The Garden Guide

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

St John the Baptist

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The first thing they went to see, was the church of St. John the Baptist, which they call St. John of the stone, and which is near the emperor's palace. On the top of the first doorway of this church there was a very rich figure of St. John, well designed in mosaic; and near this doorway there was a lofty capital, raised on four arches; and the roof and walls are covered with beautiful images and figures in mosaic. This mosaic work is made of very small stones, which are covered with fine gilt, and blue, white, green, or red enamel, according to the colour which is required to depict the figures, so that this work is very marvellous to behold. Beyond this place there is a great court, surrounded by houses, and containing many cypress trees: and opposite the door into the body of the church there is a beautiful fountain, under a canopy raised upon eight white marble pillars, and the pipe of the fountain is of white stone. The body of the church is very lofty, and near the entrance there are three small chapels, each containing an altar, and the door of the centre chapel is plated with silver; and by the side of the door there are four marble columns inlaid with small jaspers, and silver crosses, and precious stones: and there are curtains of silk across these doors, placed there that the priest may not be seen when he goes in to say mass. The roof is very rich, and inlaid with mosaics. On the roof of the body of the church there is a figure of God the Father; and the walls are inlaid in the same manner nearly to the ground; and the floor is enriched with jaspers. The chapel was surrounded by seats of carved wood, and between each chair there was a brazier with ashes, into which the people spit, that they may not spit on the ground; and there are many lamps of silver and of glass. There are many relics in this church, of which the emperor keeps the key. On this day the ambassadors were shown the left arm of St. John the Baptist, from the shoulder to the hand. This arm was withered, so that the skin and bone alone remained, and the joints of the elbow and the hand were adorned with jewels set in gold. This church also contains many relics of Jesus Christ; but the ambassadors were not shown them on that day, because the emperor had gone out hunting, and had left the keys of the church with the empress, but he forgot to give her the keys of the place where these relics were kept. But on another day they were shown, as will presently be related. This church belongs to a monastery, and the monks have a very large hall, in the middle of which there is a table of white marble, thirty paces long, and there are many wooden seats round it; and there are three other small tables. Within the precincts of this monastery there are gardens, and vineyards, and other things which there is not space to describe. [The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that St John the Baptist was 'the most important monastery at Constantinople, situated not far from the Propontis in the section of the city called Psamathia [Ancient City - Yenikoy]ï¾… The only part now in existence is the Church of St. John Baptist, probably the oldest remaining church in Constantinople, a basilica which still preserves from the early period two stories of columns on the sides and a wooden ceiling, and which is now the mosque Imrachor-Dschamissi']