Istanbul, St John of Studios

Also known as The Studion; Imrahor camii
Era 5AD - 13AD
Location Yedikule Mahallesi, İmam Aşir Sok. No:1, 34107 Fatih/İstanbul - Avrupa, Turkey

The shell of the church of St John of Studios is the oldest surviving church in the city. This was a reasonably large basilica (it is about 25 metres long and 24 metres wide) built by the senator Studios either just before 454 or in 463. There aren’t any mosaics in it now but it’s worth a visit (though I ripped open a perfectly good feather jacket once climbing over the fence to get in on a cold January day many years ago, descending like a shot duck, in a cloud of down). What may still be visible are fragments of what was once a stunning inlaid floor.

Excavations in the early twentieth century revealed that it had rich marble revetments and fittings and was mosaicked, though it is always possible that these mosaics post-date the construction of the church. They are known now only from a few tesserae and from the tenth-century author, John Geometres’ 57 line account of the church, which suggests it might have held a Maiestas Domini mosaic. A small mosaic fragment in the Benaki Museum in Athens depicting the Mother of God is said to have come from the Studios church. This fragment is usually dated to the late tenth-early eleventh centuries through comparison with the panel in the south-west vestibule of Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) depicting Mary and Christ flanked by Constantine and Justinian and because the John Geometres text. It’s also suggested that an early figural mosaic in Constantinople would not have survived the period of Iconoclasm in the eighth-ninth centuries, when images of religious figures were destroyed. But we don’t know for certain whether the mosaics of the Studion were destroyed and replaced at this time. And the orange tesserae around the nose and mouth are typical of earlier mosaics. It could be earlier than Iconoclasm. The church was restored in the eleventh century and the thirteenth, so the Benaki mosaic could equally well date to either of these periods. It has been re-set, which does not help.

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