August 4, 2020

Consecration of the Church of the Monastery of Pantocrator in Constantinople

On this day (4th of August) we commemorate the Consecration of the very beautiful and divine Temple, of the royal Monastery of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ the Pantocrator, in Constantinople.


Modeled beautifully after the old laws,
You are welcomed with discourses of consecration.

The Monastery of Christ Pantocrator is located on the fourth hill of Constantinople overlooking the Golden Horn, east of the Church of the Holy Apostles and north of the Aqueduct of Valens. Built between 1118-1136, it was a large monastic complex with a hospital. It is possible that the nearby Şeyh Süleyman Mosque was once part of the complex, perhaps serving as its library. There are also several cisterns in the vicinity, including the prominent is Unkapanı Cistern. At one time it held more than a dozen tombs of Byzantine/Roman emperors.

The Pantocrator Monastery complex, which was one of the most ambitious imperial foundations of Constantinople following the reign of Justinian, played an important role in Komnenian ideology. Now known as Zeyrek Mosque, the surviving contiguous structures consist of two churches with a chapel between them. The monastery was founded by Irene, the wife of John II when construction on the south church, dedicated to Christ Pantocrator, began around 1118. After her death in 1124, John constructed the north church (dedicated to Theotokos Eleousa) and built a funerary chapel (dedicated to the Archangel Michael) for the Komnenos family which joined the two churches. The south courtyard and the exonarthex of the south church were also added during the final stage of construction.

Except for the Church of the Holy Apostles, no other Byzantine building received as many imperial burials. John II (1118-43) and Irene (Piroska of Hungary), their son Manuel I (1143–1180), and his wife Bertha of Sulzbach, were buried there, as were the Palaiologan emperors Manuel II and John VIII in the 15th century. In front of Manuel's black marble sarcophagus was the Stone of Unction (a marble slab on which Christ’s body laid after his crucifixion), which Manuel brought from Ephesus around 1170. The large funerary chapel of the Archangel Michael is described by the typikon as a heroon – the shrine of a hero later used for the imperial mausoleum of Constantine and his imperial successors at the Church of the Holy Apostles. By using the term heroon at the Pantocrator, the Komnenian emperors were equating their mausoleum with Constantine and his imperial church. The Icon of the Theotokos Hodegetria - the city’s most revered and popular icon - was brought to the Pantocrator when the deceased members of the Komnenian dynasty were commemorated. The monastery was also important for the cult of the empress Irene promoted by her son, Manuel I, who was also likely behind her canonization.

The typikon of the Pantocrator Monastery, along with the monasteries of Stoudios and Lips, is unique, in that both it foundation document and the church building have survived. Composed in 1136, it provides a wealth of information about the monastery, including explicit liturgical and ceremonial directions and details about the administration of the monastery. The monastery housed 80 monks, of whom 50 were choir brothers. The monastic complex included a 50-bed hospital with a medical school and gerokomeion (old-age home) for 24 elderly men. In addition, a leprosarium was constructed some distance from the monastery. The monastery was richly endowed with estates in Thrace, Macedonia, the Peloponnese, the Aegean and Anatolia, and six smaller monasteries in the Asiatic suburbs of the capital. A short vita of the empress Irene, written to commemorate her death on August 13, also survives.

The Pantocrator Monastery served as the Venetian headquarters during the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204-1261). During this time the Icon of Panagia Hodegetria was kept here, though it was later returned to the Hodegon Monastery following the reconquest of Constantinople. It is also possible that some of the panels of the Pala d'Oro in San Marco originally came from the Pantocrator Monastery. While it was originally ordered from Constantinople by the doge Ordelaffo Falier in 1102, it was reworked following the Fourth Crusade’s sacked Constantinople in 1204. Following the reconquest of Constantinople by Michael VIII in 1261, the monastery was returned to Orthodox monks, following which in maintained its prestige and status in the final two centuries of Byzantine Constantinople.

The complex was converted into a mosque soon after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. It served as the first madrasa, with Zeyrek Molla Efendi acting as its first müderris. Several changes were made to the structure following its conversion. In addition to adding a minbar and a mihrab and plastering the walls, the columns supporting the domes of the north and south churches were replaced with Ottoman Baroque piers. The dome of the north church was also altered several times. It was restored many times during the Ottoman era, the most significantly occurred after a fire severely damaged it in the late eighteenth century. The Byzantine Institute investigated and restored Zeyrek Mosque in the 1950s and 1960s, revealing the south church’s opus sectile floor. It was again studied and restored in the 1990s and 2000s, and once again in the 2010s. In the 1990s, forty-one amphorae were uncovered over the apse of the north church Building and on the eastern vault of the south church.