Sunday, June 05, 2005

musings on the byzantine empire

I should have written this a week ago, but what they hey, I had become distracted. On May 23, 1453, which was 553 years and 7 days ago, the City of Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire.

(click on any image for a larger view)

The Siege of Constantinople, 15th century

Byzantine art and art history has always been a fascinating subject to me. Legends have their own appeal, and I will share my two favorite legends concerning the fall of Constantinople.

The City had a sacred icon of Theokotos (Mother of God), that was supposedly painted by St. Luke himself, that Theokotos herself gave to the city, the Hodegetria. The Hodegetria was displayed over the main city gate, showing all the divine protection Theokotos gave the city, and so long as Constantinople posessed the Hodegetria, it would not fall to an enemy army. On the eve of the final battle, when Emperor Constantine XI knew the city's defenses would no longer repel the Ottomans, he walked alone along the battlements, near the gate where the Hodegetria was displayed. Suddenly, Theokotos descended from Heaven, wrapped in light, and carried her holy icon back to Heaven, sealing the fate of the city.

Mosiac from Hagia Sophia of Theokotos and the Infant Christ, with Emperor
John II Comnenus and the Emperess Eirene making offerings to the Church

Hours later, after the walls had been breached, many of the people of the city were in Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, praying, making peace with their fates, as the priests celebrated the Liturgy. As Ottoman soldiers entered Hagia Sophia and began taking prisioners, the priests took the Eucharist and walked into the south wall, preventing the Eucharist from being defiled. It is said that when Hagia Sophia is once more a Christian Church, or even the entire city is once again a Christian city, the priests will emerge from the wall to finish the Liturgy that was interrupted the day the city fell.

Ah, the beauty and mystique of the Byzantine Empire.

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