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Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa


Kalenderhane Mosque
16 Mart Şehitleri Caddesi & Medrese Sokak, Vefa
1190s; sanctuary – 6th-12th centuries

This church, constructed at the end of the 12th century, was most probably dedicated to Theotokos Kyriotissa (Enthroned Mother of God). It is one of the most impressive Middle Byzantine buildings in Istanbul.

It is a cross-domed church (like the church housing the Gül Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki). The central bay of the naos is covered by a dome with the diameter of 8 m and with 16 ribs. Because of the larger scale of the church, the dome is supported by four massive piers instead of four slender columns as in a typical cross-in-square church. Deep barrel vaults form the side-arms of the cross. In the west, there is a narthex, which was originally surmounted by an upper gallery, like in the churches of the Monastery of Christ Pantocrator. An exonarthex was later added to the structure.


The interior is dominated by polychrome marble panels and mouldings. Only a third of these seen today are original. The rest is either secondary revetment or plaster imitating marble.

The masonry of the church is made of alternating layers of brick and stone.



The oldest parts of the church are the bema, the prothesis, and the diaconicon. The prothesis is the apse of a church that was built on this site in the 6th century. That church may have been connected to a 4th- or 5th-century bathhouse. The bema of the 12th-century church uses the apse from a church which was built in the 7th century south of the older church. The diaconicon consists of two chapels, known as the Francis Chapel and Melismos Chapel, built in the Middle Byzantine period before the main church. The masonry of the Francis Chapel is similar to that of the northern church of the Monastery of Lips. The Melismos Chapel is made in the recessed-brick technique, which was common from the late 11th century on.



The bema was home to a mosaic representing the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It probably comes from the earlier church and dates back to the 6th or 7th century, being the only surviving religious mosaic from the pre-Iconoclastic period in Constantinople, and the earliest surviving representation of the hypapante in Byzantine art.

Mosaic of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple from the Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa (late 6th or early 7th century; Istanbul Archaeology Museum)


The Francis Chapel housed a fresco cycle portraying the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is the oldest representation of the saint, painted only some years after his death, in the mid-13th century, when the church was being used by the Franciscans. The fresco cycle, too, can be found in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

After the Fall of Constantinople the church was given by Sultan Mehmed II to the Kalenderi sect of dervishes, after whom today’s mosque is named.

See: grandeflanerie

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