The Chora Museum, located in Edirnekapi, is one of the original structures of East Roman art with its architecture, mosaics and frescoes. It was converted into a mosque during the era of Bayezid II in the year 1511. However, it was used as a mosque for 434 years without any damage made to the mosaics and frescoes left by the East Romans. It was converted into a museum by the decree of the Ministerial Cabinet in 1945. The museum, which also offers audio guidance services, is open to visitations everyday except for Wednesdays.
History of Chora Museum
The structure called the Chora Museum is a church structure forming the center of the Khora monastery, which was a large complex during the East Rome Empire era and was devoted to Jesus. The name “Khora” was seen appropriate, which means “rural area” or “the outskirts” in Greek because it was outside the city walls of Constantinople.
Although the exact date of its building is unknown, according to reports from the author Saint Symeon Metaphrastes, who lived at the end of the 10th century, it is understood that the area where the Chora Monastery is located gained importance of being a “necropol” because during the early years of Christianity, the relics of Saint Babylas and his 84 followers who were murdered in Iznik, were buried here at the beginning of the 4th century.
The Chora Monastery was reconstructed in the year 536 by Emperor Justinian in the place of a ruined chapel and this graveyard which was considered holy.
It was later in time that the monastery was used as the burial location of prominent individuals. With the burial of Patriarch Germanos in this location, who died in the year 740, the monastery had entered the sources for the first time, and with the burial of the Nikaia bishop Theophanes in the 9th century, it increased the holiness of the monastery. The structure, which fell into ruins during the Iconoclast period in the 8th and 9th centuries, was renovated at various times. As a result of archaeological excavations conducted between 1947-1958, it was determined that there were five separate construction periods and that there were important building activities or renovations undertaken during the 11th, 12th and 14th centuries.
The earliest samples of structures, which includes the period up until the 9th century, that has survived is the foundational structure located in the east. This foundational structure, which is perceived to belong to the 5th and 6th centuries, was observed as not being built as a crypt, but was comprehended from the burial grounds that it was used for the burial of the deceased.
At the end of the Iconoclast period, and after the Nikaia Council in 843, Mikhael Synkellos, who had been appointed as the high priest of the monastery, reconstructed the monastery with a great structural campaign. The traces of this structure during the 9th century can only be seen at the east end of the church today. The sepulcher, covered with a barrel vault positioned underneath the Naos flooring belongs to this period.
During the era of the Komnenos in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Great Palace was abandoned and with the use of the Blakhernai Palace, and Chora Monastery Church for religious ceremonies, the importance of the church had increased. During the final quarter of the 11th century, Emperor Alexios Komnenos’s mother-in-law, Maria Doukaina, built a new church above the Chora Monastery, which was in ruins. The remnants of this structure can be observed underneath the naos walls and marble pavements. As there has not been much that has survived up until today from the upper structure, the form of the structure is unknown.
The youngest son of Alexios I, Isaac Komnenos, reconstructed a great part of the monastery in 1120. The earlier structure which had three apses was changed with a single and large apse, and the relatively small dome erected on four columns, was enlarged, while its four corner positions were moved, arches constricted and as a result a monumental interior area was created.
There isn’t much information in relation to the Chora Museum during the occupation of the Latins between 1204-1261. However, if we consider the extensive building functions undertaken by Metokhites, it is perceived that the monastery was left in ruins during the Latin occupation.
It is also known that the great earthquake in 1296 had left the monastery in ruins.
At the beginning of the 14th century, during the era of Andronikos II, Theodoros Metokhites, who was the official responsible for the Emperor’s treasury, reconstructed the Chora Monastery from scratch and established a very large and rich library within the monastery. The main dome of the church, the double-storey “annex” attached to the North side, the interior and exterior narthexes, the “paracclesion” chapel on the South, as well as the marble covered panels of the naos and mosaics, the mosaic decorations of the narthexes and the frescoes of the added chapel were all made by Metokhites. When Metokhites died in 1332, he was buried in the attached paracclesion on the South side of the church located within the Chora Monastery.
With his architectural resolutions and mosaics, as well as the magnificent mastership he applied to the decorations of the frescoes and with a chronological accordance of the religious illustrations and iconographs, Metokithes was very successful.
Another feature, which differentiated Chora Museum from the other churches during this time, is the use of the Biblical Apocrypha in the chronological illustration of the life of Virgin Mary, which was not even explained in the Four Bibles, Metokhites included another mystical meaning to the name of Chora Museum, and ordered the making of the Mary mosaic above the entrance door which reads, “Chora, the place of the unlimited, where Jesus fitted into the womb, where he existed”. Thus, he dedicated the church to Virgin Mary and also explained this in a poem he had written.
The structure was not damaged during the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed in 1453. The Chora Monastery Church, which for a long time was used as a church, was converted into a mosque during Sultan Bayezid II’s era by Grand Vizier Atik Ali Pasha in 1511 and a madrasah was added to it. During the Turkish period, all of the structures except for the church, was destroyed and became nonexistent.
Other than the reconstruction of the collapsed dome and the damages resulted from some earthquakes, most of the exterior narthex windows were shut down and a mihrab was added to the naos. The tombs in the arcosollium were removed. During the period when the structure was used as a mosque, it is understood from the narrations of the visitors that the mosaics were covered with wooden shutters that could be opened and shut. During the first half of the 18th century, a school and a soup kitchen were added by Kizlaragasi Haci Besir Pasha. Today, these added structures do not exist.
The Chora Mosque was converted into a museum in 1945 with the decree of the Ministerial Cabinet. This monument-museum, which is currently called the Kariye Museum, draws much attention in East Roman arts, whether it be in terms of its architecture, mosaics and frescoes.
The word “marble”, which is known as “Marmaron” in Greek, was named after the Marmara Island that was famous for its rich marble deposits. These white marbles with gray grains were extensively used in the decoration of Chora. In addition to the marbles from the Marmara Island, porphyritic, ancient green, onyx, red, yellow and pink-grained marbles brought from different places such as North Africa, the island of Euboea (Eğriboz) and the Afyon province produced a rich outlook. Marble blocks of the same sets were cut and mounted side by side in order to form patterns, rich symmetrical figures and motifs resembling wood grains.
Although the marble works in Chora Museum are as rich and striking as those in Hagia Sophia, they do not attract the attention of visitors that much, because of the rich mosaics and fascinating fresco pictures. In particular, the naos and the wall coverings in the narthexes of Chora contain marble. Marble patterns in opus sectile style were used in coverings and additionally in the friezes under the cornices of the naos walls.
Attentive observers are able to observe the fine marble works in the frames of the tomb niches, in the marble intarsia cornices, in the yellow and dark colored reliefs on the capitals of the columns, and on the first door on the north side of the entrance to the naos.
The Art of Mosaic and Frescoes
Mosaics and frescoes were widely used decoration techniques of religious art of East Rome. In Chora as well, these two decoration techniques can be observed together. The outer and inner narthexes are decorated with magnificent sequential scenes that could be considered among masterworks of mosaics, narrating mainly the life and miracles of Jesus Christ, and the life of Virgin Mary, respectively. On the other hand, in the parecclesion, religious stories from the Old Testament and scenes such as the Judgment Day, resurrection and the last judgment are depicted in frescoes.
The fresco technique involves the paint, which has dissolved in water, applied over wet plaster with a brush with stiff and long bristles. Thus, the paint, which is absorbed by the wet plaster preserves the colors for a very long time. By means of both the painting technique implemented and the high-quality materials chosen for the parecclesion section of Chora, the brightness of the colors of the paintings have been preserved until today. The taunted materials, architectural elements between cliffs, trees, buildings used for the purposes of providing depth to the paintings were implemented very successfully, and have added three-dimensionality to the paintings.
After the conversion of the church into a mosque, all inscriptions, Christian symbols, all frescoes, and mosaic decorations were covered by a thin layer of dye and lime without being destroyed. It is for this reason that they have survived until today without any damage.
The Chora Museum consists of five main architectural units, namely the “naos”, the two-storied structure “annex” added to the north, the inner and the outer narthexes and the tomb chapel “parecclesion” to the south.
Entrance into the building is through the door located on the West side of the South facade. This area is the part of the exterior narthex, which covers the West side with a rectangular plan, and stretches out to the South facade in an L shape. The paracclession section, which covers the South facade from the entrance with a rectangular plan, is located on the right side of the entrance. The second area with a rectangular plan that is parallel to the exterior narthex on the West facade is the interior narthex. The large area which is located between the interior narthex on the West, the paracclession on the South and the double-storey annex structure on the North, is the naos.
The following mosaic scenes are located in the South entrance section:
The Pantocrator Jesus Scene
The first mosaic confronting visitors at the entrance is located in the lunette over the door of the inner narthex. In this illustration, while Jesus is holding the Holy Scripture in his left hand, he is blessing with his right hand. This scene depicts the supremacy and divinity of Jesus, who appears as the “Lord of the Universe”.
Virgin Mary and Angels Praying
On the arch above the main entrance, Virgin Mary is depicted as the Virgin Blachernitissa. Virgin Mary is positioned in the center and is praying with her hands raised and spread out. Baby Jesus is depicted inside the medallion worn by Virgin Mary. There are two angel depictions masterfully placed on the edges of the vault.
Dedication Mosaic of the Founder
Above the external side of the entrance door of the main room is a scene where Theodore Metochites, who had completed the construction of the church and decorated its interior with mosaics and frescoes, presents the model of the church to Jesus, who is sitting on a throne.
Mosaic Depiction of St Peter the Apostle
On the panel located to the left side of the doorway to the naos, Saint Peter, one of the first disciples of Jesus, is depicted while holding a scroll in his left hand and the keys of heaven in his other hand. His name is inscribed on both sides of his head.
Mosaic of St Paul of the Apostle
On the panel located to the right side of the doorway to the naos, the standing Saint Paul the Apostle from Tarsus is depicted in frontal form. He is holding the Holy Scripture in his left hand and doing the sign of blessing with the other one. His name is inscribed on both sides of his head. He came to Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero and was beheaded because of his testimony for Jesus.
Christ Chalkites and the Virgin Mary Panel
The mosaic in the east lunette wall at the southern wing of the inner narthex depicts Chora Museum’s scene of Deesis. Here, Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is depicted while standing on the right side of Jesus and sadly praying for the redemption of people. This scene owes its name to its resembling the scene on the “Chalke Gate”, the bronze gate that was the main entrance to the Great Palace. Prince Isaac Komnenos is positioned next to the skirt of Virgin Mary and Princess Maria Palaiologina, who is wearing a nun’s robe, is depicted as praying in a kneeling position.
The Exterior Narthex
The exterior narthex, which is located on the western side of the building, has been completed adorned with mosaics depicting the life and miracles of Jesus and the scenes following them.
The following mosaic scenes in the exterior narthex that describe the life of Jesus includes:
Joseph’s Dream and Journey to Bethlehem
Three different scenes are depicted in the lunette on the north wall of the outer narthex. On the left side of the scene, Virgin Mary is together with Elizabeth. On the lower left corner of the scene, Joseph has thoughtfully fallen asleep after recognizing that Virgin Mary is pregnant. An angel approaching Joseph says that he should not leave her, that Virgin Mary was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, that she will give birth to a son who would save people from their sins, and that he was going to name him Jesus. Here, the scene of him travelling to Bethlehem for a census is observed. The city has been depicted in the background.
Census for Enrollment for Taxation before the Governor
In the depiction on the east lunette of the northern section, the census conducted upon the order of Emperor Augustus for collecting taxes in all Roman provinces can be seen. In front of the governor, a Roman soldier who is in charge of the query and is holding a sword, and a scribe who is recording, are enrolling the pregnant Virgin Mary. When the father of the child is asked, Virgin Mary remains silent, but Joseph behind her answers immediately and accepts him as a son by declaring himself his father.
Birth of Christ
On the Eastern arch in the central section is the scene of the birth of Christ. During their return from Bethlehem, where they had been for the census, since there was no room for them in the inn and since Mary was suffering childbirth pains, she was obliged to give birth to her baby in a cave. In the scene on the lower part of the mosaic panel, there are preparations to bathe Baby Jesus, and while a woman is preparing the first bath water of Jesus, another woman is holding Jesus in her arms.
Three Astrologers from the East before King Herod
There is a two-part depiction on the first eastern lunette of the south wing of the outer narthex. King Herod, who finds out about a new born baby, who will become the king of the Jews, calls three oracles and informs that he too will pay homage to this prophet and thus, orders them to find him. The three oracles, who find the newborn Jesus, return home upon realizing the ill intentions of King Herod. King Herod, who understands that he is fooled, orders his soldiers to murder every male child aged 2 and under in Bethlehem. In the scene, King Herod, who is sitting on a throne before an architectural structure, is depicted as holding a stick in one of his hands and extending the other hand towards the oracles.
The Scene of the 3 Eastern oracle kings returning to their homeland
In the scene between the two arches in the east leading from the outer narthex to the parecclesion, the return of the oracle kings to their homeland are depicted as they are presenting their gifts. However, due to eradications, this scene is only partially preserved, showing a rider on a rearing horse.
Inquiry of Herod
The depiction on the second east lunette of the southern wing of the outer narthex is partially destroyed. Here, only the depictions of King Herod and the guard behind him are observable. King Herod, who was informed by the three oracles about the birth of the new king, learns from his chief priests and scribes that this event was to occur in Bethlehem. A guard is depicted as waiting behind him.
Flight to Egypt
The mosaics in the inner part of the outer narthex extending towards the parecclesion have not completely survived. On the lunette on the south wall of this section, Joseph, who saw in his dream that Herod was going to harm Jesus, takes the holy family to Egypt.
Ordering of the Massacre
In the scene on the south lunette in the southern wing of the outer narthex, King Herod is positioned on his throne, with two soldiers behind him and 3 soldiers before him on the left side. On the right side of the panel, there is a massacre scene, where children are murdered by soldiers. A mother, who has been disembowled cannot look at her child, while another mother is seen trying to hide her son.
The Mourning Mothers
In the mosaic depiction, which has not completely survived and is located on the west arch of the second section of the southern wing of the outer narthex, mothers whose children were killed mourn their dead children together.
Flight of Elizabeth and John from the Massacre
In the scene on the west arch of the first section of the southern wing of the outer narthex, Saint Elizabeth takes shelter in a cave in a mountain together with her son John the Baptist, and a soldier on the left side is pursuing them with a drawn sword.
Return of the Holy Family from Egypt to Nazareth
In the scene on the arches above the windows on the western walls of the outer narthex, the Holy Family, who had gone to Egypt, fleeing from the massacre of King Herod, returns to Nazareth.
Jesus taken to Jerusalem for Passover
In the scene on the last arch on the western wall of the outer narthex, the holy family is taking its annual traditional journey to Jerusalem, to fulfill their religious duties.
Mosaics Depicting the Youth of Jesus
Most of the mosaics on the east vault of the northern wing of the outer narthex have not survived. As understood from the existing mosaic remains, scenes depicting Jesus’ childhood and youth should have been here. In the surviving depiction, young Jesus is at the temple, amongst physicians during his youth years.
John the Baptist, Jesus and the Devil
There is a decorative medallion positioned in the middle section of the first vault in the north. The themes are illustrated around the medallion. The baptism of Jesus is depicted on the northern part of the vault. At the shore of the Jordan River, John the Baptist is introducing Jesus standing before him to the crowd positioned behind him. At this moment, a voice from heaven is heard: “This is the beloved son of God…” With this event, Jesus is introduced to the people as a Messiah for the first time. After his baptism, the devil tries to tempt and lead Jesus astray. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus confronts the efforts of the devil, who intended to lead him astray. In this scene, the devil, who is trying to encourage Jesus to sin, is depicted as a black and ugly creature with wings.
The mosaics in the exterior narthex depicting the miracles of Jesus are are follows:
Miracles at the Wedding in Cana
The mosaic depiction in the middle of the vault above the main entrance has not completely survived. Only a part of the festival at the wedding is visible. On the other preserved mosaics, the first miracles of Jesus are depicted. The sacrifice of a bull and the filling of water into the jars are seen in those located in the north, while empty and filled baskets of bread are seen in the south of the mosaic.
The Augmentation of Wine
This scene depicts Jesus, his mother Virgin Mary and the apostles, attending a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Once they have run out of wine, Jesus is depicted as transforming the water in the jars into wine.
The Augmentation of Bread
In this scene on the southeast part of the vault where empty baskets of bread are seen, Jesus divides the bread and passes them onto those next to him and asks everyone to do the same. While, on the pendant located at the southwest part of the vault, 12 breadbaskets are illustrated as being full and depict how all of the five thousand guests at the wedding were able to eat as a result.
The scene of the leper
On the first vault where the whole scene is destroyed, Jesus is depicted walking on the water, and to the west of the vault the foot of a leper is seen.
The paralytic from Capernaum
Most of the mosaics on the first vault in the south have not survived. In this section, there is a decorative medallion in the middle, and to the south of it, Jesus is depicted as healing a paralytic from Capernaum lying on a mat. While, on the northeastern side of the vault, Jesus is seen healing another paralytic.
On the northwest corner of the vault, Jesus and a Samaritan woman are seen at a well. Upon Jesus asking for water from this woman, he says, “Whosoever drinks from the water I give, shall never thirst again.”
The depictions on the lunette and window arches of the exterior narthex are as follows:
The lunettes and window arches of the outer narthex contain depictions of saints inside round medallions. Additionally, there are depictions of full-length saints on the four main arches, and on the eastern section of the northern arch, the young saint Andronicus is depicted standing, wearing ceremonial attire and holding a cross.
On the western part of the arch, Saint Tarachus, a middle-aged soldier from Cilicia, is depicted standing, wearing ceremonial clothes and holding a cross.
The figure on the east side of the second arch to the east of the entrance probably belongs to George of Cappadocia, and there is an unknown saint positioned to the west side of him.
The figure on the east side of the first arch to the south of the entrance probably belongs to Demetrius of Thessaloniki, and the one on the west of it to an unidentified saint.
The saint figures on the east and west sides of the second arch south of the entrance cannot be identified.
The Virgin Mary Hodegetria is depicted on the first northern panel among the panels on the east wall of the exterior narthex, Anne with baby Mary in her arms is displayed on the second panel, while Joachim is depicted on the first panel on the west wall. It is highly probable that John the Baptist is depicted on the first panel on the east wall in the south, and there aren’t any figures on the second panel.
The “Arcosolium” – Tomb Niches on the Exterior Narthex:
The second niche located on the western wall and the northern axis, is a tomb niche. Above the sarcophagus lid level are the fresco paintings of the people who have been buried here.
The first and second niches located on the western wall and the southern axis, are tomb niches. Above the sarcophagus lid level are the partially preserved fresco paintings of the people who have been buried here.
The Interior Narthex
On the West side of the naos, the interior narthex is located between the exterior narthex and the naos and is completely adorned with mosaics. The interior narthex has been ornamented with illustrations depicting the life of Virgin Mary, the scenes that are considered to be a significant part of the art of mosaics. Along with the scenes of the Ancestors of Jesus and the Ancestors of Mary, located there are also scenes depicting the the Life of Mary and the Miracles of Jesus in series.
The Mosaic Scenes in the Interior Narthex:
The Prophet Ancestors of Jesus
On the dome over the southern section of the inner narthex is a depiction of Jesus Pantocrator inside a medallion and between the ribs of the dome are two rows of figures belonging to the ancestors of Jesus. The lower row consists of the figures of Jacob’s 12 sons, Judah’s 2 sons, and Pharez’s son.
The King Ancestors of Jesus
On the North area of the surface of the dome in the interior narthex, there are the depictions of Mary and Baby Jesus inside a medallion. The monograms located on both sides of Mary’s head mean “The Mother of God”. The medallion, located in the middle, has been separated into 16 pieces. Within these pieces, there are two lines of the sixteen Jewish kings that come from the lineage of King David.
The mosaics depicting the life of Mary in the interior narthex include:
Rejection of Joachim’s Offerings
In the northwest pendentive of the northern dome, Zachariah, who is sitting on a four-columned throne, is rejecting the offerings of Joachim, who has no children, by raising his two hands. This family, which wants to have a child, is continuously praying, and has pledged themselves to give their child to the temple, if they are given one, so to be raised as a religious person.
The withdrawal of Childless Joachim to the Mountains
In the northeast pendentive of the northern dome, the scene of Joachim’s withdrawal to the mountains has been illustrated. The rejection of his offerings to the temple has broken the heart of Joachim, and so he prays for forty days and forty nights in the mountains. Gabriel the Archangel appears to him and declares that his prayers have been answered. Although they were old, he told them that God was to give them a daughter.
The Annunciation of Mary’s Birth to Anne
The first arch on the eastern wall of the northern section depicts the glad tidings of an angel announcing to Anne that she will bear a child.
Meeting of Joachim and Anne
Below the arch in the northern section, Anne and Joachim are illustrated as being joyful and embracing each other upon Anne informing Joachim about the annunciation of their child.
The Birth of Mary
In the scene located east of the second arch in the northern section, Anna, who has given birth, is on a bed and is surrounded by many servants. While preparations for the first bath of Mary are made, the newborn Mary is depicted in the arms of a woman.
The First Seven Steps of Mary
On the eastern section of the arch separating the second and third sections of the inner narthex, young Mary is shown taking her first steps towards Anne.
The Virgin Given Affection
On the Eastern part of the vault, Joachim and Anne are depicted while sitting and giving their child Mary affection.
At the center of the low inner vault located in the north is a decorative medallion description. At the western part, Joachim is shown walking towards the three priests sitting around the table for the blessing of baby Mary, whom he is carrying in his arms.
Presentation of Mary to the Temple
On the third section over the main entrance to the central space is the scene where Mary, at the age of five, is presented by her mother and father, together with a group of women carrying torches, to Priest Zechariah, since childless Joachim had promised to present his child to the temple, if he was to be given one.
The Virgin Being Fed by an Angel
In the four-columned ciborium at the lower part of the southern arch leading to the central space is the scene where Mary, who is sitting on the throne, is being fed by Gabriel.
The Virgin Mary Receiving a Skein of Wool from the Temple
On the arch over the door of the inner narthex leading outside are three priests sitting on a structure in front of a building. The priest on the right side is depicted while giving a skein of purple wool to Mary for the weaving of a curtain for the temple. Behind Mary are six virgins who wait to receive skeins of wools.
Zachariah and Twelve Sticks
In the scene about the selection of a suitor of Mary, who reached the age of marriage, there are twelve sticks before Mary, who is sitting on a safe sofa in a colonnaded ciborium. The sticks of Mary’s 12 suitors, who were also the descendants of David, were left at the temple, and she would marry with the one whose stick blossoms.
The Virgin Entrusted to Joseph
On the arch of the western wall in the central part of the northern section, Priest Zachariah and Mary are depicted standing before a four-columned ciborium. Priest Zachariah is giving the blossomed stick to Joseph with one of his hands, and caressing the head of Mary with the other hand.
Joseph Taking the Virgin Mary to His House
On the arch in the lower part of the Northern dome, Joseph is depicted taking Mary, who was entrusted by Priest Zachariah to him, to his house.
Glad Tidings to the Virgin Mary
On the pendentive of the northern dome, Mary is illustrated surprised as a result of Gabriel approaching and telling her that she will have a child.
Joseph Leaving Mary
In the scene on the arch of the western wall under the northern dome, Joseph, who is leaving his house in order to work, bids farewell to Mary. In this scene, Mary is illustrated as having a very sad expression.
The following are the mosaics in the interior narthex depicting the miracles of Jesus:
Jesus Healing a Blind and Mute
On the southeast pendentive of the dome, Saint Peter the Apostle is standing next to Jesus, who is depicted healing the blind and mute standing before him.
Jesus Healing Two Blind Men
On the northwest pendentive of the dome, Saint Peter the Apostle is standing next to Jesus, who is healing two blind men sitting under trees.
Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law
In the scene on the northeast pendentive of the dome, Jesus is healing St. Peter’s mother-in-law, who is lying on a bed.
Healing a Bleeding Woman
In the scene on the southeast pendentive of the dome, a woman, who has been bleeding for many years is healed when she touches Jesus’s cloak.
Healing a Young Man with an Ill Arm
In the depiction on the east side of the arch, a patient with a withered arm extends his arm towards Jesus and asks for healing.
Healing a Leper
The mosaic depiction on the west side of the arch is partially destroyed. Here, a leper is asking Jesus for healing. Jesus heals him after touching the ill man.
Jesus Calling Zacchaeus
Zacchaeus, who had been earning money by taking bribes, climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus better. Jesus, who notices Zacchaeus despite the crowd calls him and forgives his sins.
Christ Healing the Handicapped
In the scene on the west lunette of the southern section of the inner narthex, Jesus is depicted as healing a crowded group.
The Tomb Niche “Arcosolium” in the Interior Narthex:
Palaelogos’ tomb niche is located on the North Wall of the interior narthex. A great section of the mosaics located on the arch of the tomb niche is partially ruined. However, it is highly probable that the depiction of Pantocrator Jesus had existed within the madallion. To the left side of the depiction the writing “Chora” and the right side has the writing “Ton Zonton” written. Whilst, an illustration of Mary can be seen praying within the niche.
To the South of the naos and right side of the entrance exists the paracclesion, which has two columns decorated with winged angels, crucifixion and acanthus leaves and is separated from the exterior narthex, forms an independent entirety from the narthex from both an architectural and functional perspective. The Chora Museum paracclesion has a rectangular plan, which extends from the east to the west, with its dome – domed vault, and is strengthened with the rhythmic lining of the half dome of the apse as well as the martyrs that have been decorated on its lower walls and thus, leaves the effect of a form extending lengthways due to its visuality. Within this structure, which had been built by Metochites as his own paracclesion, contained both the founder of the monastery, Metochites’ and some of his close acquaintances’ tombs. As it can also be understood from the four tomb arcosoliums within the paracclesion, this section was built for the purposes of a paracclesion, crypt and a cistern, above a basement.
The paracclesion, which is 29 metres long, contains frescoes. The bema and apse section located in the East has been covered with a domed vault. There are a total of four tomb arcosoliums in the paracclesion, with two on the North Wall and the other two located on the South Wall. With an arched passage close to the bema arch located on the North Wall, it is possible to reach the diaconicon room. This structure has an apse in the form of a semi-circle, on the east side, which slightly extends outwards and is small. The middle section of the paracclesion has been covered with a dome. The dome structure, which has 12 frames, has been set above a high rim and contains twelve window intervals. Due to the paracclesion being built during the 14th century, the space formed between the paracclesion and the naos, had been improvised by building rooms on both sides of the corridor which connected the paracclesion with the naos. Within both of these rooms, there aren’t any frescoes or mosaics and thus, it could have been used as a storage area for liturgical goods or as an “oratorium”. It is believed that these rooms were used to store the candles, chandeliers, incenses, icons and bowls, which were used during rituals and memorial services in the chapel.
The scenes of religious stories, judgment day, resurrection and last judgment taken from the Old Testament, had been explored on frescoes within the paracclesion. Together with the technique used as well as the high quality product choices used, these frescoes were able to be preserved up until today.
The frescoes located within the paracclesion are as follows:
Bishop figures on the apse wall
The bishop figures are of human size and they have been ordered in accordance with their importance amongst themselves. The names of these saints in bishop dresses are inscribed next to their heads and they are holding closed books in their hands.
The scene of Anastasis
The Greek word “anastasis” means “resurrection”. In the parecclesion of the Chora Museum, this scene is depicted in such a manner that it covers the whole semi-dome of the apse. Jesus stands at the center of the triangular composition, inside a mandorla radiating white light and bearing yellow stars. Jesus is pulling Adam from the sarcophagus on his right and Eve from the sarcophagus on the left side of him towards himself. Behind Adam, there is a group of Prophets from the Old Testament, including John, David and Soloman and behind Eve, there is Abel and seven people wearing clergy tunics.
The Portrait of Michael
The scene of anastasis on the semi-dome of the apse in the parecclesion unites with the scene of the last judgment covering the upper walls of the domed vault. Exactly at the center of the wide bema arch forming the border of these two scenes is a portrait of Archangel Michael inside a medallion.
Scenes of Resurrection
On the northern side of the bema arch is the scene where Jesus resurrects the dead son of a widow from Nain. In this scene, there are apostles behind Jesus, who is standing and extending his arm towards the son of the widow. On the other hand, the son of the widow is in a sitting position inside the coffin carried by four men.
On the southern side of the bema arch is the scene where Jesus is resurrecting the daughter of Jarius. Jesus holds the wrist of the girl, who is lying dead in her bed in the house of Jarius, and resurrects her. With this miracle, the girl sits up in her bed.
The Last Judgment
The judgment scene on the domical vault on the east side of the parecclesion forms the center of the Last Judgment composition that covers the upper walls and the vault covering. The rolling up of the skies, the throne set up for judgment and the judgment of the souls before it, the delivery of the dead by the seas and the lands, the lake of fire and the second life without death is explored here.
Scene of Deesis
For the East Romans, the second most important mediator following Virgin Mary was John the Baptist, who had announced the coming of Jesus, who had baptized him and who had been his friend at the same time. Those two holy persons, who had a great influence on Jesus as a mother and as a friend respectively, are brought together with East Roman art in the scene known as the “Deesis”, and on the Day of Judgment, pray to Jesus on behalf of all mortals. At the center of the Last Judgment composition, Jesus is sitting on the throne of judgment, and Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are positioned on both sides of Jesus, slightly turned towards him and in a praying position.
Scene of the Last Judgment
The composition of the Last Judgment fresco covering the whole domed vault in the east section is circular. The impressive scene of the “rolling up of heaven” located at the center of the circle is surrounded by the “choirs of the elect”. The angel is rolling up and carrying the heaven over his head with two hands, and gilded stars, the moon and the sun are seen on the heaven that is being rolled up.
In the scene of judgment, Jesus is sitting on the throne at the center, while Mary and John are standing on the right and left sides of him respectively, the apostles sitting in on both sides, and a group of angels are seen just behind Jesus. In the scene just below Jesus, the throne is prepared. Before the throne are Adam and Eve in a kneeling position. The scale just below the throne is weighing the souls. There is a small figure under the scale and two angels who are holding books in their hands are depicted. On the other side of the scale, a lake of fire beginning at Jesus’s feet is reflecting the hell seen on the pendentive. Small figures of devils are bringing some souls into hell. On the southwest pendendive of the vault, lands are depicted above, and seas are depicted below. In the land, the dead are coming out of their graves, and in the sea, fishes are expelling human organs from their mouths. This scene is largely deformed.
In the fresco of the “angel and a soul” located on the northwest pendentive, is an angel, whose wings are open, and is standing behind a small and naked figure that is a soul, and has placed one of his hands upon the head of the soul.
On the two east pendentives is the fresco of “Lazarus the Beggar”. The story of the soul of the Beggar Lazarus positioned in the Northeast, is placed on the lap of Abraham by an angel following his death is illustrated.
On the southeast pendentive, a naked figure is sitting in flames, and in the lower part, pieces of gold are spilling out of two bags with open mouths. Here, the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man who ill-treated him during his life in this world is depicted. The rich man, who is sent to hell following his death, is writhing in pain, while Lazarus is observed on the lap of Abraham, in a garden full of flowers.
The scene on the left side of the south wall of the eastern section is divided into four parts. Each of them depicts a different kind of torture in hell with a different color. “The gnashing of teeth” is depicted at the upper left, “the outer darkness” at the upper right, “the worm that sleepeth not” at the lower left, and “the unquenchable fire” at the lower right have been depicted.
The Scene of Virgin Eleusa
In the depiction on the south column of the bema arch, a full-length Virgin Mary is standing on a rectangular platform, holding the child Jesus in her arms, and kindly pressing her cheek to his.
The entry of the Chosen Ones into Paradise
At the center of the composition on the north wall of the eastern section is a gate guarded by a cherub who is holding a sword. On the right side, St Peter, who is holding a key, is moving towards the gate with the group of chosen ones behind him. On the right side of the gate, the “good thief”, who is holding a cross inside the paradise decorated with trees and plants, invites them into the interior. And Virgin Mary can be seen on the left side between two angels.
Transport of the Ark of the Covenant
In the scene on the right side of the south wall of the eastern section, the transport of the Ark of the Covenant is depicted. Four priests are carrying the Ark of the Covenant, a triangular prism decorated with yellow, purple and marble-like strips, on their shoulders.
The Scenes located on the Western Section of the Parecclesion and the Pendentives:
The Scene of Mary
The Virgin Mary portrait with Jesus on her lap located inside the rainbow-bordered medallion at the centre of the dome, which covers the western section of the paracclesion and is 4.70 cm in diameter, dominates the whole room. The dome, which has been defined with a rainbow border, is divided into 12 windows and 12 segments that shed light onto the Mary figure. These segments contain the full-length frescoes of 12 angels.
The Four “Hymnographers”
Four hymnographers have been depicted on the four pendentives of the dome that covers the western section. On the northeast pendentive, St John of Damascus, who wrote hymns for funerals, has been illustrated. On the southeast pendentive, St Cosmas, who was a hymn writer, poet and bishop, can be observed. On the southwest pendentive, Joseph, who was a 9th century hymn writer, has been depicted holding the scroll of the Akathistos hymn, which was dedicated to Mary and is considered to be one of the most important East Roman hymns. On the northwest pendentive, the poet and hymn writer of the 9th century, St Theophanes, was a monk at Chora and was also buried here.
The Scenes Depicting the Old Testament Stories in the Parecclesion:
In the Parecclesion, Old Testament stories have been illustrated under the dome and on the frescoes positioned on the walls above the cornice levels.
Jacob’s Ladder and Jacob’s Wrestling with an Angel
In the western section and the North Wall of the tympanum, Jacob has been depicted while travelling to Harran. As he puts a stone under his head and falls asleep, he dreams a ladder descending from the sky and observes angels moving up and down this ladder. On the right top corner, Mary has been depicted with Jesus on her lap while Jacob has been illustrated under the ladder, wrestling an angel.
Moses and the Burning Bush
On the right side of the North Wall of the western section is the scene of God talking with Moses in bushes. Although the bush is burning, it is not consumed by fire. Moses, who is bearded and old, is standing on the left side while there is a bush on fire. Inside a medallion located in the bushes, the portraits of Mary and baby Jesus can be observed.
Moses Hiding His Face
On the North side of the arch between the eastern and western sections is the scene where Moses is depicted with his stick in his hand and standing while he has turned his face to the side in order to protect it from the burning bushes. The portraits of Mary and baby Jesus in a medallion can be observed within the bush.
The Transportation of the Holy Furnishings
On the South side of the arch between the eastern and western sections is the scene of the transportation of the Holy Furnishings. The transporting of the Holy Grail, which had been taken from the sacred tent of congregation of the Jews as well as the seven branched candelabrum are described as they are taken to the Temple of Soloman.
The Gathering of Soloman and the Assembly of Israel
On the lefts side of the South Wall of the western section, the gathering of Soloman and the assembly of Israel has been depicted.
Placing of the Ark of the Covenant in the Sanctuary of the Temple
On the right side of the South Wall of the western section, the placing of the Ark of the Covenant in the holiest area is illustrated.
The Prophecy of Isaiah and Archangel Michael Destroying the Assyrian Army Before Jerusalem
Isaiah had predicted that the Assyrian army, which had besieged Jerusalem, would not succeed and the depiction of God’s angel destroying the Assyrian Army before Jerusalem with his sword can be observed.
Aaron and His Sons at the Altar
On the North side of the western arch, Aaron and his sons, who were the first priests of the tent-temple built by Moses, are seen presenting their gifts. Aaron, who has been illustrated as old and two of his sons standing behind him, are carrying their gifts inside boxes.
Virgin Mary is the central figure in the iconography of the western section of the parecclesion. The stories from the Old Testament have been interpreted as an expression, a forerunner of the arrival of Mary and Jesus.
On the walls of the parecclesion below cornices are full-length figures of martyrs. The military saints, who are called martyrs, are the holy persons percieved by the East Romans to be mediators between God. The military martyrs have been depicted in the churches’ and chapels’ lower walls during the final years of the Empire. On the walls under the cornices located from the South to the West and from North to East, are where the martyrs have been illustrated. Saints in military uniform have short tunics under their armors and some of them carry lances and shields. Some of them are depicted with raised swords in attacking positions. The Saint depictions on the entrance arches of the two tomb arcosolia and diaconicon in the western section are portraits inside medallions. Saints, who have not worn military uniforms, are in martyr clothes.
The Arcosolia – Tomb Niches in the Parecclesion
The niche wall of the southeast arcosolium and the frescoes inside the arch as well as the four arcosolia sarcophagi of the parecclesion have not survived. On the niche wall of the arcosolium located to the southeast, above the sarcophagi levels, are four figures that have been illustrated as standing side by side. The two men in the middle, with palace and religious attire, and the women figures in both palace and religious attire, represent the same two people and are the portraits of a husband and wife who are buried here.
As the niche walls and arch of the southwest arcosolia with its frescoes and mosaics located within it, have had the mosaics falling apart from the niche walls and from the top part of the sarcophagi level, only Mary’s shoulders and Baby Jesus’ hands hallowing can be observed. On the left side, Michael Tornikes’ figure has been illustrated standing and wearing palace attire. On the right side, the figure of Tornikes’ wife is seen praying while she has turned her back to Mary. On the monumental marble border of the tomb, there is Jesus in the middle, with two archangels on both sides and a composition with the “epitaphios” written over it.
An arched marble border has been formed around the great arcosolium on the northwest wall of the chapel, which is thought to have belonged to Theodoros Metokhites. In the middle of the arch, there is Jesus and figures of angels facing Jesus on both sides.
The arcosolium located on the northwest wall does not have a border. As there aren’t any frescoes or mosaic adornments within the arch and there aren’t any epigraphs, it is unknown to whom this tomb belongs to.
The naos, which is the main structure of the existing church, is covered with a dome and has a shortened Greek crucifixon plan.
Just like it is on the hell-heaven doors of the South gallery in Hagia Sophia, the Naos’ ornamentations have been removed while the marble door to the North of the Naos is an imitation of the bronze and wooden door of the 6th century and is one of the most rare examples that have survived up until today. The dove figures, located on the top frieze above the main entrance to the naos, has been painted in yellow as they drink water from cups.
The walls of the naos have been ornamented with valuable marble panels up until the cornice levels. The dome is in the form of a ciborium, carried by four degrees and has a high pulley. The apse has been supported with a semi circle flying degree that was built on the outside during the era of the Palaiologos. A mihrab is located within the apse which had been built during the Ottoman era. The pieces of leaded glass, which was found during archaeological excavations in the apse section, is similar to the glass found in the Pantocrator Jesus Monastery Church and this is crucial in terms of how the art of leaded glass existed during the East Romans before the development of Europe. On the South side of the naos, there is a passage that connects the naos to the paracclesion. The omphalion, which is positioned on the South of the naos, looks like the omphalion in Hagia Sophia in terms of its shape. It is thought that this area was used during ceremonies.
The following mosaic scenes are located in the Naos:
The Dormition of Mary
Above the main entrance door of the western entrance of the Naos, the Virgin lies on a sarcophagus covered with clothes and is surrounded by a crowd consisting of apostles, prominent church members and women from Jerusalem. Jesus is in a mandorla, his hands are covered as an expression of respect, and he holds an infant representing the soul of Mary, while in the background two angels can be seen ready to take the soul of Mary in Jesus’ lap to heaven. Near the head of Mary, Peter is swinging the incense burner he is holding, and Paul, who is close to the feet of Mary, is seen bending towards her with a sad expression. The inscription above the scene reads, “Death of Mother of God”.
The Hodegetria Scene – “Mary, She Who Shows the Way”
This scene, which is in a marble frame on the southern templon panel of the bema, is called the Virgin Hodegetria (She who shows the Way) and it depicts Virgin Mary holding the Child Christ.
The Scene of Jesus
On the northern templon panel is a frontal depiction of Jesus, who is standing and holding an open Bible in his left hand. The annex located on the north side of the naos, is a double storey structure, which is believed that its ground floor was a treasury building, while the top floor was the library of Metokhites. On the southeast of the exterior narthex, there is a minaret located once where a bell tower of the church had existed.
The circular arches surrounding the exterior of the building, as well as the niches, stone and hedgehog patterns in its brickworks and its semi grades have brought movement to the outer façade of the structure.