulos

It is clear from the Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Ceasarea that many connections are made between Constantine and Moses, the latter being considered a model of a perfect leader and bishop. As Gregory of Nyssa says in his Life of Moses, "The great Moses is set forth as a common model for all those who look to virtue." Yet we also have a literal connection that establishes more firmly the typological connection.

During the reign of Constantine the Great in the fourth century, the miraculous rod of the Prophet Moses was brought to Constantinople, and according to the Patria of Constantinople the emperor went on foot to greet it at the Gate of Saint Aemilianus (Davutpasa Kapisi) on the Propontis coast. He built the Church of the Theotokos of the Rhabdos (Rod) there, since the Theotokos is known as the "secret rod", and he put the rod in it for veneration. According to the Chronicon Paschale, the Church of the Theotokos of the Rhabdos, the small chapel where the rod of Moses was kept, stood next to the Gate of Saint Aemilianus and was attached to the Church of Saint Aemilianus.

The Patria of Constantinople goes on to say that Constantine transferred the rod of Moses to the Great Palace, and later, according to the Book of Ceremonies, it was placed in the Chrysotriklinos ("golden reception hall") and was carried in imperial processions together with the Cross of Constantine, which contained a portion of the True Cross. The Chrysotriklinos was the main reception and ceremonial hall of the Great Palace of Constantinople from its construction, in the late 6th century, until the 10th century. Its appearance is known only through literary descriptions, chiefly the 10th century Book of Ceremonies, a collection of imperial ceremonies, but, as the chief symbol of imperial power, it inspired the construction of Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel in Aachen.

In its interior, the imperial throne was placed on the eastern apse (the bēma), behind a bronze railing. The northeastern apse was known as the "Chapel of Saint Theodore". It contained the emperor's crown and a number of holy relics, including the rod of Moses, and also served as a dressing room for the emperor. The southern apse led to the imperial bedroom (koitōn), through a silver door put in place by Emperor Constantine VII.

In later centuries the rod was admired by English and Russian pilgrims in its new location in the palace. Historical records do mention that Baldwin II, the last Latin emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, pawned a choice selection of relics, including the rod of Moses, to King Louis IX of France in 1242. King Louis had the rod of Moses with some other relics he acquired placed in Sainte Chapelle of Paris. A portion of the rod is also listed among the relics of Reading Abbey in Berkshire.

However, it is believed by many that the rod still survives till this day in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, where it is kept in a container richly decorated with precious stones.