We visited the Pantokrator Church & Monastery (now the Zeyrek Mosque) on a rainy day in March. Empress Irene, the wife of John II Comnenus, began the building of the monastery and church on a hill close to the Blachernae Palace. Her husband finished it after her death in 1134. Irene was a Hungarian princess, and both husband and wife are Orthodox saints. You can see them below in the mosaic at the Hagia Sophia.
The Pantokrator Complex
In addition to the churches and monastery, it included a hospital (xenon) considered one of the best in the city. It held particular renown for its treatment of eye diseases. It held 50 beds and facilities for both men and women. The hospital even employed female physicians.
At least one of the Latin emperors following the Fourth Crusade made the monastery his palace for a time. However, the men of the Fourth Crusade eventually looted the buildings and the hospital fell into permanent disuse. Some of the jewels embedded in the Pala d’Ora altar piece in Venice may have come from these buildings (possibly from an elaborate iconostasis?). The sarcophagi here held the bodies of various emperors and their spouses, especially of the Comnene dynasty.
The church building is the only building remaining from the complex. It owes its continued existence and good maintenance to its current function as a mosque. Visitors may see it at certain times of the day, but not when we were there.
Interestingly, Pantokrator stood on the same Constantinople street as the Kecharitomene Monastery for nuns that Emperor John’s mother built. At the time of Pantokrator’s construction, his mother, Irene, and John’s sister, Anna Comnena, lived in Kecharitomene. The monastery functioned as a relatively pleasant prison following their efforts to have Anna inherit the throne instead of her brother. One can only imagine how humiliating it must have been for them to hear all the building going on during their incarceration.
Pantokrator stands on a hill overlooking the city. We took this photo from the plaza outside of it, looking towards the Golden Horn and Galata Tower.
You can read more about what happened to Emperor John Comnenus, his sister, the Princess Anna Comnena, and their mother Irene in the third of my short stories in my book, Tales of Byzantium, available on Amazon.