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Monastery of Theotokos Peribleptos

Modern church of St. George (Surp Kevork)

The Monastery of Theotokos Peribleptos was a Middle Byzantine church in the region of Psamathia (Turkish Samatya). There is a modern Armenian church dedicated to St. George (Armenian Surp Kevork) at the location now. Its original name Peribleptos (περίβλεπτος) has been variously translated as “celebrated” or “blessed”, while its Turkish name, Sulu Manastır (“Water Monastery”), refers to its holy spring (hagiasma) located southwest of the current church. Though the original church was destroyed by a fire in 1782, substructures of the 11th century church have survived.

The monastery was built by Emperor Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034) between 1030 and 1034, who spent lavishly on the complex and was later buried there. Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1078-1081) also expanded the monastic complex. After being forced to abdicate by Alexios I Komnenos (1081–1118), he retired to the monastery and was eventually buried there. The monastery was involved in the Bogomil controversy in the 11th and 12th century. The Bogomils, called Phoundagiagites by the Byzantines, were a dualistic heresy which, according to a monk living there, Euthymios of Akmonia, supposedly had managed even to gain adherents at Peribleptos. In 1143 a monk named Niphon was condemned as a Bogomil heretic at a synod held at the monastery.

After the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, the church briefly remained in the Orthodox hands, but then became the possession of Venetian Benedictines around 1206. It seems it was restored by Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282), as it had a mosaic depiction of the emperor with his wife Theodora and son Constantine which was visible until 1782.  It was a prominent monastery during the Palaiologan period, with the imperial court visiting it on the feast of the Presentation in the Temple. It attracted many pilgrims and visitors who reported that it possessed numerous relics, including the hand of St. John the Baptist, the head of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and the jaw of St. Stephen. It is possible that some of these relics were later brought to Topkapı Palace, where several relics can be found today. Several accounts by travelers and pilgrims described the monastery, including one written by Ruy González de Clavijo, the Spanish ambassador of Henry III of Castile to the Mongolian ruler Timur who visited the monastery in 1402. The main building had a courtyard and richly decorated imperial tombs, while the monastic complex had with a large refectory and living quarters for the monks, as well as gardens and vineyards. Its refectory contained Christological mosaics and the cloister an image of the Tree of Jesse. Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) stayed in the monastery during an epidemic and during the siege of the city by Sultan Murad II.

There are various accounts of the church following the Ottoman conquest. It seems that either it remained an Orthodox possession until 1643 when it was granted the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate, or at an earlier date – later in the reign of Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481) – it became the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate. Regardless, it seems that it was a major source of conflict between the Greeks and Armenians living in the city during this period. The original 11th century katholikon survived until it was destroyed by a fire in 1782. The current church, which was finished around 1887, is also the location of an Armenian school.

Substructure of the Church

While the church was destroyed by a fire in 1782, its substructure managed to survive. There are exposed arches belong to the substructure on the slope of the hill to the south of the modern church. It seems that this substructure both formed a support for the main building and served as a terrace to counteract the sloping terrain. The type of building is still debated; it has been suggest that it had either cross-domed-octagon or the cross-in-square plan. It is also among the earliest known examples of a Byzantine structure with recessed brick. The plan of this substructure can be compared with the substructures of the monasteries of the Myrelaion and St. George of Mangana or perhaps Byzantine church-mosque Gül Mosque.

The site of the church, including the main substructure as well as a cistern and a smaller substructure, was surveyed by Ferudun Özgümüş in 1997-1998. The substructure consists of a cross-in-square plan, which possibly indicates the plan of the church above it. The naos is around 10.20 by 10.30 meters, with four piers that likely supported the church above. There is a tripartite narthex on its west end, with a cross vault over the central bay, which connects to the naos by a narrow passageway. There are barrel-vaulted corridors leading from the north and south bays. There are also corridors leading to north and south of the aisle. A second corridor leading from the north has a barrel-vaulted rectangular chamber at the end that once might have been a tomb. In addition, the bema east of the naos has corridors running to the north and south. These connect to secondary apses (one in the north, two in the south) and end in rectangular chambers. At the end of the north corridor there is a staircase leading upstairs, with another staircase possibly located to the south as well. There is another substructure is located 15-20 meters to the east of the main substructure. It is L-shaped with barrel-vaults; its east arm measures around 8.50 by 4 meters, while its west arm is approximately 9.80 by 5.30 meters. It has been suggested that this belongs to an older Byzantine structure as it is not made of recessed brick. There is also a cistern located under the southwest corner of the current church.

Entrance to the Holy Spring (Hagiasma)

Relics of St. John the Baptist at Topkap

Skull and Arm relics of St. John the Baptist at Topkapı Palace

Substructure of Peribleptos from the Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection

Account of Theotokos Peribleptos by Clavijo from 1402

“On that same day we further visited the Church of St Mary Peribleptos. Before its gateway stands a great court filled with cypresses, elms, walnut trees and many others. The main building of the church is adorned externally with numerous figures and designs richly wrought after diverse fashions in gold and blue and other colours. On the left hand side as you enter the church are several sacred pictures, among the rest a figure representing St Mary our Lady, while to right and left of the same appear the portraits of an Emperor and an Empress. Below the figure of St Mary, being at her feet, are represented thirty castles and cities, each with its name attached inscribed in the Greek character. They say that these various cities and castles are all of the lordship belonging to this church, having been conferred and granted to the same by a certain Emperor whose name was Romanus, and he lies buried elsewhere in the church. Below the figure of St Mary are seen hanging various plates of steel inscribed with the privileges that have been bestowed on this church, sealed with seals in lead and wax, and these privileges are what have been given to this church by each one of these cities and castles aforesaid.

The Church of St Mary has five altars; and in plan it is a square with a semi-circular apse loftily built, and it is very large. Columns of jasper in many colours support the roof; both the walls and the flooring being covered with slabs of jasper. The central nave is inclosed by three aisles [one being the narthex], and a single ceiling covers both nave and aisles, the same very richly wrought in mosaic work. In a corner of the church to the left is seen a great tombstone of red jasper where is buried the aforesaid Emperor Romanus, and they told us that this tomb had formerly been encased in gold and set with many precious stones, but that when some two hundred years ago the Latins were in possession of Constantinople they had plundered this tomb. Farther in the church is seen another tombstone in jasper, which is that of another Emperor. There was shown us here a relic, which is indeed the other arm of the blessed St John the Baptist, the same being the right arm, and it consisted of that limb from the elbow down to the hand. This all appeared to be still quite fresh and perfect, for it is related that when the body of the blessed St John was burnt with fire, his right hand had remained unconsumed and was later preserved: for indeed he had pointed upwards with it crying Ecce Agnus Dei [at the Baptism in Jordan]. This relic was enclosed all round with thin rods of gold, but behold the thumb was missing, and the reason that this finger-joint was wanting, according to the monks, is after this wise.”

Peribleptos Plan-Model.tiff

Plan after M. Özkaraman

Bode Museum

Marble Fountain Icon of the Theotokos 
Middle of 12th century, Peribleptos Monastery

Reliefs of the Theotokos and Archangel Michael

Third quarter of 13th century, Constantinople

Possibly from Peribleptos Monastery

Acquired from Samatya in 1899

Seal from the Monastery of Theotokos Peribleptos

See Dumbarton Oaks link for more information 

“Peribleptos (Sulu) Monastery in Istanbul” by Ferudun Özgümüş

Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries by Vasileios Marinis

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

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by A. Kazhdan

Account by Clavijo ​

Embassy to Tamerlane by Ruy González de Clavijo (translated by Guy Le Strange)

Bode Museum References

The Museum of Byzantine Art in the Bode Museum (Prestel Museum Guide)

Byzantine Churches of Constantinople Photo Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Bode Museum Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Byzantine Churches of Constantinople (Byzantine Legacy Google Map)

Sulu Manastır (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

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