In a vacant lot of ground on the eastern declivity of the hill above the quarter of Balat, and at a short distance to the east of a mass of rock known as Kesmé Kaya, stands a Byzantine chapel to which the name Bogdan Serai clings. Although now degraded to the uses of a cow-house it retains considerable interest. Its name recalls the fact that the building once formed the private chapel attached to the residence of the envoys of the hospodars of Moldavia (in Turkish Bogdan) at the Sublime Porte; just as the style Vlach Serai given to the church of the Virgin, lower down the hill and nearer the Golden Horn, is derived from the residence of the envoys of the Wallachian hospodars with which that church was connected. According to Hypselantes, the Moldavian residence was erected early in the sixteenth century by Teutal Longophetes, the envoy who presented the submission of his country to Suleiman the Magnificent at Buda in 1516, when the Sultan was on his way to the siege of Vienna. Upon the return of Suleiman to Constantinople the hospodar of the principality came in person to the capital to pay tribute, and to be invested in his office with the insignia of two horse-tails, a fur coat, and the head-dress of a commander in the corps of janissaries. Gerlach 485 gives another account of the matter. According to his informants, the mansion belonged originally to a certain Raoul, who had emigrated to Russia in 1518, and after his death was purchased by Michael Cantacuzene as a home for the Moldavian envoys. It must have been an attractive house, surrounded by large grounds, and enjoying a superb view of the city and the Golden Horn. It was burnt 486 in the fire which devastated the district on the 25th June 1784, and since that catastrophe its grounds have been converted into market gardens or left waste, and its chapel has been a desecrated pile. But its proud name still haunts the site, calling to mind political relations which have long ceased to exist. The chapel stood at the north-western end of the residence and formed an integral part of the structure. For high up in the exterior side of the south-eastern wall are the mortises which held the beams supporting the floor of the upper story of the residence; while lower down in the same wall is a doorway which communicated with the residence on that level. Some of the substructures of the residence are still visible. It is not impossible that the house, or at least some portion of it, was an old Byzantine mansion. Mordtmann, 487 indeed, suggests that it was the palace to which Phrantzes refers under the name Trullus . But that palace stood to the north of the church of the Pammakaristos (Fetiyeh Jamissi), and had disappeared when Phrantzes wrote. Gerlach, moreover, following the opinion of his Greek friends, distinguishes between the Trullus and the Moldavian residence, and places the site of the former near the Byzantine chapel now converted into Achmed Pasha Mesjedi, to the south of the church of the Pammakaristos.
Apse of the Upper Chapel.
A Pendentive of the Dome.
The Chapel from the north-west
Opinions differ in regard to the dedication of the chapel. Paspates, 491 following the view current among the gardeners who cultivated the market-gardens in the neighbourhood, maintained that the chapel was dedicated to S. Nicholas. Hence the late Canon Curtis, of the Crimean Memorial Church in Constantinople, believed that this was the church of SS. Nicholas and Augustine of Canterbury, founded by a Saxon noble who fled to Constantinople after the Norman conquest of England. What is certain is that in the seventeenth century the chapel was dedicated to the Theotokos. Du Cange mentions it under the name, Ecclesia Deiparae Serai Bogdaniae.
Mordtmann has proved that Bogdan Serai marks the site of the celebrated monastery and church of S. John the Baptist in Petra,—the title 'in Petra' being derived from the neighbouring mass of rock, which the Byzantines knew as Παλαιὰ Πέτρα, and which the Turks style Kesmé Kaya, the Chopped Rock.
According to a member of the monastery, who flourished in the eleventh century, the House was founded by a monk named Bara in the reign of Anastasius I. (491-518) near an old half-ruined chapel dedicated to S. John the Baptist, in what was then a lonely quarter of the city, between the Gate of S. Romanus (Top Kapoussi) and Blachernae. The monastery becomes conspicuous in the narratives of the Russian pilgrims to the shrines of the city, under the designation, the monastery of S. John, Rich-in-God, because the institution was unendowed and dependent upon the freewill offerings of the faithful, which 'by the grace of God and the care and prayers of John' were generous. Thrice a year, on the festivals of the Baptist and at Easter, the public was admitted to the monastery and hospitably entertained. It seems to have suffered during the Latin occupation, for it is described in the reign of Andronicus II. as standing abandoned in a vineyard. But it was restored, and attracted visitors by the beauty of its mosaics and the sanctity of its relics.
In 1381 a patriarchal decision conferred upon the abbot the titles of archimandrite and protosyngellos, and gave him the third place in the order of precedence among the chiefs of the monasteries of the city, 'that thus the outward honours of the house might reflect the virtue and piety which adorned its inner life. Owing to the proximity of the house to the landward walls, it was one of the first shrines to become the spoil of the Turks on the 29th of May 1453, and was soon used as a quarry to furnish materials for new buildings after the conquest. Gyllius visited the ruins, and mistaking the fabric for the church of S. John the Baptist at the Hebdomon, gave rise to the serious error of placing that suburb in this part of the city instead of at Makrikeui beside the Sea of Marmora. Gerlach describes the church as closed because near a mosque. Portions, however, of the monastic buildings and of the strong wall around them still survived, and eikons of celebrated saints still decorated the porch. On an eikon of Christ the title of the monastery, Petra, was inscribed. Some of the old cells were then occupied by nuns, who were maintained by the charitable gifts of wealthy members of the Greek community.
The building is in two stories, and may be described as a chapel over a crypt. It points north-east, a peculiar orientation probably due to the adaptation of the chapel to the position of the residence with which it was associated. The masonry is very fine and regular, built in courses of squared stone alternating with four courses of brick, all laid in thick mortar joints, and pierced with numerous putlog holes running through the walls. It presents a striking likeness to the masonry in the fortifications of the city. The lower story is an oblong hall covered with a barrel vault, and terminates in an arch and apse. In the west side of one of the jambs of the arch is a small niche. The vault for one-third of its height is formed by three courses of stone laid horizontally and cut to the circle; above this it is of brick with radiating joints. Here cows are kept.
The upper story is m. 3.75 above the present level of the ground. It is a single hall m. 8.80 in length and m. 3.70 wide, terminating in a bema and a circular apse in brick. Over the bema is a barrel vault. A dome, without drum or windows, resting on two shallow flat arches in the lateral walls and two deep transverse arches strengthened by a second order of arches, covers the building. In the wall towards the north-west there is a window between two low niches; and a similar arrangement is seen in the opposite wall, except that the door which communicated with the residence occupies the place of the window. The apsidal chambers, usual in a church, are here represented by two niches in the bema. Externally the apse shows five sides, and is decorated by a flat niche pierced by a single light in the central side, and a blind concave niche, with head of patterned brickwork, in the two adjacent sides. The dome, apse, vaults, and transverse arches are in brick, laid in true radiating courses. The absence of windows in the dome is an unusual feature, which occurs also in the angle domes of S. Theodosia. The pendentives are in horizontal courses, corbelled out to the centre, and at each angle of the pendentives is embedded an earthenware jar, either for the sake of lightness, or to improve, as some think, the acoustics of the building. This story of the chapel is used as a hayloft.
A careful survey of the building shows clearly that the domical character of the chapel is not original, and that the structure when first erected was a simple hall covered with a wooden roof. Both the shallow wall arches and the deep transverse arches under the dome are insertions in the walls of an older fabric. They are not supported on pilasters, as is the practice elsewhere, but rest on corbels, and, in order to accommodate these corbels, the lateral niches, originally of the same height as the central window, have been reduced in height. A fragment of the original arch still remains, cut into by the wall arch of the dome. The flat secondary arches crossing the chapel at each end are similarly supported on corbels.
This view is confirmed by the examination of the plaster left upon the walls. That plaster has four distinct coats or layers, upon all of which eikons in tempera are painted. 499 The innermost coat is laid between the transverse dome arches and the walls against which they are built. Those arches, therefore, could not have formed parts of the building when the first coat of plaster was laid, but must be later additions.
In keeping with this fact, the second coat of painted plaster is found laid both on the arches and on those portions of the old work which the arches did not cover.
The secondary arches under the transverse arches at each end belong to a yet later period, for where they have separated from the arches above them, decorated plaster, which at one time formed part of the general ornamentation of the building, is exposed to view. At this stage in the history of the chapel the third coat of plaster was spread over the walls, thus giving three coats on the oldest parts where unaltered—two coats on the first alterations, and one coat on the second alterations. The fourth coat of plaster is still later, marking some less serious repair of the chapel.
The voussoirs of the lateral dome arches should be noticed. They do not radiate to the centre, but are laid flatter and radiate to a point above the centre. This form of construction, occurring frequently in Byzantine arches, is regarded by some authorities as a method of forming an arch without centering. But in the case of the lateral wall arches before us it occurs where centering could never have been required; while the apse arch, where centering would have had structural value, is formed with true radiating voussoirs. The failure of the voussoirs to radiate to the centre therefore seems to be simply the result of using untapered voussoirs in which the arch form must be obtained by wedge-shaped joints. For if these joints are carelessly formed, the crown may very well be reached before the requisite amount of radiation has been obtained. On the other hand, if full centering had been used, we should expect to find marks of the centering boards on the mortar in the enormously thick joints. But neither here nor in any instance where the jointing was visible have such marks been found. Still, when we consider the large amount of mortar employed in Byzantine work, it seems impossible that greater distortions than we actually meet with in Byzantine edifices would not have occurred, even during the building, had no support whatever been given. It seems, therefore, safe to assume the use of at any rate light scaffolding and centering to all Byzantine arches.