(THE CHURCH OF THE PANTOCRATOR)
The Church of the Pantocrator, known as Molla Zeyrek Mosque, is an important ancient Byzantine church. Converted into a mosque at the time of the Conqueror, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the construction of this building dates back to the first quarter of the 12th century. Today it is in a sadly neglected state.
The church is actually three churches in one, which made it the second largest church in Istanbul after St. Sophia. The first of the three churches to be built was the Pantocrator to the south. It was commissioned by the Empress Eirene, wife of Emperor Comnenos II. After her death, her husband decided to build another church here, and a church named Mary was constructed a few strides away. Thus there were two churches very close together. Emperor Comnenos decided to unite the two and between them he had a chapel built, the smallest of the three.
After the chapel was finished, Inoannis Comnenos had a narthex built last. This was most probably done to extend the front of the church, but now it stands strangely in the middle of the building. It is here that one enters the church. The narthex of the southern and northern churches close off the front of the chapel, meeting in the middle. The north church has three abscissas. Ottomans have replaced the old columns with ‘paye. The plan of the Orthodox cross is obvious. Much of the marble flooring and wall covering remain.
The chapel in the center was planned to serve as a mausoleum for the Comnenos dynasty, and the place of the tomb is apparent today. Being so small, the middle chapel has no side naves and only one abscissa, but it has two domes, one of which is the largest of the church. The interior decoration of the chapel has been completely obliterated and its columns were replaced by “paye”. When the three churches were united, the walls were torn down to make a single space. At the time of the Conqueror the whole church was converted into a mosque. Now, however, only the north part is used as a mosque. After the conquest of Istanbul, before Fatih Sultan Mehmet built his own mosque complex, the standing buildings of the Pantocrator were made into a medressa. An important scholar of the time, Zeyrek Mehmet Efendi, became its director. Therefore both the building and the district are called “Zeyrek.”
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