July 7, 2015

The Church of Saint Kyriaki Kontoskaliou in Constantinople

By Nikos Ghinis and Constantinos Stratos

Among the populous Greek neighborhoods of Kontoskali, Vlanga and Hypsomatheia close to the Propontis, the Sea of Marmara, there are about ten church complexes that still have a life of their own.

As we know it today, the Church of Saint Kyriaki in Kumkapi was built in the late 19th century to the design of Pericles Photiades, who was the architect also of the Zographeion School. The earliest reference to the Church of Saint Kyriaki Kontoskaliou was made by the representative of the Russian Czar, who visited it in 1583.

The church survives in fairly good order though dampness has caused damage here, too, especially in the dome and the sanctuary where there are also cracks in the masonry.

The imposing octagonal building with its dome and belfry belongs to that bygone age in which Greeks of Constantinople enjoyed the status of "equality before the law". Wealthy Greek communities were able to erect magnificent Houses of Prayer and the buildings that so often clustered around them - the schools, assembly-halls, and association premises were no less splendid.

The neo-classical, stone school house opposite the church is falling into ruin, while the building that was once the community center is now a repository. Behind the stacks of merchandise one can make out the stage of a small theater with fine woodcarved decoration.

The scene in the adjacent buildings is, however, quite different. There the priest-in-charge, Meletios Sakkoulidis, has his offices. A tireless collector of books printed on Constantinopolitan presses, a scholar of ecclesiastical and community history, and faithful to the traditions observed by a deeply religious cleric, he ministers to the churches the Phanar has entrusted to his care (Saint Kyriaki, The Virgin of Hope and Saint Theodore Vlangas) and assists visitors in their contacts with the spiritually vibrant capital of the Pan-Orthodox world.

Here on Sundays and great feast-days the most recent migrants - Georgians, Romanians and Ukrainians - settled in the densely populated districts around the Church of Saint Kyriaki, participating in the Divine Liturgy. They live in old middle-class residences with woodcarved ornamentation on their impressive facades, but now on the point of collapse.