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Virtual Reality: Inner Narthex, Bay 3

Turkey, Istanbul, Kariye Camii, Interior View: Inner Narthex, Bay 3 © Columbia University in the City of New York 2004


The Life of the Virgin

The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple is in the vault of the central bay [91]. The Virgin Mary is given to be raised in the Temple at the age of three. She is shown again in the same panel, seated inside the Holy of Holies, where she is fed manna by an angel.

The Virgin Fed by an Angel [92], in the adjacent arch, is located above the figure of St. Paul.  The Temple resembles a Byzantine church sanctuary, with the Virgin seated on the altar, below a canopy.

The Instruction of the Virgin in the Temple (damaged) is on the opposite haunch of the same arch [93]. Its composition was similar to the previous scene.

The Virgin Receiving a Skein of Purple Wool is in the west lunette of the central bay [94]. The Virgin is presented with wool, symbolizing her purity, with which she is to weave the veil of the Temple.

Zaccharias Praying before the Rods of the Suitors is on the arch between bays two and three [95] opposite the First Seven Steps of the Virgin [88]. The high priest is shown praying over the twelve rods presented by the Virgin's suitors. When the Virgin was twelve years old, the priests decided she should leave the Temple. Zaccharias was instructed by an angel to select a husband for her from among the widowers. According to the angel's instructions, each suitor presented a rod, which was left in the Holy of Holies overnight. The rod belonging to the old man Joseph miraculously blossomed.

The cycle of the Life of the Virgin is left unresolved in the pictorial decoration of the inner narthex, but the story continues in the outer narthex with the cycle of the Infancy of Christ.

Surrounding Portals

The Enthroned Christ and the Donor Theodore Metochites are located in the lunette above the entrance to the naos [3].  Metochites kneels and presents a model of the church to a seated Christ. In Byzantine art, this was the standard way of representing an architectural donation. Metochites is ostentatiously garbed and wears a high hat symbolizing his important office and his court titles are inscribed behind him.

Below the Enthroned Christ, flanking the doors to the naos, are SS. Peter and Paul [4, 5].

This discussion of the Kariye Camii iconography is adapted from Robert G. Ousterhout, The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987.  We would like to thank Professor Ousterhout for generously allowing us to adapt his text for this Web site.

The outer and inner narthexes are decorated with mosaic cycles of the lives of the Virgin and Christ. Both begin at the northern end, with thematic and visual references linking the two cycles.

Three bays of the inner narthex are devoted to the story of the Virgin, from miraculous birth to miraculous pregnancy. The unfamiliar subject is based on the Protevangelium, or Apocryphal Gospel of St. James, which was widely accepted during the Middle Ages. The Genealogy of Christ fills the two dome mosaics of the inner narthex in the northern and southern bays [7-81].  The mosaic encrusted domes are known as pumpkin domes with undulating, faceted surfaces. The result is multiple curves that capture the light from many angles, creating a shimmering surface and suffusing the interior with a golden glow.  The Bust of the Virgin, surrounded by the royal ancestry, is in the north dome and the Bust of Christ is in the south dome.
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