Church of the Holy Apostles (3D)

Wed Nov 25 21:04:21 CET 2015

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This is a 3D model at various resolutions (ultra low, low, medium, high, RAW) of the Church of the Holy Apostles , a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. The church is situated in the homonymous square in Thessaloniki, in the beginning of the modern Olympou Street. It lies south of the decumanus (Saint Demetrius Street), around 50 meters from the west city wall, near the Litea Gate, ruined today. Originally it was the katholikon (main church) of a sizeable monastery. Except for the church, little evidence remains still today from the original complex, such as parts of the precinct, a gateway to the south of the katholikon and a large cistern to its northwest. Initially the monastery covered an area of more than 10.000 square meters. Moreover, like other ones, it had probably ten to twenty monks living in it and derived its revenues mainly from estates, including also probably scriptoria and workshops for minor art and other crafts. The katholikon was initially dedicated to the Virgin Mary (or jointly with Christ), as is evidenced by the painted decoration and the special place given to themes related to the Virgin. The dating of the church’s construction (along with its bell tower) is part of an ongoing scientific debate. On the one hand, according to a new dendrochronological study the church was founded in no earlier than 1329. On the other hand, most scholars place the initial construction between 1310 and 1314. During these years Patriarch Niphon I, who is mentioned in inscriptions on the building as founder, remained on the Patriarchal throne. Nevertheless, the actual contribution of Niphon is open to question according to one of the church’s main researcher, who states that its construction probably begun before 1310 as a restoration of an earlier foundation by the city’s episcopate. The aforementioned inscriptions comprise a) a carved inscription mentioning “Niphon Patriarch and Founder” on the lintel above the entrance, b) monograms (cyphers) on the capitals of the western facade and c) brickwork inscriptions on the west and south sides. All these inscriptions identify the Patriarch Niphon as the founder (ktitor). Furthermore, above the nave’s main entrance there is a painted scene with Abbot Paul, Niphon’s pupil, kneeling before the enthroned Virgin and Child, along with an inscription mentioning as first and second owner the same Patriarch and Paul, respectively. The building is a four-column cross-in-square church. The nave is surrounded by two narthexes (porticos), a small rectilinear esonarthex and a U-shaped exonarthex. The east flanks of the latter form a chapel to the north, dedicated to St. John the Precursor, and a sacristy to the south, accessible only from the sanctuary. A bell-tower might have been located in front of the church’s main west entrance. The walls of the church are made with both cloisonné masonry and masonry made entirely out of plinths (bricks). They also have a rich external decoration with brickwork patterns, small niches and blind arches, all characteristic of the late Byzantine art. The roof is covered with domes on high drums, one over the central nave and four others in the exonarthex: over the chapel, the sacristy and the spaces flanking the esonarthex to the north and south. The design of the church was influenced by both Constantinople’s architecture and regional characteristics. The interior of the church was richly decorated with either mosaics or wall paintings. Firstly, the mosaics covered the upper parts of the central nave above cornice level, composing a typical iconographic program of Byzantine churches. Some of them still surviving today are: Christ Pantokrator and the Prophets, the Evangelists, Dodekaorton scenes, the Dormition of the Virgin and saints. These mosaics are highly praised for their artistic quality, being the last grand mosaic ensemble of Thessaloniki and among the last ones in Byzantium. They seem to have a close relation with the mosaics of the Chora and Pammakaristos monasteries in Constantinople, while bearing some stylistic characteristics from the local artistic school of Thessaloniki, too. They are connected with the first founder of the monastery, Patriarch Niphon, and are dated to the years 1312-1315. Secondly, the painted decoration located in the narthexes and the lower parts of the nave depicts a series of scenes from the Life of the Virgin as well as themes from the Old Testament prefiguring her. The frescoes, too, are closely related to contemporary works of art in the Chora monastery and are characterized by idealism, gentleness, grace and serenity. They are connected with Abbot Paul, who after Niphon’s deposition continued his work in the monastery. Nevertheless, their overall dating in the years after 1314 or between 1328 and 1334 is lately questioned by scholars and pushed backwards (1312-1315). The church was converted into a mosque in the 1520s by Cezeri Kasim Paşa, the military governor (Sancak Beyi) of Thessaloniki in around 1520-1530, who gave his name to the mosque as well as the city quarter (mahalle) where it was located. The church’s late vernacular name was Soğuk Su Camii (Cold Water Mosque) from the nearby cistern. Various alterations were made to the church during its ottoman period, among which are the following: a) the addition of the founder’s inscription (kitabe) in a rectangular frame over the main door b) the concealment of the internal wall decoration, c) the rearrangement of the church’s interior according to the Islamic liturgical needs, d) the modification of the roof drainage system, e) the construction of an additional timber portico (son cemaat yeri) surrounding the west and north side of the exonarthex and f) the building of a minaret to the latter’s southwest corner. The designation of the church as Holy Apostles is of recent date and was said to be based on the existence of twelve vaults in the building. This popular association with the Apostles is documented in travelers’ accounts as early as 1735. The building is in a good state of preservation with much of its original construction elements intact and visible. The church’s original wall paintings and mosaics, concealed beneath a thick layer of plaster since the conversion into a mosque, were gradually uncovered and restored in various time periods, from the 1920s till 2004.
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