GHOST CHURCH 3: MY SEARCH FOR THE CHURCH

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ST JACOB’S CHAPEL

Once lush with fresco, most of it is bare dirt-encrusted brick, an octagon chapel around a massive solid brick octagon pier, lime-mortared, indestructible. God knows what it held up. A baptistry? An obelisk? A statue?

Arch Pier

St Jacob’s owners have taken excellent care of it since they acquired the property in the 1930s, and many scholars have studied it.  Traces of frescoes remain, still lovely, if you squint a bit.

St Jacobs Garland ©2014 Trici Venola
St Jacobs Garland ©2014 Trici Venola

Fifth-century frescoes are rare in Istanbul. They may have looked like this Jesus, from an early-Christian Armenian church:

Jesus Armenia

Here’s a first take on St Jacob’s done back in 2007, a crumbling frescoed halo catching the light, a kindly cowled face imagined for no reason, in the shadows where once there was a doorway leading… where?

In St Jacob's Chapel ©2014 Trici Venola
In St Jacob’s Chapel ©2007 Trici Venola

Friends opened a hotel next door. They found Byzantium in their basement, too.

Flashlight glimpse

Just down the street is Zeynep Sultan Camii (Mosque), its wavy roof echoing that of Kalendarhane Camii up the hill. While drawing Zeynep Sultan back in 2004, I learned that the neighborhood was called in Byzantine times Chalkoprateia, and that it was the Bronze District, where Jewish craftsmen created and sold bronze items. Kalendarhane was restored in the 18th century… Zeynep Sultan was built in 1769. Was it built on the site of a vanished church? Or was the church over St Jacob’s Chapel? 

Zeynep Sultan ©2004 Trici Venola
Zeynep Sultan ©2004 Trici Venola

As usual, sources differ as to whether the octagon chapel is St Jacob’s or St James. Was there, perhaps, another chapel? Same size, nearby? A little digging produced this schematic from the 1960s, based, say St Jacob’s owners, on one from the 1920s.

Panagia floorplan

It’s astonishing how accurate this is, considering that the authors did not have access to Google Maps. Some merged screen dumps produced this overview of the area:

TheoChalk Comp 3a

See the parking lot at center? The tramline runs down the right, and Hagia Sophia, not shown, is just beyond it. The Basilica Cistern is under that large rough pale area bottom center. That tiny circle top right is Zeynep Sultan’s dome.

Here it is with those little clues, examined in the previous post. Hm.

TheoChalk Comp 3b

Hours of manipulating images produced this superimposition. And cold chills.

TheoChalk Comp 3

Holy Mother of God.

NEXT: GHOST CHURCH 4: THE FLOATING ROBE OF POWER

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