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Virtual Reality: Parekklesion, Bay 2

Turkey, Istanbul, Kariye Camii, Interior View: Parekklesion, Bay 2 © Columbia University in the City of New York 2004


The first bay of the parekkelsion is covered by a ribbed dome lit by large windows.

The Virgin and Child and Attendant Angels are represented in the western dome [211-223]. The Virgin appears as the Queen of Heaven at the apex of the dome. Within the dome's segments are twelve angels, who form a sort of guard of honor, wearing brightly colored costumes of the Byzantine court. This frescoed dome is subdivided with ribs providing the flatter surfaces more suitable for fresco.

The Four Hymnographers are seated in the pendentives below the dome. These are Byzantine poets noted for their hymns honoring the Virgin [224-227].
  • John of Damascus, in the northeast pendentive, is the most famous, a theologian active in the eighth century. He is identified by his turban and is depicted writing the Idiomela for the funeral service.
  • Kosmas the Poet, in the southeast pendentive, a student of John of Damascus, who is shown with an uninscribed book in his lap.
  • Joseph the Poet, in the southwest pendentive, holding a scroll on which he writes his Canon for the Akathistos Hymn, an addition to the most important Byzantine hymn honoring the Virgin. The verses connect Joseph to the Old Testament scenes depicted below him.
  • Theophanes Graptos, in the northwest pendentive, a ninth-century writer who was a monk at the Chora. He is shown writing verses from the funeral service, which refer to the adjacent scene of Jacob's Ladder and to the role of the Virgin in salvation.
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Jacob's Ladder is in the lunette at the west end of the north wall [228]. In the first, he wrestles with the angel, during which he sees God face to face. In the second, he dreams of the ladder leading to heaven, with angels ascending and descending, and the Lord standing upon it. Jacob's Ladder was regarded as a prefiguration of the Virgin, and accordingly the ladder is depicted leading to an image of the Virgin and Child.

The Lord Appears to Moses Before the Burning Bush is on the opposite side of the lunette [229, 230]. Realizing he is standing on holy ground, Moses Removes His Sandals. On the adjacent arch is a third episode, Moses Hides His Face, "for he was afraid to look upon God." The Burning Bush, which burned without being consumed, was regarded as a metaphor for the Virgin, signifying the Virgin Birth.

Scenes from The Dedication of Solomon's Temple fill the south wall of the parekklesion.

The Bearing of the Ark of the Covenant to the new Temple located on the west side of the lunette in the second bay [231]. Typologically the Ark and the Virgin are related, and the scenes parallel those of the Virgin's presentation and life in the Temple, depicted in the inner narthex; both Virgin and Ark are containers of God.

The Bearing of the Sacred Vessels is located on the southern side of the arch separating the first and second bays [232].

Solomon and All of Israel is on the east half of the lunette in the first bay [233]. Solomon, who is richly dressed as a Byzantine emperor, leads the elders of Israel.

The Installation of the Ark in the Holy of Holies is on the west side of the lunette on the south side of the first bay [234]. It shows the Ark being placed in the sanctuary of the Temple. Light radiates from the sky above to show that the "glory of the Lord" has filled the Temple.

The Prophesy of Isaiah concerning the army of Sennacherib, who was unable to enter the walled city of Jerusalem, is on the southern side of the western arch [235]. Isaiah holds a scroll and gestures toward The Angel Smiting the Assyrians before Jerusalem. Between the prophet's outstretched hand and the angel, the gate of Jerusalem is topped by an image of the Virgin in the tympanum. Here, the inviolate city is a symbol of the Virgin. Although the prophesy of Isaiah was not read on the Virgin's feast days, the inclusion of this scene may be related to Theodore Metochites' personal devotion to the Archangel Michael.

Completing the cycle of Old Testament prefigurations of the Virgin is a somewhat unusual scene of Three Priests before the Altar [236]. Originally identified as Aaron and his sons, the fragmentary inscription in fact refers to the burnt offering to be made on the eighth day on the altar, from the vision of Ezekiel. The altar of sacrifice symbolizes the Virgin, and the sacrifice refers to Christ's sacrifice. The priests are shown carrying small boxes and a censer. Both formally and typologically they refer to the Three Magi, whose cycle terminated in the adjacent seventh bay of the outer narthex.

The Souls of the Blessed in the Hand of God (fragmentary), an unusual scene, is in the crown of the western arch extending onto the western tympanum [237, 238]. Following the Book of Wisdom (of Solomon), "the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the tortures of death shall not touch them."
In the center of the arch separating the first and second bays of the parekklesion is a portrait medallion of Christ [241].

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 funerary chapel contains prefigurations of the Virgin and Themes of Resurrection and Judgment.  Like the narthexes, the program of the parekklesion is divided between the Virgin and Christ. Here, however, the overriding theme is Salvation, befitting a funeral chapel.  The western domed bay is devoted to the Virgin; the upper walls represent Old Testament prefigurations of the Virgin, emphasizing her role in Salvation. The eastern bay is devoted to the Last Judgment. The complex program of the chapel culminates in the conch of the apse, where the Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell) is represented, flanked by scenes of resurrection. Unlike the narthexes and the naos, the parekkelsion is decorated with frescoes.
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