Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, mosaic in the narthex above the west door

Also known as Panel showing an emperor on his knees before Christ
Era 9AD
Location Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

This panel is above the great west door, the door through which any procession would have entered the church. The emperor himself entered here. In the centre of the panel is Christ, enthroned, blessing with his right hand and holding a book in his left. the words on the book say ‘Peace unto you. I am the light of the world’. In a roundel to Christ's right (the more sacred - the right side), our left as we look, is a woman in blue, hands held up in a gesture of prayer or asking for intercession. She is probably Christ's mother, Mary. To Christ's left in another roundel is a grumpy-looking archangel (we know he is an archangel because he has wings, wears a ribbon in his hair and holds a staff). On the floor, prostrating himself (the pose was called proskynesis by the Byzantines) is a bearded man wearing a crown, imperial robes and red boots (they look white now because the red paint has peeled away), his hands mirroring Mary's. Only Christ, the most recognisable figure , is named (this is la later addition) and so we have no real information about the emperor. Because the mosaic is traditionally dated to the ninth century, he may be Basil I or Leo VI. Or he may simply be a representation of all emperors.


The argument about who is shown rests on debates about what the emperor's pose may mean. Some believe this is an emperor forced to abase himself for some awful sin (Basil I murdered his predecessor; Leo VI got married four times). But it may equally be a representation of the emperor, any emperor, as the humble servant of Christ, in a position of proper respect for Christ and representing his people, the Byzantines, to Christ. I prefer this view. The date is based on good but circumstantial evidence. Above the door are huge hooks which were once for curtains. The doors themselves are bronze and date to the sixth century

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