Reconstruction of the walled enclosure containing the Great Palace, the churches of Hagia Sophia
and Hagia Eirene and the Hippodrome (after Giroux-A. Vogt).


The historian Socrates records that Constantius, the son and successor of Constantine the Great, when completing «the Great Church called Sophia, adjoined it to that named Eirene, previously a small church which the King's father had enlarged and embellished. And now both, under one name, are seen within the same enclosure».

The old Episcopeion, which had stood within the precincts mentioned by Socrates, was connected with Hagia Eirene, the episcopal church of Byzantium in those times. Later, within these precincts a new Episcopeion was built in direct contact with the new cathedral of the city, which had been named by then Constantinople. The church of Hagia Eirene was thenceforth referred to as «the old Patriarchate» throughout the period that we now call «Byzantine».

The new Episcopeion appears to have been fairly large, since it had a Secretum in which the Holy Synod met and a Triclinium that could accommodate the entire clergy of the city. Written sources mention that other buildings were also erected within these precincts, such as the Hospice of Samson, an infirmary which became in time the most important benevolent institution of the Church, the Monastery of Hosia Olympias, one end of which extended to the Episcopeion and the other to the narthex of Hagia Sophia, the Didascaleion, an institution of higher learning, and some other ancillary buildings.

When the people, protesting against the displacement of John Chrysostom from his See by the Emperor Arcadius (395-408), burned down the Constantinian church of Hagia Sophia, the Episcopeion and the other buildings were not seriously damaged. The church was rebuilt by Theodosius II (408-450), on the same site and on plans similar to those of the earlier five-aisled basilica.

Unfortunately, during the Nika Revolt, early in the reign of Justinian (527-565), both churches - the Theodosian Hagia Sophia and the older Hagia Eirene - and all the other buildings of the precinct were destroyed.

It was the will of God, according to Procopius, that the church of Hagia Sophia be destroyed so that it could be rebuilt in the form it has preserved to this day - «a sight most beautiful, extraordinary to those beholding it and incredible to those being told of it». The grandiose undertaking was completed in the relatively short time of five years, thanks to the personal interest shown and the inexhaustible resources made available, by the Emperor. The new church was again a basilica-this time with three aisles-built in a manner so daring and ingenious that for many centuries it has remained unique and unsurpassed. The magnificent edifice of Hagia Sophia represents the realization of the Christian dream to combine the basilical type, the dominant longitudinal axis of which draws the eye and soul towards the spot where the Unbloody Sacrifice is performed, with the highly symbolic structure of the dome, which dominates the interior of centralized buildings.

The church of Hagia Eirene, the Hospice of Samson, the Monastery of Hosia Olympias and, certainly, the Episcopeion were also rebuilt «more beautiful» at that time.

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Constantinople, whose role as intermediary between the «Hierarchy of the Ecumene» and the «Basilia» had acquired particular importance, gained a continuously growing prestige associated with greater privileges. So, when the title of «Patriarch» bestowed on eminent Primates was restricted to the Exarchs of the Church Administration, the Bishop of Constantinople was given the title of «Ecumenical Patriarch» and a primacy of honour next to that of the Bishop of Rome. These developments resulted in the concourse of Primates and dignitaries of the other Churches to the Capital and the establishment of a «Resident Synod». A time came when the Ecumenical Patriarchate with its dual nature - Archiepiscopal and Ecumenical - was intensely active with successive sessions of the Holy Synod. The south gallery of Hagia Sophia where the councils were held and the few halls of the Patriarchal House were no longer sufficient. Moreover, the clergy of the Patriarchate had greatly increased in number, because now it also served the Imperial ceremonies and litanies. The first of the operations undertaken with the purpose to satisfy the requirements for additional space was to incorporate the Monastery of Hosia Olympias into the patriarchal establishment. Fortunately, Justinian, foreseeing future developments, had reserved in the new plan of the city an area to the south of Hagia Sophia, for the eventual construction of additional patriarchal edifices. In this way the Patriarchal House would be facing in the direction of the «Sacred Palace», i.e. the Imperial Palace. The area of the Constantinian Augusteum was therefore reduced and enclosed by a wall to form one of the three courts extending to the north, west and south of Hagia Sophia.

The first patriarchal edifice south of the cathed­ral was erected in the patriarchy of John III Scholasticus (565-577). Its upper floor communicated with the south gallery of the church, of which the southwest inclined ramp - the so - called Cochlias - was put out of use and two halls were built there: the Great and the Little Secretum, which formed the centre of the Patriarchal Administration. The Patriarch's own living-quarters were on the same floor. Soon afterwards, a second building, known as Thessalos Triclinos, was raised adjoining the first.

Before long, the need for further expansion became imperative. During the patriarchy of Thomas I (607-610) a new building, the so-called Thomaitis Triclinos, was erected on the east part of the area between the Augusteum and the cathedral. The edifice comprised large halls and «cells raised from off the ground». In this building, too, the upper floor communicated with the south gallery of Hagia Sophia, the height of which was such that only the third floor of a three-storeyed building could reach its level. All these new edifices, therefore, had three storeys. The ground-floor of the Thomaitis Triclinos housed the important Patriarchal Library.

The construction of these edifices to the east and west of the south facade of Hagia Sophia and their access to the gallery of the church turned this gallery into a sort of corridor joining the new buildings. As already mentioned, however, the south gallery was used not only for the Holy Synod's meetings but also for Imperial processions. It soon became necessary to connect directly the buildings at either end with a two-storeyed «Macron», i.e. a long connecting building, which would also house the other patriarchal services.

The southward orientation of the Macron's facade, towards the Augusteum, permitted the construction of an open loggia on the upper floor. This produced a pleasant aesthetic effect, for the light aspect of the loggia emphasized the connecting function of the new building without, in any way, diminishing the imposing appearance of the patriarchal buildings proper.

The addition of the Macron completed the Patriarchate's group of buildings to the south of Hagia Sophia. The whole complex formed an admirable unity, achieved thanks to the masterful combination of its geometric simplicity with the contrasting towering majesty of the patriarchal cathedral rising behind it. Three elements combined to create the general impression: the central, dominant mass of the great church and the lateral, subordinate and symmetrical volumes of the patriarchal buildings.

The Patriarchate's complex, which occupied an entire square in the most prominent part of the Capital of the Byzantine Empire, with its two churches, the three peristyle courts and the other buildings, represented the material aspect of the Ecumenical Throne's conception. The lavish decoration of the rooms, the rich marble revetments and fine mosaics of the triclinia, metatoria, trapezae and secreta,  the parecclesia and small chapels, the baths and the garden, made the Patriarchal Oikos equal, if not in size at least in riches and aesthetic appearance, to the Imperial Palace. From its several offices high «officials» directed a large staff of clerics and laymen and set in motion the effective organization of the Patriarchal Administration.

For all that, in terms of way of living and religious conduct, the Patriarchate was but a large monastery, and those who served it lived in accordance with the austere rites in force at all the other monasteries of the Empire. These conditions continued unchanged at least until the age of the last Iconoclasts, when the decline of the State began  a decline that was precipitated following the Capital's capture by the Crusaders in 1204. After fifty-six years (1205-1261) of exile at Nicaea, the Patriarchate returned to the old Patriarchal House which had been damaged by the Latin occupation and ravaged by time. Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Patriarchate retained all its authority and vitality - like the rest of the Empire - and continued to occupy its traditional edifices until Tuesday, 29 May 1453, when Constantinople fell to Mehmet II the Conqueror.

 Aristides Pasadaios

Reconstruction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Byzantine period (330-1453), showing
the church of Hagia Sophia and the neighbouring buildings and monuments. ( after A. Pasadaios)


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