Essential Architecture-  Turkey

Saint Thekla, Toklou Ibrahim Dedé Mesjedi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church



In the quarter of Aivan Serai, a few paces to the rear of the Heraclian Wall, stands a small mosque known as Toklou Ibrahim Dedé Mesjedi, the architectural features of which proclaim it at once to be an old Byzantine chapel. There is no decisive tradition in regard to the identity of the building. The Patriarch Constantius is uncertain whether it should be recognised as the church of S. Nicholas or as the church of S. Thekla, two sanctuaries situated in the quarter of Blachernae. It cannot have been the former, inasmuch as the site of that church was near the Holy Well, still venerated by Christians and Moslems, in the area enclosed between the Wall of Heraclius and the Wall of Leo the Armenian, now a picturesque Turkish cemetery. One argument for regarding the building as the church of S. Thekla, in this part of the city, is the striking similarity of its Turkish name Toklou to the Greek name Thekla, rendering it exceedingly probable that the former is a corruption of the latter, and a reminiscence of the original designation of the edifice. Turkish authorities, however, have their own explanation of the name Toklou. In the Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Achmed Rifaat Effendi, we are told that a certain Toklou Dedé was the guardian of the tombs of the companions of Khaled, who took part in the first siege of Constantinople (673) by the Saracens. 'His real name was Ghazi Ismail; Dogulu was his nickname. Now Dogh is the Persian for a drink named Airan (a mixture of curds and water), and he was called Dogulu Dedé because during the siege his business was to distribute that drink to the troops. At his request a Christian church near Aivan Serai was converted into a mosque. The church was formerly named after its founder, Isakias. Another Turkish explanation of Toklou derives the epithet from the rare Turkish term for a yearling lamb, and accounts for its bestowal upon Ibrahim Dedé as a pet name given in gratitude for his services to the thirsty soldiers engaged in the siege of the city. In keeping with these stories is the tradition that the cemetery in the area between the Walls of Heraclius and Leo V. the Armenian, is the resting-place of Saracen warriors who fell in the siege of 673. But have we not here the fancy-bred tales which Oriental imagination weaves to veil its ignorance of real facts? When etymology or history fails, romance is substituted. We may as well believe the tradition that the body of Eyoub, the standard-bearer of Mahomet, lies buried at the head of the Golden Horn, in the mosque of Eyoub, where the Sultan girds the sword on his accession to the throne. No Moslem graves could have been tolerated between the lines of the city's fortification in Byzantine days. The cemetery between the old walls near Toklou Ibrahim Dedé Mesjedi must therefore be later than the Turkish conquest. And as soon as Moslems were laid there, it was almost inevitable that a church in the immediate neighbourhood should either be destroyed or converted into a mosque. By what name that mosque would thenceforth become known was, of course, an open question. The new name might be purely Turkish. But when it sounds like the echo of a name which we know belonged to a Byzantine building in this quarter of the city before Turkish times, it is more reasonable to regard the new name as a transformation of the earlier Greek term, than to derive it from fine-spun etymological fancies and historical blunders. The identification, therefore, of Toklou Ibrahim Dedé Mesjedi with the church of S. Thekla, on the ground of the similarity of the two names, has a strong presumption in its favour.


S. Thekla. North side, from the north-west.

S. Thekla.
North Side, from the north-west.

S. Thekla. East end.

S. Thekla.
East End.



(Chapter XIII.)


On page 209, note 3, I have said that if the mosque Aivas Effendi (more correctly Ivaz Effendi), which is situated behind the Tower of Isaac Angelus within the old area of the palace of Blachernae, could be proved to stand on the site of a church, the argument in favour of the identification of the Church of S. Thekla with Toklou Dedé Mesjedi would be weakened. Since this book went to the press, my learned friend Mr. X. A. Siderides has shown me a passage in the historical work of Mustapha Effendi of Salonica, published in 1865, where the mosque of Ivaz Effendi is described as a church converted into a mosque by a certain Ivaz Effendi who died in 1586, at the age of ninety. In that case we should have a Christian sanctuary whose position corresponded strictly with the position occupied by the Church of S. Thekla "in the palace of Blachernae," an indication not exactly accurate in regard to Toklou Dedé Mesjedi. In view of the late date of Mustapha Effendi's work, and the absence, so far as I can judge, of Byzantine features in the structure of the mosque, it is difficult to decide if the arguments in favour of the identification of the Church of S. Thekla with Toklou Dedé Mesjedi are entirely overthrown by the statement of Mustapha Effendi.


A second consideration in support of this identification is the statement made by Achmed Rifaat Effendi, that before the church became a mosque it was known by the name of its founder, 'Isakias.' For it is a matter of history that the church of S. Thekla was restored by the Emperor Isaac Comnenus in the eleventh century. The association of his name with the building was therefore perfectly natural, if the building is indeed the old church of S. Thekla, otherwise it is difficult to account for that association.


There is, however, one objection to this identification that must not be overlooked. According to Byzantine authorities, the church of S. Thekla stood in the palace of Blachernae. That palace occupied the heights above Aivan Serai, on which the quarter of Egri Kapou and the mosque of Aivas Effendi now stand, within the walls that enclose the western spur of the Sixth Hill. Toklou Ibrahim Dedé Mesjedi, however, does not stand within that enclosure, but immediately to the north of it, on the level tract that stretches from the foot of the Sixth Hill to the Golden Horn. If the reasons in favour of regarding the mosque as S. Thekla were less strong, this objection would, perhaps, be fatal. But the strip of land between the northern wall of the palace enclosure and the sea is so narrow, and was so closely connected with the life of the imperial residence, that a building on that tract might with pardonable inaccuracy be described, as 'in the palace.


The church is mentioned for the first time in the earlier half of the eighth century as a chapel which Thekla, the eldest daughter of the Emperor Theophilus, restored and attached to her residence at Blachernae. The princess was an invalid, and doubtless retired to this part of the city for the sake of its mild climate. To dedicate the chapel to her patron saint was only natural. As already intimated, the church was rebuilt from the foundations, in the eleventh century, by Isaac Comnenus, in devout gratitude for his escape from imminent death in the course of his campaign against the barbarous tribes beside the Danube, when he was overtaken at the foot of the Lovitz mountain by a furious tempest of rain and snow. The plain on which his army was encamped soon became a sheet of water, and many of his men and animals were drowned or frozen to death. Thunder, lightning, and hurricane combined to produce an awful scene, and there were moments when the whole world seemed on fire. The emperor took shelter under a large oak, but, fearing the tree might be thrown down by the furious wind, he soon made for open ground. Scarcely had he done so when the oak was torn up by the roots and hurled to the earth. A few moments later the emperor would have been killed. This narrow escape occurred on the 24th September, the festival day of S. Thekla, and, therefore, attributing his deliverance to her intervention, Isaac rebuilt and greatly beautified the old sanctuary dedicated to her in Blachernae, and frequently attended services there in her honour. Anna Comnena speaks of the restored church in the highest terms. According to her it was built at great cost, displayed rare art, and was in every way worthy of the occasion which led to its erection. Zonaras is not so complimentary. He describes the church as a monument of the niggardliness of Isaac Comnenus. In any case, it was pulled down and rebuilt in the following century by the Emperor John Comnenus in splendid style, and dedicated to the Saviour. As the beauty and wealth of a Byzantine sanctuary were exhibited in the lavish adornment of the interior, it is possible that the church of S. Thekla, though small and outwardly plain, may have been a beautiful and rich building in its latest Christian character. It had then the honour of seeing among the worshippers before its altar Anna Dalassena, the mother of the Comneni. For, when charged with the government of the Empire during the absence of Alexius Comnenus from the capital, that able woman came often to pray in this church, 'lest she should be immersed in merely secular affairs.


Architectural Features

The building is an oblong hall, m. 13.55 by m. 5.4, divided into three compartments. It is now covered with a wooden roof, but the arrangements of the breaks or pilasters on the walls indicate that it had originally a dome. At the east end is a single apse, the usual side-apses being represented by two niches. The western compartment served as a narthex. During the repairs of the mosque in 1890, frescoes of the eikons which once decorated the walls were brought to view. On the exterior the apse shows three sides, crowned with a corbelled cornice. The central side is pierced by a window of good workmanship, divided by a shaft into two lights, and above the window are two short blind concave niches. High blind concave niches indent the other sides of the apse. In the northern wall are the remains of a triple window, divided by shafts built in courses. Above this is a row of three small windows.

Text quoted from-
Byzantine Churches in Constantinople, Their History and Architecture.
MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited, London, 1912.
by Alexander Van Millingen and Ramsay Traquair and W. S. George and A. E. Henderson.