The Garden Guide

Book: Journey and Embassy to Samarkand
Chapter: Ii. Constantinople

Hagia Sophia

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On the same day the ambassadors went to see the church which is called St. Sophia, which is the largest, most honoured, and most privileged of all the churches in the city; and it has canons who do duty as if it was a cathedral, and a patriarch, whom the Greeks call Marpollit. In a court, in front of the church, there are nine very large white marble pillars, the largest I ever beheld, and it is said that a great palace used to stand on the top of them, where the patriarch and his clergy held their meetings. In this same court, in front of the church, a wonderfully high stone column stands, on the top of which there is a horse made of copper, of the size of four large horses put together; and on its back there is the figure of an armed knight, also of copper, with a great plume on his head, resembling the tail of a peacock. The horse has chains of iron round its body, secured to the column, to prevent it from falling, or being moved by the wind. This horse is very well made, and one fore and one hind leg is raised, as if it was in the act of prancing. The knight, on its back, has his right arm raised, with the hand open, while the reins are held with the left arm. This column, horse, and knight, are so large and high, that it is wonderful to see them. This marvellous horse is said to have been placed here by the Emperor Justinian, who erected the column, and performed great and notable deeds against the Turks, in his time. At the entrance to this church, under an arch, there is a small but very rich and beautiful chapel, raised upon four marble columns; and opposite this chapel is the door of the church. It is very large and high, and covered with brass, and in front of it there is a small court, containing some high terraces; beyond which there is another door covered with brass, like the first. Within this door there is a broad and lofty nave, with a ceiling of wood, and on the left hand there are very large and well built cloisters, adorned with slabs of marble and jasper of various colours. The body of the church contains five lofty doors, all covered with brass, and the centre one is the largest. The body of the church is the loftiest, most rich, and must beautiful that can be seen in the whole world. It is surrounded by three large and broad naves, which are joined to it, so that mass may be heard in all parts of the church. The arches of the naves are of green jasper, and unite the roofs of the nave with that of the body of the church; but the summit of the latter rises much higher than that of the naves. It is dome shaped, and very high, so that a man must have good eyes who looks up from beneath; and the church is one hundred and five paces long, by ninety-three broad; and the dome is supported by four pillars, very large and thick, covered with flags of many coloured jaspers; and from pillar to pillar there are arches of green jasper, which are very high and sustain the dome. In the arches there are four very large slabs, two on the right hand and two on the left, which are coloured with a substance made from a powder, artificially, and called porphyry. The dome is covered with very rich mosaic work, and, over the high altar, the image of God the Father, very large, is wrought in mosaics of many colours; but it is so high up, that it only looks about the size of a man, or a little larger, though really it is so large that it measures three palmos between the eyes; but to him who looks at it, it does not appear to be more nor less than a man, and that is owing to the very great height it is placed above the ground. On the floor, in the centre of the part under the dome, there is a pulpit placed on four columns of jasper; and the sides of it are covered with flags of jasper; and this pulpit is surmounted by a capital, raised on eight very large jasper columns; and here they preach, and also say the gospel on feast days. The walls and floor of the church are lined with flags of jasper, worked all over with ornaments, very beautiful to behold. The part between the arches, which supports the dome, was of very handsome white stone, on which many appropriate figures were inlaid, and above that there was very rich mosaic. The arched roofs of the naves surrounded the dome, except where the high altar stood, all which was worth seeing. The said arched roofs were ninety paces broad, and four hundred and ten paces round, and they were beautifully inlaid with mosaics. In the wall, on the left hand side, there is a very large white slab, on which among many other figures, was drawn, very naturally, without any human artifice of sculpture or painting, the most sacred and blessed Virgin Mary, with our Lord Jesus Christ in her most holy arms, with his most glorious forerunner St. John the Baptist, on one side. These images, as I said before, are not drawn, or painted with any colour, or inlaid; but the stone itself gave birth to this picture, with its veins, which may be clearly seen; and they say that when this stone was cut, to be placed in this most holy place, the workmen saw these most wonderful and fortunate images on it, and, as this church was the most important one in the city, that stone was deposited in it. The said images appear as if they were in the clouds of heaven, and as if there was a thin veil before them. This appeared most wonderful, as a thing which God himself had shown; and at the foot of these images there is an altar, and a small chapel, in which they say mass; and in this church was shown the holy body of a patriarch, which was entire, both in bone and flesh. The ambassadors were also shown the gridiron on which the blessed St. Lawrence was roasted; and in the church of St. Sophia there are vaults and cisterns, and subterranean chambers, which are strange things, wonderful to see. Near the church there are many fallen edifices, and doors leading to the church, closed and ruined. In the church there is a very large cistern under ground, capable of floating ten galleys. All these works, and many others in this church were shown, so that they can neither be related nor written briefly; and so great is the edifice, and the wonderful works, in the church are so numerous, that they take a long time to see. The roofs are all covered with lead. This church is privileged, and any person, either Greek or of any other nation, who commits a crime, either of robbery or murder, and takes refuge here, may not be taken hence.