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August 31, 2017

The Church of Chalkoprateia in Constantinople Today (One Time Home of the Holy Girdle of the Virgin)

Remaining wall of the fifth century Church of Chalkoprateia

The Theotokos of Chalkoprateia was one of the most important churches of Constantinople dedicated to the Virgin Mary until the church at Blachernae took its place, though even after it was a close second. It was located to the north of the Patriarchate and at a small distance from Hagia Sophia. The mid-16th century traveler P. Gilles notes that Chalkoprateia was not far from the Milion. According to a written source the name derives from the installation in the area of Jewish craftsmen who manufactured and traded bronze objects, already by the time of Constantine the Great. The district was also known as the district of Chartoprateia (of the paper trade), because there were workshops of writing material. By the late sixth century there was a procession with the garments of the Theotokos every Friday in Constantinople between the churches of Chalkoprateia and Blachernae.

According to Maximus the Confessor (580-662) in his Life of the Virgin, the following brief description is given regarding the relationship between Chalkoprateia and the Holy Girdle:

In this way the immaculate mother of Christ also gave to the same city her holy girdle, which encircled the body that contained the uncontainable, the King of all things. And for this a beautiful church was also built by the faithful emperors to the glory of the holy Theotokos, which is called Chalkoprateia. And there her incorruptible girdle is kept, as the city's crown of grace and its wall of steadfast faith, and the source of victory for the God-serving emperors.

Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople (715-730) delivered a homily at Chalkoprateia dedicated to the Holy Girdle, where he mentions the long established tradition of reverencing this holy relic at Chalkoprateia, and he describes it as "encircling and embracing its city, protecting it unassailably from barbarian attack." According to the Synaxarion of Constantinople, Chalkoprateia acquired the Girdle of the Theotokos during the reign of Justinian (527-565). In the Patria it says that Justin II (567-578) and his wife Sophia built the Holy Soros, which was a chapel to store the Holy Girdle in Chalkoprateia.

It is not known when the Chalkoprateia Church was destroyed. It existed during the Latin occupation of the 13th century, but the Russian pilgrims of the 14th and 15th centuries do not mention it. The Girdle seemed to have been transferred with the other garments of the Theotokos to Blachernae.

Today you can visit the existing portions of Chalkoprateia. Over the foundation of the church is the Acem Aga Mescidi Mosque (also known as Zeynep Sultan). However, if you go to the Zeynep Sultan Hotel, and ask the to see the room in the basement, they will happily lead you to stairs that lead down to the dark cellar where frescoes of Chalkoprateia still exist. There are also small remnants of the original building around the area, as well as the remaining wall fragment.

Location of the church not far from Hagia Sophia

Zeynep Sultan Hotel

Stairs leading down to cellar

Frescoes are not well preserved