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The church of Panagia Mouchliotissa

The church of Panagia Mouchliotissa is located at the Phanar quarter, between the Megale Schole and the Joachimian Girls School, not far from the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre. In older days the origin of the church's name had given rise to a minor philological argumentation. S. Kugeas maintained that the name derived from Mouchlion, at Mystra, the inhabitants of which had settled in this area of the Phanar quarter in 1242. H. Gregoire, M. Lascaris and Gennadios Metropolitan of Heliopolis, believed that it is the Greek rendering of the Slavonic word mogyla. Indeed, the church was known by the names «St. Mary of the Mongols or Mougouls» and more commonly «Panagia of Mouchlion or Mouchliotissa» (Paspatis).
The history of the church provides the answer. Maria Palaeologina, daughter of Michael VIII Palaeologus (1261-1282), was given in marriage to the Khan of the Mongols, Hulagu or Abagu (Pachymeres). After the death of her husband she returned to Constantinople and founded the convent and church, probably in 1285. The founding of the convent is mentioned in the Paris Codex Gr. 2625.
According to written sources, the convent of Mouchlion was built on the site of an earlier monastery dedicated to the Theotokos Panagiotissa, which had been ruined, apparently by the Latins (Pasadaios). Maria Palaeologina bought the grounds with the vineyards and whatever structures existed, repaired some of them, erected new ones, and organized the women's convent. She endowed the monastery with relics, valuable vessels, manuscripts, lands in Constantinople and Rhaedestus, spending all her fortune. This information is obtained from a synodical document of 1351 (Miklosich and Müller, vol. I, 312-15), according to which the Ecumenical Patriarchate decreed the restitution to the monastery of the entire fortune seized by the usurper brother-in-law of Maria Palaeologina, Isaac Palaeologus-Asen. Asen, whom Maria had appointed by a chrysobul trustee of the monastery's properties after her death, used the revenues to his own advantage and the convent was facing dire poverty.
After the Conquest, Mehmet II made a present of the church to the Greek architect Christodoulos, as a reward for the construction of the Mosque of the Conqueror (Fatih Camii) at the site of the demolished church of the Holy Apostles. The firman issued by Mehmet the Conqueror saved the church from being converted into a mosque under Selim I, and the Panagia Mouchliotissa has remained an Orthodox church to this day.
The church, of irregular plan, stands within an enclosure with a small courtyard. Its most remarkable architectural feature is the elegant dome supported by four piers, though its size is rather disproportionate to the dimensions of the building. The apse to the east has survived, while traces of a second apse to the north reveal the old triconchial plan of the sanctuary. The entire south side was enlarged in later times to create a rectangular chamber with a cross-vaulted roof. Some traces from a representation of the Last Judgment are the only remnants of the old painting decoration of the church. An annotation on the manuscript of Suidas's Lexicon (Paris Codex Gr. 2625) informs us that the church was painted by Modestus in the late 13th century.
In addition to the mosaic icon of Panagia Mouchliotissa, dated by Soteriou to the late 13th-early 14th century, another four post-Byzantine icons are notable: St. Paraskeve (1.35x0.40 m.) St. Euphemia (1.35x0.40 m.), the Three Hierarchs (1.25x0.60 m.) and the Sts. Theodoroi (1.27x0.54 m.). The belfry in the courtyard is of later date.

Athanasios Paliouras

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