Essential Architecture-  Turkey

Saint Theodore, Kilissi Mesjedi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church
Vefa Kilise Mosque , The Church of St. Theodore

Vefa Church Mosque (Turkish: Vefa Church Mosque, meaning "the church mosque of Loyalty", to distinguish it from the other churches mosques of Istanbul: Blue Mosque also known as Mullah Gürani after the name of his founder) is a former Eastern Orthodox church.The conversion took place during the reign of Mehmed 2, It was Molla Gürani, sheikulislam, who transformed the church into a waqf founded in 1484 by mosque. A Gürani and signed by Mullah Ali bin Yusuf-ul Fenari, provided for the upkeep of this structure with income from a group of buildings in the mahalle of Sheik Vefa.



High up the western slope of the Third Hill, in a quiet Turkish quarter reached by a narrow street leading off Vefa Meidan, stands a small but graceful Byzantine church, known since its use as a mosque by the style Kilissi Mesjedi. Authorities differ in regard to its dedication. Gyllius was told that the church had been dedicated to S. Theodore. On the other hand, Le Noir, on the strength of information furnished by Greek friends, and after him Bayet, Fergusson, Salzenberg, claim it as the church of the Theotokos of Lips. But the church of that dedication was certainly elsewhere. Mordtmann suggests that we have here the church of S. Anastasia Pharmacolytria and supports his view by the following argument. In the first place the church of S. Theodore the Tiro was situated in the quarter of Sphorakius, which was in the immediate vicinity of S. Sophia, and therefore not near Vefa Meidan. Secondly, the indications given by Antony of Novgorod and by the Anonymus of the eleventh century respecting the position of S. Anastasia point to the site of Kilissi Mesjedi. The fact that the church was ever supposed to be dedicated to S. Theodore is, in Mordtmann's opinion, a mistake occasioned by the circumstance that both S. Theodore and S. Anastasia were credited with the power of exposing sorcery and frauds, so that a church associated with one of these saints might readily be transferred to the other, especially in the confusion which followed the Turkish conquest.


In reply to this line of argument, it may be urged, first, that the presence of a church of S. Theodore in the district of Sphorakius does not prevent the existence of a church with a similar dedication in another part of the city. S. Theodore was a popular saint. There was a church named after him in the district of Claudius; another church built in his honour stood in the district Carbounaria; the private chapel of the emperors in the Great Palace was dedicated to S. Theodore; and according to Phrantzes, a church dedicated at once to S. Theodore the Tiro and S. Theodore the General, as at Athens, was erected in Constantinople in his day. As to the indications supposed to favour the view that the church of S. Anastasia stood at Kilissi Mesjedi, they are, to say the least, exceedingly vague and inconclusive. According to Antony of Novgorod the shrine of S. Anastasia was found near the church of the Pantokrator, on the Fourth Hill, whereas Kilissi Mesjedi stands on the Third Hill. Furthermore, the order in which the Anonymus refers to the church of S. Anastasia Pharmacolytria, immediately before the Leomacellum, which Mordtmann identifies with the Et Meidan, would allow us to place S. Anastasia in the valley of the Lycus. Under these circumstances it is wiser to accept the information given to Gyllius as correct; for while the Greeks of his day were not infallible in their identification of the buildings of the city, there is no evidence that they were mistaken in this particular case.


S. Theodore. North End of the Western Façade.

S. Theodore.
North End of the Western Façade.

S. Theodore. The Church, from the north-west.

S. Theodore.
The Church, from the north-west.


Paspates agrees so far with this view, but maintains, at the same time, that the building was the church of S. Theodore 'in the district of Sphorakius.' That identification is inadmissible, for beyond all dispute the district of Sphorakius stood close to S. Sophia and not at Vefa Meidan. Mühlmann likewise regards Kilissi Mesjedi as a church of S. Theodore, and identifies it with the church dedicated to that saint in the district of Carbounaria. This is possible, although the Anonymus mentions the Carbounaria before the Anemodoulion and the forum of Taurus (the region of the Turkish War Office), and consequently suggests a position for the Carbounaria much farther to the east than Vefa Meidan. Still the order in which the Anonymus mentions places and monuments cannot be confidently appealed to as coincident with their relative positions.

Details from the Church.

Fig. 81.

To which of the many saints named Theodore in the Greek Calendar this church was actually dedicated is a point open to discussion, but we cannot go far wrong in ascribing it to one of the two most prominent saints of that name, or, as sometimes was the case, to both of them, S. Theodore the Tiro and S. Theodore the General. The former was a young soldier in the Roman army who was tortured and put to death in 306 for not taking part in the persecution  of Christians under Maximian. The latter was a general in the army of Licinius, and won the martyr's crown for refusing to sacrifice to false gods, and for breaking their images in pieces. He was the titular saint of the great church in Venice before that honour was bestowed upon S. Mark the Evangelist. His relics were carried to Venice from Constantinople in 1260, and his figure still stands on one of the columns in the Piazzetta of S. Mark, with the attribute of a dragon or a crocodile, symbolic of the false gods he destroyed.


Architectural Features


The church is a good example of the 'four column' type, with an outer and an inner narthex. The former is in five bays, and extends to the north and south, by one bay, beyond the inner narthex and the body of the church. The terminal bays, it would seem, led to cloisters built against the exterior of the northern and southern sides of the building. Le Noir and Salzenberg show a cloister along the south side of the church, with four columns and an apse at its end. The central bay and the two terminal bays are covered with domes on high drums, without windows. The dome of the central bay has sixteen lobed bays, while its companions have each eight flat ribs. All traces of the mosaics which Salzenberg saw in the central dome have disappeared. On the exterior the three domes are octagonal, decorated with flat niches and angle shafts supporting an arched cornice. The exonarthex deserves special attentions on account of its façade. It is a fine composition of two triple arcades, separated by a solid piece of masonry containing the door. On either side of the door, and on the piers at each end of the façade, are slender flat niches, similar to those which occur in S. Mark's, Venice. The finely carved capitals of the columns differ in type, the two northern being a variant of the 'melon type,' the pair to the south being Corinthian. They are probably old  capitals re-used. Throughout the building are traces of stones from some older building recut or adapted to the present church. Between the columns is a breastwork of carved marble slabs similar in style to those seen in S. Mark's and in S. Fosca, Torcello. The upper part of the façade does not correspond to the composition below it, but follows the divisions of the internal vaulting. It is in five circular-arched bays, each containing an arched window. The infilling is of brick in various patterns. The cornice looks Turkish. While the masonry of the lower portion of the arcade is in alternate courses of one stone and two bricks, that of the upper portion has alternate courses of one stone and three bricks. Moreover, while the design of the upper portion is determined by the vaulting of the narthex, the lower portion takes a more independent line. These differences may indicate different periods of construction, but we find a similar type of design in other Byzantine buildings, as, for example, in the walls of the palace of the Porphyrogenitus, where the different stories are distinct in design, and do not closely correspond to one another. The outer narthex of S. Theodore may have been built entirely at one time, or its upper story, vaults, and domes may have been added to an already existing lower story. But in any case, notwithstanding all possible adverse criticism, the total effect produced by the façade is pleasing. It presents a noteworthy and successful attempt to relieve the ordinary plainness and heaviness of a Byzantine church exterior, and to give that exterior some grace and beauty. The effect is the more impressive because the narthex is raised considerably above the level of the ground and reached by a flight of steps. 'Taking it altogether,' says Fergusson, it is perhaps the most complete and elegant church of its class now known to exist in or near the capital, and many of its details are of great beauty and perfection.


S. Theodore. The Central Dome, from the south.

S. Theodore.
The Central Dome, from the south

S. Theodore. The Western Façade, from the south.

S. Theodore.
The Western Façade, from the south.


The esonarthex is in three bays covered with barrel vaults, and terminates at both ends in a shallow niche. The outer arches spring from square buttresses. From  each bay a door conducts into the church, the central door being set in a marble frame and flanked by two Corinthian columns, which support a bold wall arcade.


The drum of the dome is a polygon of twelve sides, and was lighted by the same number of windows. It rests on four columns, which were originally square, but now have large champs at the angles, dying out at top and bottom. Barrel vaults cover the arms of the cross, and dome vaults surmount the chambers at its angles. As in the Pantokrator, the eastern arm is pierced by two windows in the vaulting surface. The central apse is lighted by a triple window, having oblong shafts, circular on their inner and outer faces, and bearing capitals now badly injured. A niche indents the northern, eastern, and southern interior walls of the apsidal chapels. The windows in the northern and southern walls of the church have been built up almost to their full height, leaving only small openings for light at the top. There can be little doubt that they were triple windows with a parapet of carved marble slabs between the shafts. On the exterior the apse shows five sides, and is decorated by an arcade of five arches and an upper tier of five niches. The lateral apses do not project beyond the face of the eastern wall, but are slightly marked out by cutting back the sides and forming angular grooves. Bayet assigns the church to the ninth or tenth century, the age of Leo the Wise and Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Fergusson is of the same opinion so far as the earlier portions of the building are concerned. But that date is based on the mistaken view that the building is the church of the Theotokos erected by Constantine Lips. Diehl assigns the church to the second half of the eleventh century.


S. Theodore. South Cross Arm (exterior), from the south-east.

S. Theodore.
South Cross Arm (exterior), from the south-east.

S. Theodore. The East End, from the south.

S. Theodore.
The East End, from the south.

 Plan of the Church by Texier.

Fig. 82.—S. Theodore. Plan as given by Texier

Part of South Elevation showing the Side Chapel by Texier.

Fig. 83.—S. Theodore. Part of South Elevation showing the Side Chapel as given by Texier


In the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in London, are four volumes of Texier's sketches and drawings of buildings in or near Constantinople. In that collection is found a complete set of drawings of this church, showing a chapel on both the north and south sides of the building, and even giving measurements on the south  side. Texier's drawings are unfortunately very inaccurate, so that little trust can be placed in any of them. In addition to the plan of the church an elevation is given, and two sketches covered with indications of elaborate decoration, but evidently quite imaginary. The chapel on the north side is noticed by no other writer, and was probably added by Texier for the sake of symmetry. That on the south side, as shown by him, differs in some respects from Salzenberg. The only thing certain is that a side chapel did exist here.


This church presents a good example of the greater interest taken during the later Byzantine period in the external appearance of a church. To the exterior of the walls and the apses some decoration is now applied. The dome is raised on a polygonal drum, with shafts at its angles, and an arched cornice over its windows; the roof gains more diversity of form and elevation by the multiplication of domes, by the protrusion of the vaults of the cross arms and of the apses, thus making the outward garb, so to speak, of the building correspond more closely to the figure and proportions of its inner body. In all this we have not yet reached the animation and grace of a Gothic cathedral, nor the stateliness that crowns an imperial mosque; but there is, at all events, a decided advance towards a fuller expression of artistic feeling.


S. Theodore. Capital on the Southernmost Column in the Façade.

S. Theodore.
Capital on the Southernmost Column in the Façade.

S. Theodore. Capital in the Façade of the Narthex.

S. Theodore.
Capital in the Façade of the Narthex.

Plan of the Church.-Longitudinal Section.

Figs. 84 and 85.

Front Elevation—South Elevation.

Figs. 86 and 87.

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.