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Sancaktar Hayrettin Mosque
Sancaktar Hayrettin Mosque (traditionall

Sancaktar Hayrettin Mosque is a Byzantine structure located a short distance northwest of the Monastery of Peribleptos in the region of Psamathia (modern Samatya) of Constantinople. It is a small irregular octagon (measuring around 14 x 10 meters) with a cruciform interior and an apse. The main structure has been dated to the Palaiologan period, though differences between the construction techniques of the apse and the octagon suggest it had an earlier phase. While it now has a tiled wooden roof, it seems to have originally had a dome. It has been argued that it was originally a burial chapel or mausoleum.

The building has been traditionally identified with the Monastery of Gastria, know to be in the  general area. Several family members of Michael III (842-867), including his mother were buried at this monastery in the 9th century. While its Byzantine identity cannot be identified with certainty, its Ottoman history is much clearer. It was converted into a mosque by the Sancakdar Hayreddin, standard bearer of Mehmed II in the second half of the 15th century. In the mid 18th century, the Grand Vizier Mustafa Pasha donated a minbar. It was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1894 and was in ruins until it was restored in 1973-1974.

Sancaktar Hayrettin Mosque (traditionall

From Byzantine Studies by Paspates (1877)


Plan by Müller-Wiener

Monastery of Gastria

According to tradition, the Monastery of Gastria (Μονή των Γαστρίων) was founded by St. Helena upon her return from Jerusalem when she discovered the Holy Cross. She supposedly adorned this convent with the vases (gastria) of flowers that she had brought from Palestine. However this is clear that this is not true, since the first monasteries of Constantinople were not founded before the last quarter of the 4th century. The first evidence of its existence comes from the 9th century when sources indicate it was founded during the reign of Theophilus (829-842) by Theoktiste, mother of his wife Theodora. We are told that she bought a house from a patrician Nicetas in the neighborhood of Psamathia and transformed it into a monastery where she often brought her granddaughters. It seems that Theodora took over the patronage of a monastery of Gastria when her regency for her son Michael III came to an end and subsequently spent much of her exile with her four daughters here. She first interred her mother Theoktiste at the monastery, then later her brother the Caesar Bardas, following his assassination. In addition to being her final resting place, three of her daughters Thekla, Anastasia and Pulcheria, along with her brother Petronas, were buried here. The monastery was important for preserving her family’s status, despite the usurpation of Basil I.

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Theoktiste and her granddaughters from Madrid Skylitzes

From Theophanes Continuatus

“This Theoktiste <sometimes> called Theodora’s daughters to her house, in the place where the monastery of Gastria is now fixed and established – she had bought it from the patrikios Nicetas. The daughters were five in number: Thecla, Anna, Anastasia, Pulcheria and Maria, and whilst greeting them with other gifts whereby the female sex is wont to be attracted, Theoktiste would take each aside privately and beg and entreat them not to show weakness nor remain feminine as they were, but to be manly and to have intentions fitting and worthy of their mother’s breast, rejecting their father’s heresy and kissing and embracing the traits of the venerable images. Putting these in their hands – she kept them in a certain chest – and pressing them to their faces and lips, she sanctified the girls and brought forth in them love for the images. But it did not escape Theophilus’s notice that she was doing this persistently and kindling in her granddaughters love for the images, and he would ask what had been given to them by their grandmother and what had been done to render thanks. With good understanding the others deftly got round his questions as if they were traps; but Pulcheria, in as much as she was a child, both in age and in mind, told of her kindnesses and the multitude of fruits, and she recounted also the worship of the images, thinking and saying in her innocent way that Theoktiste had many dolls in a chest ‘and she pressed these upon our heads and faces after giving kisses.’ Expressed in a whispering tone these things roused the emperor to rage. However, the woman’s modesty and piety, no less than her outspokenness toward all, prevented him from doing anything sharp or harsh – for she openly mocked and accused him on account of his daily persecution of confessors and his patent heresy, and she was almost alone in telling him of everyone’s hatred of him –; instead, he only curtailed his daughters’ visits to her, preventing them from becoming continual.”


Relics of St. Theodora the Empress at Theotokos Speliotissis in Corfu

From The Book of Ceremonies by Constantine Porphyrogennetos

“Note that in the Monastery known as The Urns (Ta Gastria), on the right-hand side of the said church as one faces east, in the sepulchre there, is laid the blessed Theodora, the wife of Theophilos, and her three daughters Thekla, Anastasia and Poulcheria. On the left-hand side of the said church, opposite this sepulchre stands a sarcophagus of stone in which is laid Petronas, who became domestikos of the scholai, the brother of the blessed empress Theodora. In the narthex of the said church, on the left-hand side of the said narthex as one faces east, stands a small sarcophagus of Proconnesian stone, that is, Pilcrimaian, in which is laid Theoktiste, the mother of the blessed empress Theodora. Note that near it stands a small sarcophagus of Sagarian stone, that is, Pneumonousian, in which is laid Irene, the daughter of the Caesar Bardas. Note that a tiny sarcophagus, measuring a span, stands near them, in which is laid the lower jaw of the caesar Bardas.”


Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Müller-Wiener

Byzantine Churches in Constantinople: Their History and Architecture by Alexander Van Millingen

La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin by R. Janin

Unrivalled Influence: Women and Empire in Byzantium by Judith Herrin

Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif

“Ἐπί δύο Βυζαντινῶν μνημείων τῆς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως ἀγνώστου ὀνομασίας” by A. Pasadaios

“Sancaktar Hayreddin Mescidi Ve Tekkesi” (İstanbul Ansiklopedisi) by Eyice & Tanman


Primary Sources

Chronographiae quae Theophanis Continuati nomine fertur Libri I-IV edited by Featherstone & Signes-Codoñer

Constantine Porphyrogennetos: The Book of Ceremonies edited by Moffatt and  Tall



Sancaktar Hayrettin Mosque (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Byzantine Churches of Constantinople Photo Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Byzantine Churches of Constantinople (Byzantine Legacy Google Map)

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