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Virtual Reality: Parekklesion Apse

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


The Anastasis, or Resurrection, is located in the conch of the apse, one of the most impressive works of Late Byzantine painting [201]. It depicts Christ’s triumph over death through his descent into hell to redeem the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament who, led by John the Baptist, gather before rocks on each side. He grasps Adam and Eve by their wrists and lifts them from their sarcophagi. Beneath him lies Satan bound and gagged.

The Virgin Eleousa is located on the lower wall to the right side of the apse [249]. She must have been paired with a fresco of Christ on the opposite side, now lost. The type of representation is known as the Compassionate Virgin. She holds the Christ child on outstretched arms, as though making an offering, and sadly presses her cheek to his.

The Church Fathers appear in the apse in liturgical dress [243-248]. The left-hand figure has been lost, but the others may be identified as Saints Athanasios, John Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, and Cyril of Alexandria.

The Raising of the Widow's Son is on the north side within the arch each side of the apse [202]. The funeral cortège has left the city of Nain with four men carrying the body on a bier. The widow of Nain's son is wrapped in a winding-sheet and sits up as Christ gestures toward him.

The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus is on the south side of the same arch [203]. The scene is set indoors, with the deceased on a bed. Christ grasps the girl by the wrist and raises her to a sitting position, and back to life, watched by apostles and family members.

Separating these scenes is a portrait medallion of the Archangel Michael [242].

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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