Turkey 2016 Part Four— The Church of St. Eirene

According to church historical evidence, there were three ‘first’ churches of Byzantine Christianity– one named for holy peace (St. Eirene which becomes St. Irene in English), one for holy wisdom (St. Sophia), and one other for holy power (St. Dynamis), which has not been found. St. Eirene is in fact the mother church which was dedicated by Constantine himself no less. It dates to the fourth century A.D. It has not been open to the public before 2014, but it is now. I have never been in this church before now. Sadly, the original mosaics of this church have not been preserved for the most part. But it is a formidable structure outside and in, and is just within the Topkapi Palace complex today. This church is the church where the Council of Constantinople took place in the summer of 381. And when it was burned during the Nika revolt in 532, it was restored by Emperor Justinian in 548. Just so you know, it pre-dates St. Peter’s in Rome by a 1,000 years! It is the real mother church of Christendom, along with perhaps the church of the Nativity that Helena, Constantine’s mother, helped found in the 4th century as well.

The church looks like this on the outside….500px-Hagia_Eirene_Constantinople_July_2007_002

There is a description of the history of the building just inside the door….eirene

The entry way is massive and impressive. eirene2 As are the aisles….eirene1

The central nave is really two storied with a barrel vault, making it excellent for music. I couldn’t resist doing a little singing of the liturgy, ‘in peace let us pray to the Lord… Lord have mercy’, in the first church which was named after the virtue of peace. If only Christians had held peace and unity in as high esteem as Jesus did, remembering he said ‘peace I give to you, not as the world gives it…’ The windows in the upper story are clear, not stained glass, as seems to have been true in all these earliest churches. eirene4eirene5 Today there is a modern back balcony staircase, but clearly enough there used to be one in antiquity as well. eirene6

Here is one of the massive columns upholding the vault….again plain, and not ornate. eirene7 In the entry way there is a little indication of the original decoration of the church….
eirene8 and there is a small courtyard too with some tombs….

A church doesn’t need to be ornate or elaborate to be a holy place, and this place definitely is numinous. You have a strong sense of the saints throughout the ages who have worshipped here back to the 4th century. Like at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem you feel at home here. Churches were originally built on the pattern of the Roman basilica buildings which were administrative in nature, and acquired the name basilica that way as well. People who assume that Constantine changed the nature of the way early Christians thought about church are fundamentally wrong. For one thing the earliest Christians were not anti-iconic (they used symbols like the cross in various forms, the ichthus, etc.) nor were they anti-edifice. What is true is that they could not much build public buildings before Christianity ceased to be a superstition or an illegal religion in the Empire. Visiting the Church of Holy Peace, is something every Christian should do one day, and they should think on their rich heritage, and about the duty to hold the faith in the bond of peace…..

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