top of page
Theotokos Kyriotissa

The Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa (now Kalenderhane Mosque) is located near the east end of the Aqueduct of Valens in Constantinople. While it is a large Middle Byzantine church with a cross-in-square plan covered by a dome, it has a complex structural history, with several stages of building on the site, including a bath complex. 
It has peculiarities in its plan due to the inclusion of earlier structures, especially in the western and eastern ends. Most of the currently existing main church dates to the late 12th century. The earliest structure is a 4th-5th century bath. It consisted of three rooms, one consists of a rectangular forechamber leading a larger trefoil chamber, while the second and third rooms consists a circular chamber. The second structure (the North Church) is an early Byzantine basilica, dating to the 6th century. While most of the structure is speculative, its apse largely survived and became the prosthesis of the main church. It seems that it was linked to the rooms of the bath. Another church (the Bema Church) was built on the site around the bema in the 7th century. Its central apse was preserved and used as the central apse of the main church. The diakonikon consists of two chapels (the Francis Chapel and Melismos Chapel) built perhaps in the Middle Byzantine period, before the Main Church was built. The masonry of the Francis Chapel shared features of the 10th century Theotokos Church of Constantine Lips, while the Melismos Chapel is in recessed brick technique, which generally took place in the eleventh or twelfth centuries.
The Main Church, built around 1200, is a large church that incorporated the older structures within it. It has cross-in-square plan covered by a dome. Its naos is around 19 square meters, while its dome has a 8 meter diameter and rests on four massive piers that create four isolated corner compartments. The building has a narthex and exonarthex. It once had outer aisles that flanked the naos on the north and south sides along with a porch and perhaps a tower at the northwest corner. Polychrome marble revetments dominate the interior of the naos. However less than a third of the 12th century survive and the remaining wall surfaces were covered either with secondary revetment or with painted plaster imitating marble.
The St. Francis fresco cycle suggests that members of a Franciscan community were installed at the Kyriotissa during the Latin occupation of Constantinople. Although no historical evidence documents a Franciscan convent at the site of Kalenderhane, Franciscans had settled in Constantinople from 1220. During the Palaiologan period, it was at least partially redecorated. The church was converted into mosque after the conquest of the city by by Mehmed II. Its name derives from the kalenderi dervishes who used it as a mevlevihane (sufi lodge). 


Fresco fragments with capitals


From Byzantine Topographic Studies by Paspates (1877)

Ebersolt & Thiers (4).jpg

Ebersolt & Thiers (1910)

Plans drawn by Kullberg

North Church

North Church Apse

Plans drawn by Kullberg


The excavations of the 1960s and 1970s made a number of important artistic discoveries, including a wall mosaic of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple dating to the 6th or 7th century and a fragmentary cycle of the life of St. Francis painted in the 13th century. They are now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The wall mosaic of the Presentation of Christ, discovered around the main apse, is the only surviving pre-Iconoclastic mosaic from Constantinople and the earliest surviving representation of Presentation (Hypapante) in Byzantine art. The frescoes in the Francis Chapel are the earliest extensive fresco cycle of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. They were were produced during the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204-61), probably in the early 1250s, when many Byzantine churches in the city were converted to the Latin rite. It seems that the Francis Chapel was walled off after 1261 and the rest of the diakonikon was then redecorated in the Palaiologan Era with a new program, the fragmentary remains of which are now preserved. The discovery of the Kyriotissa fresco, dating to Palaiologan Era, over the esonarthex door led to the identification of this church with Theotokos Kyriotissa.


Theotokos Kyriotissa with donor

Mosaic of Archangel Michael

Fresco of unidentifiable saints


Fresco of unidentifiable saints


Possible St. Anthony

Plan by Marinis (from Striker & Kuban).j

Plan by Marinis (from Striker & Kuban)

Istanbul Archaeological Museums

Mosaic of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Dating to the 6th or 7th century, it is the only surviving pre-Iconoclastic mosaic from Constantinople and the earliest surviving representation of Presentation (Hypapante) in Byzantine art.

Fresco cycle of St. Francis Chapel 
Crusader (Constantinople), mid-13th century
Tempera on Fresco

These are the sole surviving frescoes from when Constantinople was under Latin rule (1204 to 1261). In addition providing rare documentation of artistic activity in the conquered Byzantine capital, the frescoes illustrate the important role of the Franciscans in the Mediterranean East. Latin occupants commissioned the Francis Chapel in the diakonikon inside the Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa.

Although the cycle is fragmentary, enough remains to reconstruct a large image of Francis with ten scenes from his life. A bust of the Virgin and Child with angels was painted above Francis, while on the arch before the semidome of the apse were two large figures, Greek Church Fathers (of which only one can be identified as St. John Chrysostom). Between the two saints and the semidome, a passage from Psalm 26 (25 in the Latin Psalter) frames the figures of Mary and Francis. It seems to refer to Mary - and perhaps also the chapel itself - as the site of divine habitation.

The fragmentary fresco with Franciscan friars, shows two Franciscan friars standing behind a crenellated wall, gazing and gesturing in awe. To the right, three barefoot friars stand as witnesses to another unidentified scene. Below, from the scene of Francis Preaching to the Birds, two friars stand with Francis, whose raised hand indicates his speech to a flock of fluttering birds. The most completely preserved figure is full of tense energy. His tightly held arms, jutting neck, and deep-set eyes and the dabs of white paint highlighting his face create a sense of animated concentration.

While a comparison of this friar with figures from the Arsenal Bible has been used to support an attribution of both works to the same artist, it is probably a better to attribute it to the style of a group of Crusader artists who worked in Acre, Constantinople, and Sinai. Most scholars assign both the Arsenal Bible and the Kalenderhane frescoes to French artists influenced by Byzantine models and techniques. 


Fresco with Franciscan Friars


Inscription on the arch framing the apse
DOMINE DILEXI DECOREM DOMU(s tuae et locum habitationis gloriae) TUAE.
0 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. 
Psalms 25 (26):8

The Arsenal Bible
Depiction of Solomon with Holy Wisdom. Comparison of the frescoes of the Chapel of St. Francis and the figures from the Arsenal Bible suggests that they were made by the same group of Crusader artists.  

Sarcophagus Lid Fragment
The evidence suggests this is a fragment of sarcophagus lid, possibly dating to the 10th or 11th century. It has two medallions, the lower one with sphinx in left pro-file grasping acanthus fleur-de-lis in each hand and the upper one frontal peacock, tail feathers extended, head (beak visible) in left profile. In left and right spandrels between medallions, there are vertical griffins in profile with feet to center, which is repeated in spandrels above upper medallion. Below lower medallion is central small medallion with inverted five-point star. 

Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries by V. Marinis
Work at Kalenderhane Camii in Istanbul: Preliminary Reports by Striker and Kuban
Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography by M. Parani
Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif
Fountains and Water Culture in Byzantium edited by Brooke Shilling, Paul Stephenson
Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies edited by Jeffreys, Haldon and Cormack
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Kazhdan

Source on St. Francis Fresco

Byzantium: Faith and Power 1261-1557 (MET)

Theotokos Kyriotissa Photo Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Byzantine Churches of Constantinople (Byzantine Legacy Google Map)

Kyriotissa Monastery (Byzantium 1200) 

Kilise Camii (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

bottom of page