Vefa Church-Mosque

Vefa Church-Mosque (Turkish Vefa Kilise Camii or Molla Gürani Camii) was a Middle Byzantine church in Constantinople, north of the Valens of Aqueduct. It is a typical cross-in-square with a tripartite bema, a nine-bay naos with the central bay topped by an elegant dome, and a three-bay narthex. While it has traditionally been identified as the church of St. Theodore, its identity is uncertain. It seems that it was converted into a mosque by Sheikh al-Islam Mullah Gürani during the reign of Mehmet II or Beyazid II.
It probably dates to the 11th or 12th century.

Several additions were made in the Palaiologan era (perhaps in the 13th century), the most important of which was a five-bay outer narthex with three domes. A belfry, whose base survives, was added at the same period in the southwestern corner of the building. The two-story annex on the north side predates the construction of the exonarthex. A similar structure is found in the Monastery of Chora. Nineteenth-century drawings show that there was a chapel or a colonnaded portico, which has since disappeared, attached to the south of the church. It was accessed by a large tripartite opening, which is now blocked by masonry. The date of this structure is debated. 
The exonarthex preserves some of its original mosaic decoration (dating to the Palaiologan era). The apex of the southern dome has an image of the Theotokos and Christ child with eight ancestors of Christ in the flutes of the dome. Fragmentary mosaics were also found in the central dome. 


Photo by David Talbot-Rice 

From Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

From Byzantine Studies by Paspates (1877)

Ebersolt & Thiers (1910)

Ebersolt & Thiers (1910)

Gepid Gravestone

Recently a gravestone of the Gepid king Thrasarich was discovered Vefa Church-Mosque. The inscription has been interpreted as follows:

Here lies Thrasarich of (glorious) memory, count of the domestici, king of the Gepids, (son of?) Thraustila of (glorious?) memory, who lived ( ...) (years) ( ...) sixth ( ...)

The Gepids were a Germanic tribe that ruled from Sirmium until being defeated by the Goths in 504. They came to rule over this area after they defeated in Huns in 454 following the death of Attila.

Thrasarich succeeded his father Thraustila after he was killed by Theodoric in 488. Thraustila had previously succeeded his brother Giesmos as his, Mundos, was very young. Mundos, the cousin of Thrasarich, later came to serve Emperor Justinian I as a general. He was involved in several battles in the Balkans and even played a role supporting Justinian during the Nika Riots in Constantinople in 532.

The career of Mundos, along with the discovery of this gravestone, sheds new light on the life and career of Thrasarich. The presence of his gravestone indicates that Thrasarich died in Constantinople after being welcomed by the Byzantines who gave him an official military title. It seems that Thrasarich offered allegiance to the Byzantine Empire, like his cousin Mundos, after the fall of Sirmium to the Goths in 504.


Gravestone of a Gepid King
6th century, marble

Reconstruction of Greek Inscription

Plan by Marinis

Map 2.jpg


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

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

Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif

Gravestone Sources

An Epitaph of a Gepid king at Vefa Kilise Camii in Istanbul by H. Çeti̇nkaya

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan


Vefa Church Mosque Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Vefa Kilise Camii (NYU Byzantine Churches of Istanbul)

Kilise Camii (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016