Monastery of St. John of Pelekete

The Monastery of St. John of Pelekete is located a few kilometers west of Trigleia on the Bithynian coast of the Propontis. The monastery played a prominent role during Iconoclasm. Its name Pelekete (“hewn with an axe”) derived from its location upon a steep rock.  

The date of the monastery’s foundation is unknown. From an account about iconoclastic persecutions, it may be deduced that in the middle of the eighth century it was a large establishment with more than forty monks and more than one church. It was rebuilt after being destroyed around 764 by the iconoclastic governor of the Thrakesion theme, Lachanodrakon. At this time, a large number of monks, including the hegoumenos Theosteriktos, were arrested, tortured, and subsequently buried alive at Ephesus. Pelekete was restored by the end of the 8th century, when a certain Makarios served the monastery as scribe, oikonomos, and eventually hegoumenos. With the second outbreak of Iconoclasm around 814, Makarios was forced to leave Pelekete and suffered imprisonment and exile. His monks, however, continued their opposition to Iconoclasm even without his leadership. After the 9th century Pelekete disappears from the Byzantine sources. It appears again in historical sources in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was restored twice in the 19th century, first after being damaged by an earthquake in 1855 and again after being damaged by a fire in 1880. Earlier in the 20t century, it was used as a chicken farm, but now it is abandoned. 

The church has a rectangular plan around 15 X 12 meters. While it was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, the eastern end is original. The reconstructed plan of the modern church, though, follows the original lines of the Byzantine walls. The eastern end preserves an early version of the cross-in-square plan. The building was studied when the southeast naos column, allowing for its dome diameter to be estimated at 4 meters. The southeastern column, which was still standing in the 20th century, consisted of spolia. Fragments of a richly carved cornice date to the Early Byzantine era. Two small impost capitals decorated with crosses were found outside of the church, while the south wall of the church had two fragments of a late Roman sarcophagus or frieze with ox and ram's heads and a garland.

Parapet Slab

Roman Spolia

Plan by Mango & Ševčenko

Sources

“Some Churches and Monasteries on the Southern Shore of the Sea of Marmara” by Cyril Mango and Ihor Ševčenko

Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era (ca 680–850): The Sources by Leslie Brubaker, John Haldon

Oxford Byzantine Dictionary edited by Alexander Kazhdan

Resources

Byzantine Bithynia Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

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