Essential Architecture-  Turkey

Saint Theodosia, Gul Jamissi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church
After the death of Emperor Justinian several events weakened the Byzantine Empire; in Italy the Longobards conquered most of the peninsula, in Asia a very long war with the Persians paved the way for the Arab invasion of Syria, Palestine, Egypt and parts of Anatolia. In 672 the Arabs managed to lay siege to Constantinople (it lasted several years). During the VIIIth century the issue of iconoclasm tore apart the unity of the remaining part of the empire; this may explain why Istanbul does not retain evidence of churches or other monuments built during those difficult years.
The conditions of the empire improved under the reign of Emperor Basil I (867-86): according to some art historians, but not to all of them, Gul Camii was built during the reign of this emperor. It was a church dedicated to St. Theodosia, a martyr of the VIIIth century who was killed for having tried to save a sacred image. The church was turned into a mosque: its name is generally attributed to the fact that when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they found the church full of garlands of roses, which had been placed there for the saint's feast. The present building shows several modifications made after it became a mosque, but the brickwork of its three apses is very typical of Byzantine architecture.



There can be no doubt that the mosque Gul Jamissi (mosque of the Rose), that stands within the Gate Aya Kapou, near the Golden Horn, was the Byzantine church of S. Theodosia. For Aya Kapou is the entrance styled in Byzantine days the Gate of S. Theodosia , because in the immediate vicinity of the church of that dedication. This was also the view current on the subject when Gyllius and Gerlach visited the city in the sixteenth century. The Turkish epithet of the gate 'Aya,' Holy, is thus explained. Du Cange, contrary to all evidence, places the church of S. Theodosia on the northern side of the harbour, or at its head, ultra sinum.


The saint is celebrated in ecclesiastical history for her opposition to the iconoclastic policy of Leo the Isaurian. For when that emperor commanded the eikon of Christ over the Bronze Gate of the Great Palace to be removed, Theodosia, at the head of a band of women, rushed to the spot and overthrew the ladder up which the officer, charged with the execution of the imperial order, was climbing to reach the image. In the fall the officer was killed. Whereupon a rough soldier seized Theodosia, and dragging her to the forum of the Bous (Ak Serai), struck her dead by driving a ram's horn through her neck. Naturally, when the cause for which she sacrificed her life triumphed, she was honoured as a martyr, and men said, 'The ram's horn, in killing thee, O Theodosia, appeared to thee a new Horn of Amalthea.

S. Theodosia. The east end.

E. M. Antoniadi.

S. Theodosia.
The East End.

S. Theodosia, from the south-east.

S. Theodosia, from the south-east.



The remains of the martyred heroine were taken for burial to the monastery of Dexiocrates, so named either after its founder or after the district in which it was situated. This explains why the Gate of S. Theodosia was also designated the Gate of Dexiocrates. The earliest reference to the church of S. Theodosia occurs in the account of the pilgrimage made by Anthony, Archbishop of Novgorod, to Constantinople in 1200. Alluding to that shrine he says: 'Dans un couvent,' to quote the French translation of his narrative, 'de femmes se trouvent les reliques de sainte Théodosie, dans une châsse ouverte en argent.' Another Russian pilgrim from Novgorod, Stephen, who was in Constantinople in 1350, refers to the convent expressly as the convent of S. Theodosia: 'Nous allâmes vénérer la sainte vierge Théodosie, que (pécheurs) nous baisâmes; il y a là un couvent en son nom au bord de la mer.' The convent is again mentioned in the description of Constantinople by the Russian pilgrim who visited the city shortly before the Turkish conquest (1424-53). 'De là (Blachernae) nous nous dirigeâmes vers l'est et atteignîmes le couvent de Sainte Théodosie; la sainte vierge Théodosie y repose dans une châsse découverte.


Two other Russian pilgrims, Alexander the scribe (1395), and the deacon Zosimus (1419-21), likewise refer to the relics of the saint, but they do so in terms which create some difficulty. Alexander saw the relics in the church of the Pantokrator, while Zosimus found them in the convent of the 'Everghetis. The discrepancy between these statements may indeed be explained as one of the mistakes very easily committed by strangers who spend only a short time in a city, visit a multitude of similar objects during that brief stay, and write the account of their travels at hurried moments, or after returning home.


It is on this principle that Mordtmann deals with the statement that the relics of S. Theodosia were kept in the monastery of the 'Everghetis.' In his opinion Zosimus confused the monastery of S. Saviour Euergetes with the church of S. Theodosia, because of the proximity of the two sanctuaries. Lapses of memory are of course possible, but, on the other hand, the trustworthiness of a document must not be brushed aside too readily.


But the differences in the statements of the Russian pilgrims, as to the particular church in which the relics of S. Theodosia were enshrined, may be explained without charging any of the good men with a mistake, if we remember that relics of the same saint might be preserved in several sanctuaries; that the calendar of the Greek church celebrates four saints bearing the name Theodosia; and, lastly, that churches of the same dedication stood in different quarters of the city. In fact, a church dedicated to the Theotokos Euergetes stood on the Xerolophos above the quarter of Psamathia.


Stephen of Novgorod makes it perfectly clear that he venerated the relics of S. Theodosia in two different sanctuaries of the city, one of them being a church beside the Golden Horn, the other standing on the heights above Psamathia. So does the anonymous pilgrim. The scribe Alexander found the relics of S. Theodosia both in the Pantokrator and in the church of Kirmarta, above the quarter of Psamathia. It is clear, therefore, that Zosimus, who places the relics of S. Theodosia in the monastery of 'Everghetis,' has in mind the church of the Theotokos Euergetes above Psamathia, and not the church of S. Saviour Euergetes which stood near S. Theodosia beside the Golden Horn.




While Zosimus and Alexander agree in placing the relics of S. Theodosia in a church in the region of Psamathia, they differ as to the name of that church, the former naming it Everghetis, while the latter styles it Kirmarta. As appears from statements found on pages 108, 163, 205 of the Itinéraires russes, the two sanctuaries were closely connected. But however this discrepancy should be treated, there can be no doubt that relics of S. Theodosia were exhibited, not only in the church dedicated to her beside the Golden Horn, but also in a church in the south-western part of the city. Nor can it be doubted that a church in the latter quarter was dedicated to the Theotokos Euergetes.


That several churches should have claimed to possess the relics of the heroine who championed the cause of eikons, assuming that all the Russian pilgrims had one and the same S. Theodosia in mind, is not strange. Many other popular saints were honoured in a similar fashion.


The shrine of S. Theodosia was famed for miraculous cures. Her horn of plenty was filled with gifts of healing. Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, according to Stephen of Novgorod, or on Mondays and Fridays, according to another pilgrim, the relics of the saint were carried in procession and laid upon sick and impotent folk. Those were days of high festival. All the approaches to the church were packed with men and women eager to witness the wonders performed. Patients representing almost every complaint to which human flesh is heir filled the court. Gifts of oil and money poured into the treasury; the church was a blaze of lighted tapers; the prayers were long; the chanting was loud. Meanwhile the sufferers were borne one after another to the sacred relics, 'and whoever was sick,' says the devout Stephen, 'was healed.' So profound was the impression caused by one of these cures in 1306, that Pachymeres considered it his duty, as the historian of his day, to record the wonder; and his example may be followed to furnish an illustration of the beliefs and usages which bulked largely in the religious life witnessed in the churches of Byzantine Constantinople.


At the time referred to there dwelt in the city a deaf-mute, a well-known object of charity who supported himself by petty services in benevolent households. While thus employed by a family that resided near the church of the Holy Apostles, the poor man one night saw S. Theodosia in a dream, and heard her command to repair with tapers and incense to the church dedicated to her honour. Next morning the deaf-mute made his friends understand what had occurred during his sleep, and with their help found his way to the designated shrine. There he was anointed with the holy oil of the lamp before the saint's eikon, and bowed long in humble adoration at her feet. Nothing remarkable happened at the time. But on his homeward way the devout man felt a strange pain in his ear, and upon putting his hand to the sore place, what seemed a winged insect flew out and vanished from view. Wondering what this might mean, he entered the house in which he served, and set himself to prepare the oven in which the bread for the family was to be baked that day. But all his efforts to kindle the fire were in vain; the wood only smoked. This went on so long that, like most persons under the same circumstances, the much-tried man lost his temper and gave way to the impulse to use bad language. Whereupon sonorous imprecations on the obstinate fuel shook the air. The bystanders could not believe their ears. They thought the sounds proceeded from some mysterious voice in the oven. But the deaf-mute protested that he heard his friends talking, and assured them that the words they heard were his own; S. Theodosia had opened his ears and loosed his tongue. The news of the marvel spread far and wide and reached even the court. Andronicus II. sent for the young man, interrogated him, and was so deeply impressed by the recital of what had happened that he determined to proceed to the church of S. Theodosia in state, and went thither with the patriarch and the senate, humbly on foot, and spent the whole night before the wonder-working shrine in prayer and thanksgiving.


S. Theodosia. Interior, looking north-east.

S. Theodosia.
Interior, looking north-east.

S. Theodosia. The eastern dome arch.

S. Theodosia.
The Eastern Dome Arch.


The last scene witnessed in this church as a Christian sanctuary was pathetic in the extreme. It was the vigil of the day sacred to the memory of the saint, May 29, 1453. The siege of the city by the Turks had reached its crisis. The morning light would see the Queen of Cities saved or lost. All hearts were torn with anxiety, and the religious fervour of the population rose to the highest pitch. Already, in the course of the previous day, a great procession had gone through the streets of the city, invoking the aid of God and of all His saints. The emperor and the leading personages of his court were in S. Sophia, praying, weeping, embracing one another, forgiving one another, all feeling oppressed by a sense of doom. In the terrible darkness the church of S. Theodosia, ablaze with lighted tapers, gleamed like a beacon of hope. An immense congregation, including many women, filled the building, and prayers ascended to Heaven with unwonted earnestness—when suddenly the tramp of soldiers and strange shouts were heard. Had the city indeed fallen? The entrance of Turkish troops into the church removed all doubt, and the men and women who had gathered to pray for deliverance were carried off as prisoners of war. According to the Belgic Chronicle, the body of the saint and other relics were thrown into the mire and cast to the dogs.


Architectural Features


As the building has undergone extensive repairs since it became a mosque, care must be taken to distinguish between the original features of the fabric and Turkish changes and restorations. The pointed dome arches rest on pilasters built against the internal angles of the cross. The dome is windowless, has no internal drum, and externally is octagonal with a low drum and a flat cornice. Dome, arches, and pilasters are all evidently Turkish reconstructions. The gable walls of the transepts and the western wall are also Turkish. As the central apse coincided with the orientation of the mosque, it has retained its original form and some portions of its Byzantine walls, but it also has suffered Turkish alterations. The cross arches in the south gallery and in the narthex are pointed, and, in their present form, unquestionably Turkish; but as the vault above them is Byzantine, their form may be due to cutting away in order to secure a freer passage round the galleries for the convenience of Moslem worshippers. The outer narthex is Turkish, but the old wall which forms its foundation and traces of an old pavement imply the former existence of a Byzantine narthex. In spite, however, of these serious changes the building preserves its original characteristic features, and is a good example of a domed-cross church, with galleries on three sides and domes over the four angle-chambers.


The galleries rest on a triple arcade supported by square piers. On the north and south the aisles are covered with cross-groined vaults on oblong compartments, while the passage or narthex under the western gallery has a barrel vault.


The chambers at the north-eastern and south-eastern angles of the cross are thrown into the side chapels, which thus consist of two bays covered with cross-groined vaults. Communication between the chapels and the bema was maintained by passages opening in the ordinary fashion into the eastern bays.


In the thickness of each of the eastern dome piers, and at a short distance above the floor, is a small chamber. The chamber in the north-eastern pier is lighted by a small opening looking southwards, and was reached by a door in the east side of the passage leading from the bema to the north-eastern chapel. The door has been walled up, and the chamber is consequently inaccessible. The chamber in the south-eastern pier is lighted by a window looking northwards, and has a door in the east side of the passage from the bema to the south-eastern chapel.


Over the door is a Turkish inscription in gilt letters to this effect, 'Tomb of the Apostles, disciples of Jesus. Peace to him.' The chamber is reached by a short spiral stairway of nine stone steps, and contains a small marble tomb, which is covered with shawls, and has a turban around its headstone. On a bracket in the wall is a lamp ready to be lighted in honour of the deceased. The roof of the chamber is perforated by an opening that runs into the floor at the east end of the southern gallery, and over the opening is an iron grating.

Interior of the Church, looking west.

Fig. 54.—S. Theodosia. The Interior, looking West.


Access to the galleries is gained by means of a staircase in the northern bay of the passage under the western gallery. For some distance from the floor of the church the staircase has wooden steps, but from the first landing, where a door in the northern wall stands on a level with the ground outside the church, stone steps are employed for the remainder of the way up. The wooden steps are Turkish, but may replace Byzantine steps of the same material. The stone steps are Byzantine, and could be reached directly from outside the church through the door situated beside the landing from which they start. Probably in Byzantine days the stone staircase could not be reached from the floor of the church, and furnished the only means of access to the galleries.


The galleries are covered by the barrel vaults of the cross arms. At the east end of the northern and the southern gallery are chapels covered with domes and placed above the prothesis and the diaconicon. As stated already, the aperture in the roof of the chamber in the south-eastern dome pier opens into the floor of the southern chapel, and probably a similar aperture in the roof of the corresponding chamber in the north-eastern pier opened into the floor of the chapel at the east end of the northern gallery. The presence of chapels in such an unusual position is explained by the desire to celebrate special services in honour of the saints whose remains were buried in the chambers in the piers, as though in crypts.


The domes over the chapels are hemispherical and rest directly on the pendentives. They are ribless and without drums. The arches on which they rest are semicircular and, with their infilling of triple windows, are Byzantine. We may safely set down all four angle domes as belonging to the original design, though the arches by which they communicate with the galleries are pointed, and are therefore Turkish insertions or enlargements.


On the exterior the eastern wall of the church is fairly well preserved. The three apses project boldly; the central apse in seven sides, the lateral apses in three sides. Although the central apse is unquestionably a piece of Byzantine work it does not appear to be the original apse of the building, but a substitute inserted in the course of repairs before the Turkish conquest. This accounts for its plain appearance as compared with the lateral apses, which are decorated with four tiers of five niches, corre- sponding to the window height and the vaulting-level within the church. As on the apses of the Pantokrator the niches are shallow segments in plan, set back in one brick order, and without impost moulding. In the lowest tier three arches are introduced between pilasters, with a window in the central arch. Above the four tiers of niches is a boldly corbelled cornice, like that in the chapel attached to the Pammakaristos. One cannot help admiring how an effect so decidedly rich and beautiful was produced by very simple means.


S. Theodosia, Dome over the staircase to the galleries.

S. Theodosia.
Dome over the Staircase to the Galleries.

S. Theodosia, The Narthex, looking north

S. Theodosia.
The Narthex, looking north


For some time after the conquest the building was used as a naval store. It was converted into a mosque in the reign of Sultan Selim II. (1566-74) by a wealthy courtier, Hassan Pasha, and was known as Hassan Pasha Mesjedi. Its title, the mosque of the Rose, doubtless refers to its beauty, just as another mosque is, for a similar reason, styled Laleli Jamissi, the mosque of the Tulip.


Before leaving the church we may consider the claims of the tradition that the chamber in the south-eastern dome pier contains the tomb of the last Byzantine emperor. The tradition was first announced to the general public by the Patriarch Constantius in a letter which he addressed in 1852 to Mr. Scarlatus Byzantius, his fellow-student in all pertaining to the antiquities and history of Constantinople. According to the patriarch, the tradition was accepted by the Turkish ecclesiastical authorities of the city, and was current among the old men of the Greek community resident in the quarter of Phanar; he himself knew the tradition even in his boyhood. Furthermore, distinguished European visitors who inquired for Byzantine imperial tombs were directed by Turkish officials to the church of S. Theodosia, as the resting-place of the emperor who died with the Empire; and the inscription over the door of the chamber referred to that champion of the Greek cause. Strangely enough, the patriarch said nothing about this tradition when treating of the church of S. Theodosia in his book on Ancient and Modern Constantinople, published in 1844. In that work, indeed, he assigns the tomb in question to some martyr who suffered during the iconoclastic period. This strange silence he explains in his letter written in 1852 as due to prudence; he had reason then to 'put the seal of Alexander upon his lips.


Details from the Church—Details from Church of S. Theodore—Capital and Shaft found near Unkapan Gate.

Fig. 55.


The tradition has recently received the honour of being supported by Mr. Siderides, to whom students of Byzantine archaeology are so deeply indebted. But while accepting it in general, Mr. Siderides thinks it is open to correction on two points of detail.


In his opinion the church of S. Theodosia was not the first sanctuary to guard the mortal remains of Constantine Palaeologus, but the second. Nor was the body of the fallen hero, when ultimately brought to this church, placed, as the patriarch supposed, in the chamber in the south-eastern pier, but in the chamber in the pier to the north-east. The reasons urged in favour of these modifications of the tradition, as reported by the Patriarch Constantius, are substantially the following:—In the first place, the body of the last Constantine, after its decapitation, was, at the express order of the victorious Sultan, buried with royal honours, and therefore, so Mr. Siderides maintains, must have been interred in the church which then enjoyed the highest rank in the Greek community of the city, viz. the church of the Holy Apostles, the patriarchal cathedral after the appropriation of S. Sophia by the Turks. The church of the Holy Apostles, however, soon lost that distinction, and was torn down to make room for the mosque which bears the name of the conqueror of the city. Under these circumstances what more natural, asks Mr. Siderides, than that pious and patriotic hands should remove as many objects of historical or religious value as possible from the doomed shrine, and deposit them where men might still do them reverence—especially when there was every facility for the removal of such objects, owing to the fact that a Christian architect, Christoboulos, had charge of the destruction of the church and of the erection of the mosque.


Some of those objects were doubtless transferred to the church of the Pammakaristos, where the Patriarch Gennadius placed his throne after abandoning the church of the Holy Apostles; but others may have been taken elsewhere. And for proof that the church of S. Theodosia had the honour of being entrusted with the care of some of the relics removed from the Holy Apostles, Mr. Siderides points to the inscription over the doorway leading to the chamber in the south-eastern dome pier. According to the inscription that chamber is consecrated by the remains of Christ's apostles, i.e. the relics which formed the peculiar treasure of the church of the Holy Apostles.

This being so, Mr. Siderides argues, on the strength of the tradition under review, that the remains of the last Constantine also were brought from the church of the Holy Apostles to S. Theodosia under the circumstances described.


As to the position of the imperial tomb when thus transferred to the church of S. Theodosia, Mr. Siderides insists that it cannot be in the chamber in the south-eastern dome pier: first, because the religious veneration cherished by Moslems for the grave in that chamber is inconsistent with the idea that the grave contains the ashes of the enemy who, in 1453, resisted the Sultan's attack upon the city; secondly, because the inscription over the doorway leading to the chamber expressly declares the chamber to be the resting-place of Christ's apostles. Hence Mr. Siderides concludes that if the tradition before us has any value, the tomb of the last Byzantine emperor was placed in the chamber in the north-eastern pier, and finds confirmation of that view in the absence of any respect for the remains deposited there.


To enter into a minute criticism of this tradition and of the arguments urged in its support would carry us far beyond our scope. Nor does such criticism seem necessary. The fact that the last Constantine was buried with royal honours affords no proof whatever that he was laid to rest in the church of the Holy Apostles. If he was ever buried in S. Theodosia, he may have been buried there from the first. The lateness of the date when the tradition became public makes the whole story it tells untrustworthy. Before a statement published in the early part of the nineteenth century in regard to the interment of the last Byzantine emperor can have any value, it must be shown to rest on information furnished nearer the time at which the alleged event occurred. No information of that kind has been produced. On the contrary, the only contemporary historian of the siege of 1453 who refers to the site of the emperor's grave informs us that the head of the last Constantine was interred in S. Sophia, and his mutilated body in Galata. The patriarchal authorities of the sixteenth century, as Mr. Siderides admits, while professing to point out the exact spot where Constantine Palaeologus fell, were ignorant of the place where he was buried. In his work on the mosques of the city, written in 1620, Evlia Effendi not only knows nothing of the tradition we are considering, but says expressly that the emperor was buried elsewhere—in the church of the monastery of S. Mary Peribleptos, known by the Turks as Soulou Monastir, in the quarter of Psamathia. In 1852 a story prevailed that the grave of the last Constantine was in the quarter of Vefa Meidan. From all these discrepancies it is evident that in the confusion attending the Turkish capture of the city, the real site of the imperial grave was soon forgotten, and that all subsequent indications of its position are mere conjectures, the offspring of the propensity to find in nameless graves local habitations for popular heroes.




The first edition of Ancient and Modern Constantinople was published in 1824. In it there is no mention of any tomb in the church of S. Theodosia. The second edition of that work appeared in 1844, and there the author speaks of a tomb in the church, and suggests that it was the tomb of some martyr in the iconoclastic persecution. The patriarch's letter to Scarlatus Byzantius was written in 1852, and published by the latter in 1862. In that letter the patriarch reports for the first time the tradition that the tomb in S. Theodosia was the tomb of Constantine Palaeologus. In 1851 a Russian visitor to Constantinople, Andrew Mouravieff, who published an account of his travels, says that in the church of S. Theodosia he was shown a tomb which the officials of the mosque assured him was the tomb of the last Christian emperor of the city. Lastly, but not least, in 1832 the church of S. Theodosia underwent repairs at the Sultan's orders, and then a neglected tomb was discovered in the church by the Christian architect who had charge of the work of restoration, Haji Stephen Gaitanaki Maditenou (see letter of the patriarch). It is difficult to resist the impression that the discovery of the tomb at that time gave occasion for the fanciful conjectures current among Turks and Greeks in regard to the body interred in the tomb. See the article of Mr. Siderides, who gives the facts just mentioned, without drawing the inference I have suggested.

Ground Plan.

Fig. 56

Plan of the Gynaeceum.

Fig. 57

 Section in the Gynaeceum and Longitudinal Section of the Church.

Figs. 58 and 59.

 Isometrical Section, showing scheme.

Fig. 60.

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.