The Garden Guide

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

St Mary Church Constantinople

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The same day they went to see another church called Peribelico, dedicated to St. Mary. At the entrance to this church there is a great court, containing many cypresses, walnut trees, elms, and other trees. The outer walls of the church are covered with images and other figures, in gold, blue, and other colours. On the left hand side of the entrance to the church there are many figures, and amongst them an image of St. Mary, with one of the emperor and another of the empress on each side. At the feet of the image of St. Mary there are representations of thirty castles and cities, with the names of Grecian cities written under them. They say that these cities and castles formerly belonged to this church, having been given by an emperor called Romanus, who lies interred here. At the feet of the image there were certain documents written in steel, and sealed with seals of wax and lead, which described the privileges enjoyed by this church over those cities and castles. There are five altars in the body of the church; which is very large and lofty, supported on pillars of various coloured marble, and the walls and floor are inlaid with jasper; and the ceiling is inlaid with very rich mosaics. On the left hand side, at the end of the church, there is a handsome stone monument, where the body of the emperor Romanus is interred: they said that this monument was formerly covered with gold and. precious stones, but that when the Latins captured this city, ninety years ago, they plundered this tomb. In this church there is another great stone tomb, in which another emperor is interred, and this church also contains the other arm of the blessed St. John the Baptist, which was shown to the ambassadors. This was the right arm, and it was fresh and healthy; and, though they say that the whole body of the blessed St. John was destroyed, except one finger of the right arm, with which he pointed when he said 'Ecce Agnus Dei,' yet certainly the whole of this arm was fresh and in good preservation, but it wanted the thumb. The reason given by the monks for the thumb being gone was this,-they say that at the time when idolatry prevailed in the city of Antioch, there was a terrible dragon, to which one person was given every year, to be eaten. They drew lots who should be the victim, and the person on whom the lot fell, could not be excused from being eaten by the dragon. Once the lot fell upon the daughter of a good man, and when he saw that his daughter must be given up to the dragon, he was very sad, and gave her to a church of Christian nuns, who were then in that city, saying to the nuns, that he had heard that God had performed many miracles through St. John, and that he wished to believe, and to adore the arm of that saint, which they possessed. He prayed that, in addition to the other miracles which God had performed through him, he would save the girl from being eaten by this ferocious dragon, and deliver her from danger. The nuns, taking compassion on him, showed him the arm, on which he threw himself down to worship it, and bit off its thumb, without letting the nuns see him. When the people were going to give the maiden to the dragon, and the monster opened its mouth to eat her, the good man threw the thumb of the blessed saint into its mouth; upon which the dragon turned round, and fled, which was a great miracle: and that man was converted to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this same church they were shown a small cross, a palmo in length, ornamented with gold, with a small crucifix; and it was placed in a recess which was covered with gold, so that it could be taken out and replaced at pleasure. They say that it is made of the wood of the true cross, on which our Lord Jesus Christ was placed, and its colour is black. It was made when the blessed St. Helen, mother of Constantine, who built this city, brought the whole of the true cross from Jerusalem to Constantinople. They were also shown the body of the blessed St. Gregory, which was whole and undecayed. Outside the church there is a cloister, where there are many beautiful representations of history, among which is the root of Jesse, showing the lineage whence came the blessed Virgin Mary. It was figured in mosaic; and was so wonderful, so rich, and so well drawn, that it surpassed all the other works. There are many monks belonging to the church, who showed the above things to the ambassadors; and also took them into a very large and lofty refectory, in the midst of which there was a table of white marble, very well made, being thirty-five palmos long, and the floor was of marble flags. At the end of this refectory there were two small tables of white marble, and the ceiling was covered with mosaic work; and on the walls pictures were represented in mosaic work, from the salutation of the blessed Virgin Mary by St. Gabriel, to the birth of Jesus Christ our God, together with his journeys with his disciples, and all his blessed life, until he was crucified. In this refectory there were many flag stones, made to place meat and other food upon; and in the monastery there were many cells, where the monks live; and gardens, and water, and vineyards, so that this monastery is like a large town. On the same day the ambassadors visited another church called St. John, to which a monastery is attached. The first part of the church is very lofty and richly adorned, and beyond it there is a courtyard, leading to the body of the church, which is round, and surrounded by three great naves, all under one roof. It contains seven altars, and the ceiling is covered with rich mosaic, representing many historical events; and the body of the church is surrounded by twenty-four marble pillars of green jasper, and the naves have the same number of pillars. The walls are adorned with mosaics; and beyond the body of the church there is a beautiful chapel, embellished with mosaics of marvellous workmanship, and containing a figure of the holy Mary, for whose service this chapel was built. The monastery contains a large refectory, with a white marble table; and on the walls there are mosaics representing the last supper, in which our Lord Jesus Christ is seated at a table with his disciples, and this monastery contains houses, gardens, fountains, and many other things.