History of Chora Church

The monastery, named Chora, was originally built right outside the city walls of Constantinople but kept the name Chora even after the walls were expanded by Theodosius II in 413–414. The name derives from the Greek word Hora (Greek: Χώρα) meaning “country”, “land”, referring to its location and carries a symbolic meaning as the mosaics of the church describe Christ as the Land of the Living (Η Χώρα των ζώντων) and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the Container of the Uncontainable (Η Χώρα του Ἀχωρήτου).

In 1511 the Monastery with the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks was converted into a mosque by Atik Ali Pasha. A mihrab was added in the main apse, the belfry was removed and replaced by a minaret. The name of the Chora Monastery was changed to Kariye. Due to the prohibition against iconic images in Islam all inscriptions, Christian symbols, frescoes, and mosaics were covered over with a thin layer of paint and lime.

In 1948, Thomas Whittemore and Paul A. Underwood from the Byzantine Institute of America and the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, sponsored a program of restoration to clean, restore and conserve the frescoes in Chora which had been plastered and whitewashed over repeatedly to conceal all representational imagery when the Byzantine era church was used as a mosque during the Ottoman period. The work lasted for twelve years extending throughout the 1950s. In 1958, Chora was opened to the public as a museum - Kariye Müzesi.


The Attendant Angels, Parekklesion, Chora Museum (Chora Church) in Istanbul.
The Attendant Angels located in the dome of Parekklesion's western bay, Kariye Museum (Chora Church) in Istanbul. The dome's grooves feature twelve standing figures of angels.

The church of Chora is considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of later Byzantine art!


Theodoros Metochites

Theodoros Metochites (Greek: Θεόδωρος Μετοχίτης) undertook the restoration of the monastery at the request of the emperor, a six-year project from 1316 to 1321. He rebuilt the naos dome, the cornice of which is decorated with his monograms, including the surviving marble revetments and floors as well as the partially surviving mosaics. He added to the shell of an older church new pastophoria (the small chapels to either side of the sanctuary), a two-storied annex to the north side of the naos, two narthexes lavishly outfitted with marbles and mosaics, as well as the parekklesion decorated with frescoes. At the southwest corner where the minaret now rises a belfry was constructed and decorated with Metochites' monograms.

Theodoros Metochites’ contribution of rebuilding and restoring Chora was extensive.

Theodoros Metochites was born in Constantinople in 1270 as the son of the archdeacon George Metochites. After the Second Council of Blachernae his father was condemned and exiled, and Metochites seems to have spent his adolescence in the monastic milieux of Bithynia in Asia Minor where he continued and completed his general education. At an early age he wanted to be a scholar and he studied philosophy, sacred books, ancient literature and theology. He was a prolific writer and scholar, leaving behind works of rhetoric, poems, eighteen orations, commentaries on Aristotle’s writings on natural philosophy, an introduction to the study of Ptolemaic astronomy, and 120 essays on various subjects.

Favored by Emperor Andronikos II Paleologos, in 1304, Metochites was appointed to the highest position of the Byzantine administration as chancellor with duties equivalent to chancellor or prime minister which he held until 1321. Metochites's career ended when the emperor was deposed and was exiled by the new Emperor Andronikos III Paleologos in Thrake where he lived for two years. In 1330 he was granted permission to return to Constantinople and was confined in the Chora monastery. He died poor in 1332 having taken monastic vows as the monk Theoleptos. He was buried in the Chora's parekklesion in a tomb he had prepared for himself. (Reference: Robert Ousterhout, "The Kariye Camii, Introduction")


Theodore Metochites and the Enthroned Christ, Kariye Museum (Chora Church) in Istanbul
Kariye Museum (Chora Church) in Istanbul, Theodore Metochites presenting to the Donor Jesus Christ. On both sides of Jesus’s head, the monogram of Jesus’ name is written (Greek: ΙΣ ΧΣ) and below the inscription reads, The Land of the Living (Greek: Η Χώρα των Ζώντων). The inscription behind the donor writes, “The Founder, the Logothete of the Genikon, Theodore Metochites”.