Monastery of St. George of Mangana
The Monastery of St. George of Mangana was an important Byzantine church in the Middle and Late Byzantine eras. It was located to the east of Hagia Sophia near the sea walls of the quarter of Mangana. Later its ruins lay within the Sultan’s Walls surrounding Topkapı Palace.
It was founded by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055), third husband of Empress Zoe. In addition to building the monastery, he also built a palace and a hospital, and established a law school in the Mangana quarter. The monastic church, cloister, and surrounding garden were constructed on a lavish scale by Constantine, who was subsequently buried there in 1055, along side his mistress Maria Skleraina.
The Monastery of St. George quickly became one of the most important monasteries in the capital. It was included in imperial processions on April 23 when the feast of St. George was celebrated. It later had an extensive library and housed numerous important relics, including the relics of Christ’s passion. A Russian pilgrim records that the monastery had all the Savior's Passion relics: the purple robe, the blood, the spear, the reed, the sponge, and part of Christ’s beard.
After brief occupation by Latin monks during the 13th-century Latin Empire of Constantinople, the monastery was restored to the Greeks under Michael VIII who held a synod there in 1279. John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354) lived at Mangana for a while after his abdication. The monastery continued to function until 1453, when dervishes began to use it. Soon thereafter the monastic complex was razed during the construction of Topkapı Palace, though its substructures survived. In 1871 eastern sections of the monastery’s substructure were destroyed during the construction of the railway.
During the occupation of Istanbul, the French army camping at Topkapı excavated the region in 1922-1923, bringing to light the ruins of several structures in the Mangana quarter, which were identified as St. George, Theotokos Hodegon and Christ Philanthropos. There was not enough time to excavate the entire region, though the results were later published by Demangel and Mamboury.
Reconstructions of the Monastery of St. George are primarily based on its substructures. Its katholikon measured approximately 27 x 33 meters. While its plan is uncertain, it was probably cross-domed with an inner ambulatory around the main bay. Its dome likely was 10 meters in diameter, supported by four piers. The side rooms of the tripartite bema were square and perhaps topped by domes. An open portico was attached to the north side of the church. The excavators proposed an octogal chapel was also located here. There was another portico to the west of the narthex, preceded by an atrium with a fountain in the middle. Traces of the extensive terracing for the monastery and its gardens have also been discovered.
The katholikon of the church rested on a square substructure that functioned as a cistern. It has fours strong cross-shaped piers that divide this underground area into square and octagonal in shape compartments covered with vaults, communicating through arched openings. This is connected to another substructure that functioned as a cistern. It was divided into two extended sections which had barrel vaults, which led to another section which had six domed vaults. Another substructure is located approximately 50 meters west of the katholikon. It is a rectangular structure with two colonnades of six columns and 21 domed vaults. Between the ruins of the Monastery of St. George and the Palace of Mangana is another structure possibly identified as the Church of Theotokos Panachrantos. While these substructures still exist today, they are located in an area of Topkapı Palace that is closed to the public.
Church Plan by Mamboury
Plan of Church Cistern by Mamboury
Plan of North Substructure by Mamboury
Mangana Plan by Mamboury
Account of St. George and its gardens by Michael Psellos
The whole conception was on a magnificent and lofty scale. The edifice itself was decorated with golden stars throughout, like the vault of heaven, but whereas the real heaven is adorned with its golden stars only at intervals, the surface of this one was entirely covered with gold, issuing forth from its centre as if in a never-ending stream. On all sides there were buildings, some completely, others half-surrounded by cloisters. The ground everywhere was levelled, like a race-course, stretching further than the eye could see, its bounds out of sight. Then came a second circle of buildings bigger than the first, and lawns full of flowers, some on the circumference, others down the centre. There were fountains which filled basins of water; gardens, some hanging, others sloping down to the level ground; a bath that was beautiful beyond description. To criticize the enormous size of the church was impossible, so dazzling was its loveliness. Beauty pervaded every part of the vast creation, so that one could only wish it were even greater and its gracefulness spread over an area still wider. And as for the lawns that were bounded by the outer wall, they were so numerous that it was difficult to see them in one sweeping glance: even the mind could scarcely grasp their extent.
It was not merely the exceptional beauty of the whole, composed as it was of most beautiful parts, but just as much the individual details that attracted the spectator's attention, and although he could enjoy to his heart's content all its charms, it was impossible to find one that palled. Every part of it took the eye, and what is more wonderful, even when you gazed on the loveliest part of all, some small detail would delight you as a fresh discovery. To attempt to place its various merits in any order of preference was useless, for when all the parts were so lovely, even the least attractive could not fail to give pleasure inimitable. Its every detail excited the greatest admiration. People marvelled at the size of the church, its beautiful symmetry, the harmony of its parts, the variety and rhythm of its loveliness, the streams of water, the encircling wall, the lawns covered with flowers, the dewy grass, always sprinkled with moisture, the shade under the trees, the gracefulness of the bath. It was as if a pilgrimage had ended, and here was the vision perfect and unparalleled.
Click to see map of Byzantine Churches of Constantinople
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Icon of the Theotokos
This icon of the Theotokos was found abandoned in a cistern of the Mangana complex. In the marble relief icon, the Theotokos is depicted standing on a pedestal, with her arms raised orans. The one surviving hand on the right is pierced, and corresponds to descriptions of the Blachernai image, which had water flowing from the hands. While the original context of the relief remains unclear, the excavators suggested that this was originally part of a hagiasma, perhaps associated with Christ Philanthropos.
Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries by Vasileios Marinis
Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life edited by Nevra Necipoğlu
Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Wolfgang Müller-Wiener
Le quartier des Manganes et la première région de Constantinople by Demangel and Mamboury
İstanbul’da Bizans Dönemi Sarnıçlarının Mimari Özellikleri Ve Kentin Tarihsel Topografyasındaki Dağılımı by K. Altuğ
Russian Travelers to Constantinople in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries by George P. Majeska
Chronographia by Michael Psellos
Byzantine Churches of Constantinople (Byzantine Legacy Google Map)