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Monastery of Lips

The Monastery of Lips consists of two adjoined churches in the Lycus valley of Constantinople, southwest of the Church of the Holy Apostles. During the Ottoman Era, it became a mosque known as Fenari İsa Mosque. The north church, dedicated to Theotokos Panachrantos (the Immaculate Mother of God), was constructed in 907 under the auspices of Constantine Lips, while the south church, dedicated to Hagios Ioannes Prodromos (St. John the Forerunner), was built in the late thirteenth century by Empress Theodora (c. 1240-1303), wife of Michael VIII Palaiologos

Constantine Lips was a aristocrat and military official who founded the original monastery and dedicated it to the Theotokos. It has been suggested that he restored an older church, however archaeological evidence does not support this claim. Its consecration took place in 907 with the participation of Emperor Leo VI. This church, along with the Monastery of Myrelaion, is evidence of how the spread of monasticism went hand in hand with Byzantine political and military influence in this period. 

Between the years 1281 and 1303 the dowager empress Theodora, widow of Michael VIII Palaiologos, restored the complex and added a second church to the south of the existing tenth-century church. It was originally built as a mausoleum church for the Palaiologan dynasty. Besides Theodora, who died in 1303 as nun Eugenia, her mother, daughter, sons Emperor Andronikos II (d. 1332) and Prince Constantine (d. 1306) were buried there. In addition, Irene, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick, Albert IV, first wife of the Emperor Andronicus III and Anna, a Russian princess and wife of John VIII Palaeologus, were buried here. In order to provide additional burial sites for family members, a long exonarthex (or perambulatory) was added to the existing churches probably in the early 14th century. Theodora instituted a nunnery in the north church and issued a typikon for it, drawn up some time between 1294 and 1301. The typikon fixes the number of nuns to fifty. Thirty of them were supposed to perform daily prayers and services in the church, while the remaining twenty were in charge of the household duties. A twelve-bed hospital, with its own paid staff, might have been built next to the monastery for the treatment of the laywomen.

The south church was converted into a mosque by Ali Efendi of the Fenari family towards the end of the 15th century. Following a fire in the 17th century, major alterations were made during its restoration. The columns in the naves were replaced with pointed arches, and the four principal columnar supports in the northern structure were also transformed into pointed arches that span the entire interior space. Its remaining decoration was stripped from the walls, and both domes were constructed anew. A minaret was erected at the southwestern corner of the outer narthex, while it was furnished a mihrab and minbar. By the end of the seventeenth century, the north church had been turned into a tekke (a dervish lodge).

After being repeatedly damaged by fires during the Ottoman Era, it was restored in the 1960s by the Byzantine Institute of America. The building has been returned to use as a mosque, though it is currently closed for renovation.


The north church is the earliest securely dated Middle Byzantine church and the earliest example of the cross-in-square type in Constantinople. The naos measures approximately 12 x 10 meters and is divided into nine bays. To the east of the naos is a tripartite bema and to the west a three-bay narthex. A narrow exterior porch originally covered the main entrance to the narthex. The four columns that used to support vaults were replaced by pointed arches in the Ottoman Era, but three column bases have remained in their original positions. In the central bay there was a dome, which collapsed or was seriously damaged in one of the fires and was replaced during the Ottoman Era. The north and south vaulted arms of the cross-in-square core terminate in huge triple windows on the north and south façades.
The most distinctive features of the north church were its six additional chapels, all part of the original design. Two single-nave chapels flanked the prothesis and diakonikon at ground level. The north one has disappeared, but a portion of its apse foundation has been excavated. The southern chapel, located next to the diakonikon, was incorporated in the thirteenth century into the south church of Saint John to serve as its prothesis and thus was partially preserved. Both chapels were slightly larger than the rooms to which they were attached. On the roof of the north church are four chapels, which are not visible from the interior. The two quatrefoil western chapels are situated over the western corner bays of the naos. Two more chapels are located over the diakonikon and prothesis at the east end of the building. Access to the roof was through a staircase inside the tower south of the narthex.

The masonry of the south church and ambulatory are the same: approximately five courses of brick alternating with three or four courses of dressed stone, each course of stone separated from the next by one or two courses of brick. Its central core, a simple domed square bay, is enveloped on three sides by an ambulatory. The east side of the domed core extends into the bema with an apse, seven-faceted on the outside. The marble floor of the bema has been preserved. The rest of the floor in the naos was paved in the opus sectile technique. The walls and vaults were covered with mosaics. The ambulatory is lower than the domed core and the bema, providing the access of light into the central space of the naos through triple-windows on three sides of the square core. The naos is preceded by a narthex, originally covered by a dome. The narthex and the ambulatory were filled with tombs, leaving the central domed core to function as the main liturgical space.
One of the most striking aspects of the complex was the abundance of burials of different types within the monastery: twenty-nine tombs, along with four ossuaries. The tombs were placed in arcosolia, built along the outer walls of the perambulatory. The interior was painted with frescoes, as suggested by fragments preserved in the westernmost arcosolium of the perambulatory's south arm. The façades, in their rhythm of stepped pilasters and doors, closely follow those of the two churches.
The north church provides probably the largest and the most outstanding collection of Middle Byzantine sculptural decoration in Constantinople. Original decorated window mullions, leveled cornices, corbels are still found in situ. The ornamental repertory consisted of foliage, palmettes, fantastic plants, rosettes, crosses, peacocks, and eagles. These provided inspiration for similarly decorated mullions and cornices for the south church, but they are simpler and less precise in carving.
A great number of fragments of ornamentally carved slabs, cornices, archivolts, sculptured eagles, inlaid plaques, and glazed tiles were found in the excavations of 1929 and 1960s. Among these, there was a complete 10th-century inlaid icon of St. Eudokia. The glazed tiles, with painted floral and geometric ornaments, also belong to the 10th century and were probably used as borders and frames. A group of fragments with sculptured busts of the Apostles belonged to an archivolt, probably carved for one of the arcosolia.

Monastery of Lips.jpg
Monastery of Lips.jpg
Monastery of Lips.jpg
Monastery of Lips.jpg
Reconstruction of Dome Cornice from Nort

Reconstruction of Dome Cornice from North Church by Mamboury 

Monastery of Lips.jpg
Monastery of Lips.jpg
Lips Panachrantos.jpg

From Byzantine Studies by Paspates (1877)

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Ebersolt & Thiers (1910)

Istanbul, Fenari Isa Camii and

Photo by David Talbot-Rice 

From Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

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Inscription on the east façade of the north church


[…] from affection. Constantine (offers) to the mother of God a gorgeous church […] blessed deed; measuring his (pious) disposition, show him, oh Panachrade (most pure Lady), to be inhabitant and citizen of the heavenly splendour (Paradise). My gift is a church, oh Disciples (of Chist) […]

Plan from Marinis.jpg

Plan by Mamboury

Istanbul Archaeological Museums

Photo by Shakko

Icon of St. Eudocia 
c.  10th-11th century
Marble, 66 x 28 cm

This marble icon of St. Eudocia is arguably the most important of the discoveries of the Monastery of Lips. It was discovered upside down in a corner outside the southwest roof chapel in which it may originally have been placed. The border consists of a groove filled with a row of yellowish color diamonds placed end to end. In the center of each diamond is a circular mass of glass paste alternately red and green. In the four corners of the frame the little inlaid plaques are treated in the same fashion, but they are square instead of diamond-shaped. The spaces between the diamonds are filled with little triangular plaques made of a dark red stone
In the center of the icon St. Eudocia is represented standing full-length in an orant position. Her crowned head is surrounded with a yellowish halo. Her face, hands, and neck are of the same color. The Saint wears a long dark red garment richly decorated with gold and precious stones, indicated by means of little inlaid plaques. Some of these are yellowish to denote gold, others green to denote emeralds, while the round white ones stand for pearls. The garment terminates at the top and bottom in a border of a yellowish color inlaid with little squares of glass paste alternately red and green. The girdle and cuffs are treated in the same fashion except for the addition of a row of pearls. The front part of the garment is decorated down its entire length with a double row of rectangular plaques of a yellowish color having green centers of glass paste. These plaques are separated from one another by grey strips with small white discs denoting pearls. To the belt is attached the thorakion which bears the same decoration as the garment but in a triple row. On each arm as well as at knee level the garment is decorated with a circular segmentum, the one over the right knee being hidden by the thorakion. On her head the Saint wears an imperial crown decorated with pearls and a row of precious stones, and having perpendulia attached to it. The base of the neck is encircled by a collar (maniakion) having a double row of pearls. The face and neck consist of a single plaque of pink stone, the features being indicated by means of shallow incisions. The hands are done in the same manner. The expression of the face is vivid but austere, coming close to a written description of Eudocia. On either side of the head is the following incised inscription H AΓIA/EYΔOKHA. The letters must have been filled with some colored matter, possibly mastic.

Funerary Stele of the Nun Maria.jpg

Funerary Stele of the Nun Maria
c. 1300 ?
This funerary seems to depict a nun called Maria, a daughter of Palaiologos. Even though it was a stray find, it was quickly attributed to the Monastery of Lips. The identification of this Maria remains elusive. If the stele indeed comes from Lips, she was probably one of Theodora's descendants.  The verses of the stele, in the first person, purportedly written by the nun Maria, boast of her Palaiologan lineage, lament obscure past sorrows, and supplicate Christ to receive her into His heavenly bridal chamber. The first-person voice of the epigram also served to enhance the efficacy of the prayer that the nun addressed to Christ from her grave:


Receive me, Christ, [my] handsome bridegroom; 
Heeding the intercession of Thy mother, 
Open for us the spiritual bridechamber.
Clothe us in the garment of divine marriage,
And place us in the ranks of your [fellow] banqueters. 
I, the nun Maria, faithful sebaste 
And daughter of a Palaiologos, write these words.

Archivolt with representations of the Ap

Reconstructed Archivolt with representations of the Apostles from the North Church

An approximate reconstruction of the archivolt was made by joining together the connecting fragments. Of the decoration of the archivolt there remain six and a half busts as well as one head without a body. There are also several fragments of haloes. The inside rim of the arch is decorated with a wreath of acanthus which is interrupted at regular intervals by one corner of each bust. Starting at the left foot of the arch, we have first a beardless apostle, either Thomas or Philip. Of his nimbus only a small part is preserved on the left. The head is in excellent condition, except for the nose. Of the body there remain the right shoulder and blessing hand. In the space immediately following we have placed a very expressive head, probably that of the apostle Andrew in view of the characteristic arrangement of the hair with wavy locks.

Part of the halo and a tiny fragment of the decoration of the spandrel are preserved to the left. The head is represented frontally and is in good condition; the tip of the beard and the locks of hair to the right are missing. In the two empty spaces that follow we have placed, first, part of a halo with traces of the upper part of a head, and, second, half of a headless bust holding a gospel book. There follows an empty space with only a small part of a halo in the upper right corner and then a headless bust, probably that of Paul, holding a scroll. Above this there remain part of the halo and of the adjoining acanthus leaf. Between this bust and the next one to the right, of which only a tiny part is preserved, is a gap corresponding to the crown of the arch. At the center is a representing the upper part of Christ's head with a cross nimbus. All that remains is the forehead with locks of hair and the left eyebrow.

In the right-hand side of the arch, the restoration of which admits of no doubt, there remain four busts, three of which retain their heads. Proceeding from the top downward we have, first, the bust of an Evangelist whose body is represented en face while his head is bent slightly to the right. The head is well preserved except for its lower part. The beard and part of the mouth are missing. There follows the headless bust of a blessing apostle and next to him a nearly intact bust, probably that of St. Peter, holding a scroll. The upper part of the head with its wrinkled brow and the halo are very well preserved. The following space remains completely empty. Finally, we have the bust of the other beardless apostle, Thomas or Philip, the base of which forms a flat surface. There remain the right side of the body and the head with part of the halo. The head, which has a particularly broad brow with locks of hair falling over it, is well preserved. The tip of the nose and part of the chin have been broken off.

Archivolt with representations of the Ap

Bust of Beardless Apostle

Fragments of Peacocks and Eagles from th

Fragments of Eagles from the North Church

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Inscription from a tomb 
With epitaph of a lady called Theodosia

Icon of a Military Saint from the Monast
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Upper Part of Christ’s Head

Fragments of Statuettes from the North C

Fragments of Statuettes from the North Church

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Marble Window Grill

Fragments of an icon of a Military Saint
Thessalian marble, 87 x  52 cm
Several pieces of green Thessalian marble were discovered, which when fitted together, produced about one half of an icon representing a military saint. This icon, also without border, was the largest discovered. The inlaid decoration has not been preserved. The saint was represented standing en face under an arch supported by two columns. The columns have, at regular intervals, horizontal bands indicated by strips of the same green marble. The rest of the decoration, including the arch and the stylized leaves on either side of it, consisted of inset plaques. The saint held in his right hand a spear and in his left a shield. Above the halo are two circular cavities in the background, probably for the insertion of little plaques bearing the saint's name. This fashion of representing military saints was common from the eleventh century onward. A close parallel is provided by the mosaic of St. Theodore Tiron at Hosios Lukas.

Fragments from revetment tiles from the

Glazed Tiles

Circular Plaque with Duck from the Monas

Circular Plague Representing a Duck

Fragment of a peacock from the North Chu

Cornice Fragment with Peacock


Sarcophagus Fragment with Jonah
4th-5th century

This sarcophagus fragment was discovered near the Monastery of Lips. It shows the first of the three main events of Jonah’s story: being thrown from the ship and swallowed by a sea monster. Four nude men stand in the boat with a spiraling prow. One of the crew is shown holding the rudder with both hands. Another one is in the attitude of an orant, possible in accordance with Jonah 1:5 addressing the Lord. The third figure is holding the mast of the sail which is shown like a half-crescent. The last one is almost pushing an already naked Jonah into the mouth of the ‘great fish’. Ancient Jewish literature informs us that an intense heat in the belly of the monster consumed Jonah’s garments and hair and he was naked when he was vomited later. In the relief he still keeps his hair (and beard?) and his nakedness may refer to baptism or his future nakedness. In the sea another fish like a dolphin is shown.


The Monastery of Lips and the Burials of the Palaeologi by T. Macridy

Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries by V. Marinis
Tombs and Burials in the Monastery tou Libos in Constantinople by V. Marinis
Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif

Revisiting Lips Monastery: The inscription at the Theotokos Church once again by F. Spingou

Epigrams in Context: Metrical Inscriptions on Art and Architecture of the Palaiologan Era by A. Talbot

Istanbul Archaeological Museums by Fatih Cimok

Monastery of Lips Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Byzantine Churches of Constantinople (Byzantine Legacy Google Map)

Lips Monastery (Byzantium 1200)

Fenari İsa Camii (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

360 Views of Molla Fenari Camii (Fotometrik 360)

Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Lips in Constantinople (Dumbarton Oaks)

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