The Pantokrator Monastery

Pantokrator Church & Monastery (now the Zeyrek Mosque)

Pantokrator Church & Monastery (now the Zeyrek Mosque)

We visited the Pantokrator Church & Monastery (now the Zeyrek Mosque) on a rainy day in March. The building of the monastery and church on a hill not far from the Blachernae Palace was begun by the Empress Irene, the wife of John II Comnenus, and finished after her death by her husband. You can see them below in the mosaic at the Hagia Sophia.

Empress Irene and Emperor John II Comnenus

In addition to the churches and monastery, it included a hospital (xenon) that was considered to be one of the best in the city, and 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 buildings were looted during the Fourth Crusade and the hospital fell into permanent disuse then. It is said that some of the jewels embedded in the Pala d’Ora altar piece in Venice came from these buildings (possibly from an elaborate iconostasis?) and the sarcophagi that held the bodies of various emperors and their spouses.

Pantokrator Church & Monastery (now the Zeyrek Mosque)

The church building is all that is left now and owes its continued existence and good maintenance to the fact that it is now a mosque. It is open to visitors during certain times of the day, but that was not the case when we were there.

Interestingly, this facility was built on the same Constantinople street and close to the monastery for nuns the Emperor John’s mother built, Kecharitomene. At the time of Pantokrator’s construction, his mother, Irene, and John’s sister, Anna Comnena, were housed in Kecharitomene, which 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 while they were thus incarcerated.

view of the city from Pantokrator

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.

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Eileen Stephenson

Eileen Stephenson

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