The Patriarchal Church of St. George
Before the patriarchal cathedral was finally installed in the church of St. George at the Phanar in 1600, successive wanderings and shiftings had taken place. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the Patriarch Gennadius Scholarius (1453-1456 and 1458-1463) sheltered the Patriarchate temporarily, from 1453 to 1456, in the precincts of the famous church of the Holy Apostles. Then the Patriarchate was installed more permanently at the historic monastery of Panagia Pammakaristos, where it remained for a period of 131 years, from 1456 to 1587. When the Pammakaristos was converted into a mosque - the Fethiye Camii - the Patriarchate was forced to move again and embark on new wanderings. It found temporary hospitality (1587-1597) at the church of the Theotokos Paramythia, which was a metochion (dependency) of the rulers of Bogdania (i.e. Moldavia and Wallachia) in Constantinople, the so-called «Palace of the Wallachians» or «Vlach Saray», and later (1597-1600) at St. Demetrios Kanabu by the Xyloporta. Finally, in 1600, in the patriarchy of Matthew II (1596, 1598-1602 and 1603), the Patriarchate was installed in the small convent of St. George at the Diplophanarion. The following list gives a picture of the wanderings and shiftings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the course of the centuries:
Hagia Eirene: the «Old Patriarchates»
Hagia Sophia: from the reign of Constantine the Great (315) to the Fall of Constantinople (1453)
Church of the Holy Apostles in Nicaea: during the period of the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1205-1262).
Church of the Holy Apostles: from 1453 to 1456.
Monastery of the Pammakaristos: from 1456 to 1587.
Church of the Theotokos Paramythia («Palace of the Wallachians» or «Vlach Saray»): from 1587 to 1597.
Church of St. Demetrios by the Xyloporta: from 1597 to 1600.
Church of St. George at the Phanar: from 1600 to the present.
The patriarchal church of St. George underwent successive phases of reconstruction before being given its present form. The earliest source of information records the renovation of the ruined cells from 1600 to 1603, immediately after the move of the Patriarchate to its precincts: «...and many cells were renovated there for everyone's accommodation», as mentioned in a letter by the Patriarch Raphael II (1603-1608).
A second attempt at improvement was made by the Patriarch Timothy II (1612-1620), who, in 1614, enlarged «the originally very small, modest and poor church of St. George».
Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1669-1707), writes on this occasion: «St. George, the church of the Patriarchate, was also burned in the reign of Sultan Ahmet. It so happened that the mosque located by the Hippodrome was being built at the time, and the king gave order to restore the burned church. So, the apprentice builder of the mosque came with the many Christian craftsmen who worked at the mosque and rebuilt the church as it stands now». This explains the extension made by Timothy II in 1614. For the third time, general repairs were made to the church under Callinicus II the Acarnan during his third patriarchy (1694-1702), for the building was «dilapidated with age» and its walls and roof were crumbling.
In the early 18th century the Patriarchate and the surrounding area were destroyed by fire: «the whole Phanar and the Petricapi and then the great church and the patriarchal houses and all the nearby buildings of the Patriarchate were burned down» (Hypsilantis). Scholars (Mathas, Koumas, Bendotis, Sathas, Hypsilantis, Germanos of Sardes) do not agree on the exact date of this calamity for which they suggest the dates 1701, 1707, 1710 and even 1720. What is certain is that Jeremias III, Patriarch of Constantinople (1716-1726, 1732-1733), wrote on 26 August 1720, in a letter addressed to Neophytos, Metropolitan of Arta: «By the mercy and will of the All-Good God, the lords, may God grant them long life, were moved and they gave us permission to rebuild from the very foundations the holy church of our Patriarchal and Ecumenical Throne, and so we have started this building with the help of God...». In another letter addressed to the rulers of the Trans-Danubian principalities, he noted: «Your Highness has probably heard and knows that by the mercy of God the holy patriarchal church and the surrounding buildings are being reconstructed from the very foundations...». The purpose of Jeremias's letters had been to request financial aid in order to defray the expenses for the great project of rebuilding the «Patriarchal Church and House».
Bendotis gives the notable information that as soon as the construction of the church was completed, «the roof collapsed because it was domed», and so the Patriarch reconstructed the roof «in the form it has today». It was then (1720) that the building next to the church, «the mansion of the archontes» (Bendotis), was purchased to «serve as residence for the Patriarch» (Koumas). The restoration works initiated by Jeremias III were continued by the erudite Patriarch Paisius II (1726-1732, 1740-1743, 1744-1748, 1751-1752), as indicated by the date 1746 inscribed on most of the Despotic icons of the templon.
An inscription on the lintel of the south door of the narthex records the great work of the reconstruction of the patriarchal church under Jeremias III:
«Ὁ πάνσεπτος οὗτος καὶ Πατριαρχικὸς Ναὸς ἀνῳκοδόμητο ἐκ βάθρων αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τῆς πατριαρχείας τοῦ σεβασμιωτάτου Πατριάρχου κυρίου Ἱερεμίου, ἀναλώμασι μὲν καὶ δαπάνῃ τῶν εὐσεβῶν χριστιανῶν, ἐπιτροπευόντων δὲ καὶ ἐπιστατούντων τῶν πανιερωτάτων μητροπολιτῶν Νικομηδείας κυρίου Παϊσίου, Νικαίας κυρίου Γερασίμου, Χαλκηδόνος κυρίου Παρθενίου, Προύσσης κυρίου Κυρίλλου, Βάρνης κυρίου Καλλινίκου συνεπιστατούντων δὲ τῶν τιμιωτάτων ἀρχόντων τοῦ τε μεγάλου ἐκκλησιάρχου κὺρ Κωνσταντίνου καὶ Χατζῆ κὺρ Κωνσταντίνου, πρώην καπὶ Κεχαγιᾶ Οὐγγροβλαχίας. ΑΨΚ´ δεκεμβρίω ιη'».
(«This holy patriarchal church was rebuilt from its foundations in the patriarchy of the Most Reverend Patriarch Jeremias, at the expense of the devout Christians and under the superintendence and supervision of the Right Reverend Metropolitans Paisius of Nicomedia, Gerasimus of Nicaea, Parthenius of Chalcedon, Cyrillus of Brusa, Callinicus of Varna, with the assistance of the most honourable archontes Kyr Konstantinos the Great Ecclesiarch and Hatzi Kyr Konstantinos former Governor of Ungro-Wallachia. 18th December 1720»).
A second, small, inscription on the inner side of the main entrance reads:
«Μνήσθητι Κύριε τοῦ δούλου σου Κωνσταντίνου καπουκεχαγιᾶ τῆς Μολδοβλαχίας, οὗ τοῖς ἐξόδοις ἀνηγέρθη ἡ παροῦσα πύλη ἔτει ,αψκ´».
(«Remember, Lord, Thy servant Konstantinos, Governor of Moldavia and Wallachia, at whose expense this doorway was built in the year 1720»).
A third, stone-carved, inscription on the right jamb of the main doorway tells us that the floor of the church was paved with slabs in the same year (1720):
«Τὸ παρὸν ἔδαφος ἐστρώθη διὰ δαπάνης τοῦ τιμιωτάτου ἄρχοντος κυρίου Ἀθανασάκη Κιουρτσήμπασι εἰς μνημόσυνον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἔτει ,αψκ´, ἐν μηνὶ δεκεμβρίῳ γ´».
(«This floor was paved at the expense of the most honourable archon Athanasakis Kiourtsibasis in his remembrance. 3rd December 1720»).
In the great fire of 1738, when the Patriarchate suffered severe damage, «by God's mercy, the church, the clerics' cells and the Synodicon were not gutted» (Hypsilantis). It was some sixty years before large-scale operations for the restoration of the Patriarchate were begun in 1797, in the patriarchy of Gregory V. In 1798, certain consolidations and additions were made to the patriarchal church and especially the sanctuary, where for the first time another two Holy Tables were set up. It was then decided to dedicate the right (south) aisle of the church as a parecclesion to St. Euphemia and the corresponding left (north) aisle as a parecclesion to the Three Hierarchs. We are indebted for this information to the writings of Koumas, Sathas, Vapheidis, Mathas, and the earlier historian Sergios Macraios, who expresses disagreement with the setting-up of three Holy Tables: «So he began to build the Patriarchal House in September of that year (1797)... then (1798) he tried to embellish the church of St. George the Great Martyr... by setting up three altars in the sanctuary and proceeding to the innovation of dedicating the right aisle to St. Euphemia and the left to the Three Hierarchs».
In its present form the patriarchal church of St. George has the plan of a three-aisled basilica with three semicircular apses on the east side and a transverse narthex on the west. Owing to the irregularity of the site, the lateral walls are not straight but form a slight angle - a feature that does not affect the general plan of the church. The interior is divided into three aisles by colonnades, with the tall pews of ebony wood placed along the line of the columns. This arrangement leaves ample space in the nave for the performance of essential parts of the Liturgy - whether an ordinary Liturgy or one conducted by the Patriarch and members of the Holy Synod-on the «solea» until the completion of the Unbloody Sacrifice on the altar.
In the holy bema, behind the altar, the synthronon is arranged in a semicircle along the curved wall of the apse, with seats for the Archpriests and a central higher throne of marble for the Patriarch.
As already mentioned, the diakonikon (to the south) has been converted into a parecclesion of the Pammakaristos, while the prothesis (to the north) has been dedicated to the Three Great Fathers of the Church. A narrow passage leads from the latter to a small sacristy and from there to the courtyard of the church
A high wood-carved iconostasis separates the sanctuary from the nave. The valves of the Beautiful Gate are crowned with the eternal symbol of the Patriarchate, the two-headed eagle. The icons are in the following order: on the right side of the templon, Christ as «the True Vine», St. John the Baptist, the Saints George and Demetrios, the mosaic icon of Panagia Pammakaristos, St. Euphemia, and on the south wall, the mosaic icon of the Forerunner on an icon-stand, St. Spyridon, the Descent into Hell, St. Nicholas; on the left side of the templon, the Holy Virgin as «the Tree of Jesse», St. George on horseback, St. Nicholas, the Virgin and Prophets, the Three Hierarchs, and on the north wall, St. Charalampos, St. John the Evangelist and Prochoros, St. Menas on horseback, the Virgin Phaneromene of Cyzicus on an icon-stand, the Virgin of Artake, Christ Pantocrator. On the parapet of the women's gallery, from the south to the north wall, a series of 19th same time it was decided to honour also the Virgin Pammakaristos in the parecclesion of the south aisle, since her celebrated mosaic icon was placed there. Besides, it had been instituted from earlier times to dedicate the patriarchal church also to the Panagia Pammakaristos. Meletios of Athens reports that Timothy II, Patriarch of Constantinople, «decreed in 1614, that the new Patriarchate's church of St. George was to be dedicated also to the Ever-Virgin St. Mary, in memory of the previous patriarchal church of the Pammakaristos».
Important modifications were made to the patriarchal church under Gregory VI (1835-1840). The church retained the length and width it had since the time of Jeremias III (1720), but the roof was raised to its present height. Until then the church had been «small, low and dark» (Koumas), with its height reaching up to where the ambo is now. The plans and surveillance of the modifications were entrusted to the architect Hatzi-Nicolis. The marble doorway with the ornamental door-frames and the neo-Classical lintel has given a monumental and majestic appearance to the entrance from the narthex to the church proper. This renovation is recorded in the inscription of Homeric style carved on the lintel above the main entrance to the church. The inscription includes the honourary mention of the name of Gregory VI, the date 1836, and a praise to the beauty of the renovated church:
Ἤτοι μὲν μεγάλοιο νεὼς ὁ Γεωργίου ἱρός μάρτυρος εὐκλεέος, γήραϊ εἶκε πάρος αὐτὰρ ἀνηβήσας νέον ἐς κάλλος τόδε γ᾽ ἧκεν ὡς χαρίεις ἰδέειν, ἀγλαὸς ἰδὲ μέγας, ζήλῳ μὲν κλυτοῖο ἀγαστοῦ Γρηγορίοιο εὖ πατριαρχοῦντος πέντε μετ᾽ ἐσπομένου, ἁδραῖς τ᾽ οἳ δαπάναις ἰδὲ κλήρου ἀρχιθυτοίων τῷ δ᾽ ἄρα παμμεδέων ὄλβια τοῖσι πόροι. (,αωλς´)
The last large-scale embellishing operations were carried out by the Patriarch Joachim III (1878-1884, 1901-1912) over the whole area of the Patriarchate.
In the patriarchal church, in particular, the marble pavement of the sanctuary was replaced, the synthronon was renovated, marble caskets were made for the depositing of the holy relics, the icon-frames were repaired and the ecclesiastical collection was enriched with liturgical vessels and vestments, all donated by the faithful.
In August 1904, the Patriarch and the Holy Synod decided to celebrate jointly the Indiction Feast Day (1st September) and the worship of the ancient and miraculous icon of Panagia Pammakaristos. A special Service was composed for this occasion («Service of Vespers, Matins and Liturgy of the Feast of the Pammakaristos, Patriarchal Press at Constantinople, 1905»). This remains in force to our days, and the choir chants in a 4th plagal tone the apolytikion of the Pammakaristos.
century oil-paintings on canvas executed in a westernizing style show scenes from the Old and the New Testament (from the Nativity to the Anastasis).
The caskets with the holy relics of the three female saints, Euphemia, Solomone and Theophano, first consort of the Emperor Leo VI the Wise, have been placed on marble bases by the south wall of the parecclesion of the Pammakaristos.
The larnax (casket) of St. Euphemia has a richly ornamented silver revetment. A document preserved in the archives of the Patriarchate (Cod. A, 46) records that in the patriarchy of Gabriel III (1702-1707), notably on the 11th July 1707, the Russian Ambassador to the Porte donated a quantity of cypress wood for the fashioning of three caskets in which to deposit the sacred relics of the three holy women. As a special honour to St. Euphemia, who suffered martyrdom under Diocletian, the Patriarch decreed «her feast-day to be celebrated annually with a procession in the patriarchal church and with her holy relics placed in the middle», as stated in the apodeixis sent to the Christians of Constantinople (Cod. A, 25-26).
At the south wall also, next to the mosaic icon of the Forerunner, stands part of the Column of Flagellation, i.e. the column to which Christ was bound and flogged.
The choirs of chanters are in the conventional places, in the central part of the church, and have superb lecterns inlaid with mother-of-pearl and adorned with icons (the lecterns were transported on 22nd August 1712 from the monastery of Panagia Kamariotissa at Halki). The Patriarchal thronos stands prominent, with the parathronion to the right for the Great Protosyncellus who officiates in the absence of the Patriarch, and the official throne-like pews for the members of the Holy Synod to the left. Across the nave, on the opposite side where the Princes of Moldavia and Wallachia stood in the old days, are the pews for the dignitaries, state officials and representatives of other denominations.
The ambo is placed high on the third column of the northern colonnade. The pews for the congregation are lined along the north and south walls and the west side of the nave, while, to the west, is the women's gallery extending partly to the north. The old candle-stand, placed by the north entrance, is made of walnut wood and decorated with inlays of metal and ivory. An inscription in ivory on the side of the candle-stand tells us that it was donated to the patriarchal church in 1669 by Manuel, son of Peter, from Castoria.
The donor may well have been the renowned Manolakis of Castoria, who had founded and endowed schools in Chios, Arta, Aetolikon and elsewhere.
Today, the suspended large silver oil-lamps, the crystal chandeliers, the solemn patriarchal throne, the rows of-ebony pews, the old high templon with the elaborate wood-carvings, sanctified by ancient icons showing the marks of time, the historic mosaic icon of Panagia Pammakaristos and the icon from Cyzicus of Panagia Phaneromene with the wounded face, compose the picture of the patriarchal church expressing the measure of austerity which constitutes in matters of essence the very ethos and glory of Orthodoxy.
In addition to its historic and sacred character, the patriarchal church has preserved some precious relics of the past, like the Patriarch's throne, the ambo and the icons.