Saint Mary of Blachernae

May 19, 2010 01:10 by haci

Saint Mary of Blachernae (full name in Greek: Θεοτòκος τών Βλαχερνών (pr. Theotókos tón Blachernón); Turkish name: Meryem Ana Kilisesi) is an Eastern Orthodox church in Istanbul. The little edifice, built in 1867, got the same dedication as the shrine erected in this place in the fifth century which, until its destruction in 1434, was one of the most important sanctuaries of Greek Orthodoxy.

The church is located in Istanbul, in the district of Fatih, in the neighbourhood of Ayvansaray, along Mustafa Paşa Bostanı Sokak. It lies a few hundred meters inside the walled city, at a short distance from the shore of the Golden Horn. The building is protected by a high wall, and preceded by a garden.

In 450, Empress Aelia Pulcheria started to build a church near a fountain of holy water (Greek: Hagiasma) situated outside the walls of Theodosius II at the foot of the sixth hill of Constantinople. After her death in 453, the shrine was completed by her husband, Emperor Marcian.

Emperor Leo I erected near the church two other buildings: a parekklesion,named Hagia Soros ("holy reliquary"), since it hosted the holy mantle and robe of the Virgin brought from Palestine in 473, and the Hagion Lousma ("sacred bath") edifice, which enclosed the fountain.

The importance assumed by the whole complex encouraged the Emperors to lodge in the surroundings and to build there the nucleus of what would in later centuries become the imperial palace of Blachernae.During the first quarter of the 6th century, Emperors Justin I and Justinian I restored and enlarged the church.

Saint Mary hosted a famous icon of the Virgin, named after the church Blachernitissa. It was painted on wood and revetted with gold and silver. This icon and the relics of the Virgin kept in the parekklesion were considered by the Byzantines as most powerful talismans, useful during a war or in case of natural disasters. The first proof of the power of these objects came in 626. During that year Constantinople was besieged by the combined armies of the Avars and the Persians, while Emperor Heraclius was away, fighting the Persians in Mesopotamia. The son of the Emperor, Constantine, together with Patriarch Sergius and Patrician Bonus carried in procession along the ramparts the icon of the Blachernitissa. Some time later the fleet of the Avars was destroyed. The Khan of the Avars afterwards said that he had been frightened by the vision of a young woman adorned with jewels scouring the walls.

After the end of the siege, the Byzantines learned with joy that the building of the church, which at that time lay outside the Walls, was the only one not to have been plundered by the invaders.When the victorious Heraclius came back to Constantinople, bringing back the True Cross which had been captured by the Persians in Jerusalem, the Patriarch received him at Saint Mary. Sometime later, the Emperor built a single wall to protect the church, thus enclosing in the City the suburb of Blachernae