Essential Architecture-  Turkey

Saint Mary (Panachrantos) of Lips, Pheneré Isa Mesjedi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church
Fenari Isa Camii (Monastery of Constantine Lips - Xth century)
Constantine Lips are not the lips of Constantine, but the name of the officer responsible for the security of the imperial house during the reign of Emperor Leo VI (886-912). In 908 he founded a nunnery with attached a small hospital and a church. A second church was added towards the end of the XIIIth century south of the existing one. The Ottomans turned this church into a mosque and the nunnery into a dervish lodge.
The complex was burned down by three fires and was abandoned. It was restored in the 1980s.



The old Byzantine church, now Pheneré Isa Mesjedi, in the valley of the Lycus, to the south of the mosque of Sultan Mehemed, should be identified as the church of the Theotokos of Lips, although the Patriarch Constantius, Scarlatus Byzantius and Paspates identify that church with Demirjilar Mesjedi, a building which lay to the east of the mosque of Sultan Mehemed, but fell in the earthquake of 1904. According to the writers just cited, Pheneré Isa Mesjedi is the church of the Theotokos Panachrantos which appears in connection with certain incidents in the history of the Patriarch Veccus. In this view there is a curious mingling of truth and error. For, as a matter of fact, Constantinople did possess a church dedicated to the Panachrantos which had no connection with the monastery of Lips. But that church was not the building in the valley of the Lycus; it stood in the immediate vicinity of S. Sophia. Furthermore, while it is certain that there was in the city a church of the Panachrantos which had nothing whatever to do with the monastery of Lips, it is equally true that the sanctuary attached to that monastery was also dedicated to the Theotokos under the same style. In other words, Pheneré Isa Mesjedi was the sanctuary attached to the monastery of Lips and was dedicated to the Theotokos Panachrantos, but was not the church of that name with which it has been identified by the authorities above mentioned.


S. Mary Panachrantos. Vault of the Ambulatory Passage on the west of the Dome in the South Church, looking north.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
Vault of the Ambulatory Passage on the west of the Dome in the South Church, looking north

S. Mary Panachrantos. The Interior of the North Church, looking north.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
The Interior of the North Church, looking north.


The correctness of these positions can be readily established. First, that a monastery of the Panachrantos and the monastery of Lips were different Houses is evident from the express statements of the pilgrim Zosimus to that effect. For, according to that visitor to the shrines of the city, a monastery, 'de Panakhran, stood near S. Sophia, 'non loin de Sainte Sophie.' Stephen of Novgorod refers to the monastery of the 'Panacrante also in the same connection. And the proximity of the House to the great cathedral may be inferred likewise from the statements of the pilgrim Alexander and of the anonymous pilgrim. On the other hand, Zosimus speaks of the monastery of Lips, 'couvent de femmes Lipesi, as situated in another part of the city. It was closely connected with the monastery of Kyra Martha, from which to S. Sophia was a far cry. The distinction of the two monasteries is, moreover, confirmed by the historians Pachymeres and Nicephorus Gregoras, who employ the terms Panachrantos and Lips to designate two distinct monastic establishments situated in different quarters of the capital.

Details of the Shafts in East Windows of South Church.

Fig. 41.

In the next place, the monastery of Lips did not stand at the point marked by Demirjilar Mesjedi. The argument urged in favour of its position at that point is the fact that the monastery is described as near the church of the Holy Apostles. But while proximity to the Holy Apostles must mark any edifice claiming to be the monastery of Lips, that proximity alone is not sufficient to identify the building. Pheneré Isa Mesjedi satisfies that condition equally well. But what turns the balance of evidence in its favour is that it satisfies also every other condition that held true of the monastery of Lips. That House was closely associated with the monastery of Kyra Martha, as Phrantzes expressly declares, and as may be inferred from the narratives of the Russian pilgrims. That being so, the position of Kyra Martha will determine likewise that of the monastery of Lips. Now, Kyra Martha lay to the south of the Holy Apostles. For it was reached, says the anonymous pilgrim of the fifteenth century en descendent (du couvent) des Apôtres dans la direction du midi'; while Stephen of Novgorod reached the Holy Apostles in proceeding northwards from the Kyra Martha. Hence the monastery of Lips lay to the south of the Holy Apostles, as Pheneré Isa Mesjedi stands to the south of the mosque of Sultan Mehemed, which has replaced that famous church.


With this conclusion agrees, moreover, the description given of the district in which the monastery of Lips stood. It was a remote and quiet part of the city, like the district in which Pheneré Isa Mesjedi is situated to-day; Furthermore, the monastery of Lips borrowed its name from its founder or restorer, Constantine Lips; and in harmony with that fact we find on the apse of one of the two churches which combine to form Pheneré Isa Mesjedi an inscription in honour of a certain Constantine. Unfortunately the inscription is mutilated, and there were many Constantines besides the one surnamed Lips. Still, the presence of the principal name of the builder of the monastery of Lips on a church, which we have also other reasons to believe belonged to that monastery, adds greatly to the cumulative force of the argument in favour of the view that Constantine Lips is the person intended. But, if necessary, the argument can be still further strengthened. The church attached to the monastery of Lips was dedicated to the Theotokos, as may be inferred from the circumstance that the annual state visit of the emperor to that shrine took place on the festival of the Nativity of the Virgin. So likewise was the sanctuary which Pheneré Isa Mesjedi represents, for the inscription it bears invokes her blessing upon the building and its builder (Fig. 42). Would that the identity of all the churches in Constantinople could be as strongly established.


It remains to add in this connection that while the monastery of Lips and that of the Panachrantos associated with Veccus were different Houses, the churches of both monasteries were dedicated to the Theotokos under the same attribute—Panachrantos, the Immaculate. The invocation inscribed on Pheneré Isa Mesjedi addresses the Theotokos by that epithet. But to identify different churches because of the same dedication is only another instance of the liability to allow similarity of names to conceal the difference between things.


The distinction thus established between the two monasteries is important not only in the interests of accuracy; it also throws light on the following historical incidents. In 1245 permission was granted for the transference of the relics of S. Philip the Apostle from the church of the Panachrantos to Western Europe. The document authorising that act was signed by the dean of the church and by the treasurer of S. Sophia. The intervention of the latter official becomes more intelligible when we know that the monastery of the Panachrantos stood near S. Sophia, and not, as Paspates maintains, at Pheneré Isa Mesjedi. Again, the Patriarch Veccus took refuge on two occasions in the monastery of the Panachrantos, once in 1279 and again in 1282. He could do so readily and without observation, as the case demanded, when the shelter he sought stood in the immediate vicinity of his cathedral and official residence. To escape to a monastery situated in the valley of the Lycus was, under the circumstances, impracticable.


S. Mary Panachrantos. The North Church, looking east.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
The North Church, looking east.

S. Mary Panachrantos. The North Church, looking west.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
The North Church, looking west.


Constantine Lips was an important personage during the reign of Leo the Wise (886-912) and of Constantine VII. Porphyrogenitus (912-956). Under the former emperor he held the offices of protospatharius and domestic of the household. He also went on several missions to the Prince of Taron, in the course of which romance mingled with politics, with the result that the daughter of Lips became engaged to the son of the prince. Upon the accession of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Lips came under a cloud, on suspicion of being implicated in the plot to raise Constantine Ducas to the throne, and was obliged to flee  the capital. Eventually he was restored to favour, and enjoyed the dignities of patrician, proconsul, commander of the foreign guard, and drungarius of the fleet. He fell in battle in the war of 917 between the Empire and the Bulgarians under Symeon.


The monastery of Lips was restored in the reign of Leo the Wise; the festival of the dedication of the church being celebrated in the year 908, in the month of June. The emperor honoured the occasion with his presence, and attended a banquet in the refectory of the monastery. But the happy proceedings had not gone far, when they were suddenly interrupted by a furious south-west wind which burst upon the city and shook houses and churches with such violence that people feared to remain under cover and imagined that the end of the world had come, until the storm was allayed by a heavy downpour of rain. As the south-west wind was named Lips, it is not clear whether the historians who mention this incident intend to explain thereby the origin of Constantine's surname, or simply point to a curious coincidence.


Near the church Lips erected also a xenodocheion for the reception of strangers. The monastery is mentioned by the Anonymus of the eleventh century, but does not appear again until the recovery of the Empire from the Latins in 1261. In the efforts then made to restore all things, it underwent repairs at the instance of the Empress Theodora, the consort of Michael Palaeologus, and from that time acquired greater importance than it had previously enjoyed. Within its precincts, on the 16th of February 1304, a cold winter day, Theodora herself was laid to rest with great pomp, and amid the tears of the poor to whom she had been a good friend. There, two years later, a splendid service was celebrated for the benefit of the soul of her son Constantine Porphyrogenitus, as some compensation  for the cruel treatment he had suffered at the hands of his jealous brother Andronicus. There, that emperor himself became a monk two years before his death, and there he was buried on the 13th of February 1332. The monastery contained also the tomb of the Empress Irene, first wife of Andronicus III., and the tomb of the Russian Princess Anna who married John VII. Palaeologus while crown prince, but died before she could ascend the throne, a victim of the great plague which raged in Constantinople in 1417. The monastery appears once more as the scene of a great religious revival, when a certain nun Thomais, who enjoyed a great reputation for sanctity, took up her residence in the neighbourhood. So large were the crowds of women who flocked to place themselves under her rule that 'the monastery of Lips and Martha' was filled to overflowing.


The church was converted into a mosque by Pheneré Isa, who died in 1496, and has undergone serious alterations since that time.

S. Mary Panachrantos. The Diaconicon, looking east.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
The Diaconicon, looking east.

S. Mary Panachrantos. The Arch Under west side of the Central Dome in the South Church.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
The Arch Under west side of the Central Dome in the South Church.


Architectural Features


The building comprises two churches, which, while differing in date and type, stand side by side, and communicate with each other through an archway in their common wall, and through a passage in the common wall of their narthexes. As if to keep the two churches more closely together, they are bound by an exonarthex, which, after running along their western front, returns eastwards along the southern wall of the south church as a closed cloister or gallery.


The North Church.—The north church is of the normal 'four column' type. The four columns which originally supported the dome were, however, removed when the building was converted into a mosque in Turkish times, and have been replaced by two large pointed arches which span the entire length of the church. But the old wall arches of the dome-columns are still visible as arched piercings in the spandrils of the Turkish arches. A similar Turkish 'improvement' in the substitution of an arch for the original pair of columns is found in the north side of the parecclesion attached to the Pammakaristos (p. 152). The dome with its eight windows is likewise Turkish. The windows are lintelled and the cornice is of the typical Turkish form. The bema is almost square and is covered by a barrel vault formed by a prolongation of the eastern dome arch; the apse is lighted by a lofty triple window. By what is an exceptional arrangement, the lateral chapels are as lofty both on the interior and on the exterior as is the central apse, but they are entered by low doors. In the normal arrangement, as, for instance, in the Myrelaion, the lateral chapels are low and are entered by vaults rising to the same height as those of the angle chambers, between which the central apse rises higher both externally and internally.


The chapels have niches arched above the cornice on three sides, and are covered by cross-groined vaults which combine with the semicircular heads of the niches to produce a very beautiful effect. To the east they have long bema arches flanked by two small semicircular niches, and are lighted by small single windows.


The church is preceded by a narthex in three bays covered by cross-groined vaults supported on strong transverse arches. At either end it terminates in a large semicircular niche. The northern one is intact, but of the southern niche only the arched head remains. The lower part of the niche has been cut away to afford access to the narthex of the south church. This would suggest that, at least, the narthex of the south church is of later date than the north church.


Considered as a whole the north church is a good example of its type, lofty and delicate in its proportions.


The South Church.—The narthex is unsymmetrical to the church and in its present form must be the result of extensive alteration. It is in two very dissimilar bays. That to the  north is covered with a cross-groined vault of lath and plaster, probably on the model of an original vault constructed of brick. A door in the eastern wall leads to the north aisle of the church. The southern bay is separated from its companion by a broad arch. It is an oblong chamber reduced to a figure approaching a square by throwing broad arches across its ends and setting back the wall arches from the cornice. This arrangement allows the bay to be covered by a low drumless dome. Two openings, separated by a pier, lead respectively to the nave and the southern aisle of the church.


The interior of the church has undergone serious alterations since it has become a mosque, but enough of the original building has survived to show that the plan was that of an 'ambulatory church.


Each side of the ambulatory is divided into three bays, covered with cross-groined vaults whose springings to the central area correspond exactly to the columns of such an arcade as that which occupies the west dome bay of S. Andrew (p. 114). We may therefore safely assume that triple arcades originally separated the ambulatory from the central area and filled in the lower part of the dome arches. The tympana of these arches above were pierced to north, south, and west by three windows now built up but whose outlines are still visible beneath the whitewash which has been daubed over them. The angles of the ambulatory are covered by cross vaults.


The pointed arches at present opening from the ambulatory to the central area were formed to make the church more suitable for Moslem worship, as were those of the north church. In fact we have here a repetition of the treatment of the Pammakaristos (p. 151), when converted into a mosque. The use of cross-groined vaults in the ambulatory is a feature which distinguishes this church from the other ambulatory churches of Constantinople and connects it more closely with the domed-cross church. The vaults in the northern portion of the ambulatory have been partially defaced in the course of Turkish repairs.


S. Mary Panachrantos. East Window of the South Church.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
East Window of the South Church.

S. Mary Panachrantos. The Outer Narthex, looking south.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
The Outer Narthex, looking south.


The central apse is lighted by a large triple window. It is covered by a cross-groined vault and has on each side a tall shallow segmental niche whose head rises above the springing cornice. Below this the niches have been much hacked away. The passages leading to the lateral chapels are remarkably low, not more than 1.90 m. high to the crown of the arch.


The southern chapel is similar to the central apse, and is lighted by a large triple window. The northern chapel is very different. It is much broader; broader indeed than the ambulatory which leads to it, and is covered by barrel vaults. The niches in the bema only rise to a short distance above the floor, not, as on the opposite side, to above the cornice. It is lighted by a large triple window similar to those of the other two apses.

Inscription on Apse of North Church.

Fig. 42.

From love for the mother of God ... beautiful temple ... Constantine; which splendid work ... of the shining heaven an inhabitant and citizen him show O Immaculate One; friendliness recompensing ... the temple ... the gift.


The outer narthex on the west of the two churches and  the gallery on the south of the south church are covered with cross-groined vaults without transverse arches. The wall of the south church, which shows in the south gallery, formed the original external wall of the building. It is divided into bays with arches in two and three orders of brick reveals, and with shallow niches on the broader piers.


The exterior of the two churches is very plain. On the west are shallow wall arcades in one order, on the south similar arcades in two orders. The northern side is inaccessible owing to the Turkish houses built against it.


On the east all the apses project boldly. The central apse of the south church has seven sides and shows the remains of a decoration of niches in two stories similar to that of the Pantokrator (p. 235); the other apses present three sides. The carved work on the window shafts is throughout good. An inscription commemorating the erection of the northern church is cut on a marble string-course which, when complete, ran across the whole eastern end, following the projecting sides of the apses. The letters are sunk and marked with drill holes.


Wulff is of opinion that the letters were originally filled in with lead, and, from the evidence of this lead infilling, dates the church as late as the fifteenth century. But it is equally possible that the letters were marked out by drill holes which were then connected with the chisel, and that the carver, pleased by the effect given by the sharp points of shadow in the drill holes, deliberately left them. The grooves do not seem suitable for retaining lead.


In the course of their history both churches were altered, even in Byzantine days. The south church is the earlier structure, but shows signs of several rebuildings. The irregular narthex and unsymmetrical eastern side chapels are evidently not parts of an original design. In the wall between the two churches there are indications which appear to show the character of these alterations and the order in which the different buildings were erected.

S. Mary Panachrantos. East End of the South Church.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
East End of the South Church.

S. Mary Panachrantos. East End of the North Church.

S. Mary Panachrantos.
East End of the North Church.


As has already been pointed out, the north side of the ambulatory in the south church, which for two-thirds of its  length is of practically the same width as the southern and western sides, suddenly widens out at the eastern end and opens into a side chapel broader than that on the opposite side. The two large piers separating the ambulatory from the central part of the north church are evidently formed by building the wall of one church against the pre-existing wall of the other. The easternmost pier is smaller and, as can be seen from the plan, is a continuation of the wall of the north church. Clearly the north church was already built when the north-eastern chapel of the south church was erected, and the existing wall was utilised. As the external architectural style of the three apses of the south church is identical, it is reasonable to conclude that this part of the south church also is later in date than the north church. For if the entire south church had been built at the same time as the apses, we should expect to find the lateral chapels similar. But they are not. The vaulting of the central apse and of the southern lateral chapel are similar, while that of the northern chapel is different. On the same supposition we should also expect to find a similar use of the wall of the north church throughout, but we have seen that two piers representing the old wall of the south church still remain. The narthex of the south church, however, is carried up to the line of the north church wall.


The four column type is not found previous to the tenth century. The date of the north church was originally given on the inscription, but is now obliterated. Kondakoff dates it in the eleventh or twelfth century. Wulff would put it as late as the fifteenth. But if the view that this church was attached to the monastery of Lips is correct, the building must belong to the tenth century.


The ambulatory type appears to be early, and the examples in Constantinople seem to date from the sixth to the ninth century. It may therefore be concluded that, unless there is proof to the contrary, the south church is the earlier. In that case the southernmost parts of the two large piers which separate the two churches represent the old outer wall of the original south church, whose eastern chapels were then symmetrical. To this the north church was added, but at some subsequent date the apses of the south church demanded repair and when they were rebuilt, the north-eastern chapel was enlarged by the cutting away of the old outer wall. To this period also belongs the present inner narthex. The fact that the head of the terminal niche at the south end of the north narthex remains above the communicating door shows that the south narthex is later. The outer narthex and south gallery are a still later addition.

Plan of the Church (conjectural).

Fig. 43.

Plan of the Church.

Fig. 44.

Section through the North Church and Section through the South Church.

Fig. 45, 46.

Text quoted from-
Byzantine Churches in Constantinople, Their History and Architecture.
MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited, London, 1912.
by Alexander Van Millingen and Ramsay Traquair and W. S. George and A. E. Henderson.