Tag Archives: St. Savior in the Chora

We’ll always have Sicily II, the Cathedral of Monreale — “the art of our ancestors safe from the plaster, whitewash, eye-gouging — and drapes — of the hysterics and puritans of monotheism…”

22 Sep

The Cathedral of Monreale (See also: We’ll always have Sicily I: the church of the Martorana in Palermo and We’ll always have Sicily III: the Cathedral of Cefalù)

And, of course, as per millenial-cum-major-victim, Ayesha Siddiqui

“…unless you’ve had 90% of your cultural and artistic heritage — the product of what was one of the main poles of human civilization for two millenia — destroyed and lost, with the remnants still being vigorously vandalized today, in 2020 AD, “I don’t think I can really be that close to you.”

We’ll always have Sicily I: the church of the Martorana in Palermo — the art of our ancestors safe from the plaster, whitewash, eye-gouging — and drapes — of the hysterics and puritans of monotheism…

21 Sep
Church of the Martorana12th century

(See also We’ll always have Sicily II, the Cathedral of Monreale and We’ll always have Sicily III: the Cathedral of Cefalù)

The Normans weren’t exactly our best friends once they embarked on their conquests and rise to power in the Mediterranean. But when they had settled in, they started developing certain Mediterranean civilized habits that almost no one who comes to this part of the world is immune to.

For example, when they wanted something beautiful built and decorated they knew where to place the want ad: either C-Town or among the Greeks who already inhabited Sicily and parts of the Italian south. And, after the Normans, the Angevins, Aragonese, Bourbons, Piemontesi, and, finally, the republic of Italy, kept it all safe.

Mostly people think Ravenna when they think of things Byzantine in Italy. But no part of Italy is as laden with high Byzantine beauty as Sicily is. And the church of the Martorana may be the single most important site for in situ Byzantine art in the world. Read about it. It’s really fascinating. Not least for “belonging” to the Albanian-Italian community of Sicily:

The church is a Co-cathedral to the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi[1] of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, a diocese which includes the Italo-Albanian (Arbëreshë) communities in Sicily who officiate the liturgy according to the Byzantine Rite in the ancient Greek language and Albanian language[2] The Church bears witness to the Eastern religious and artistic culture still present in Italy today, further contributed to by the Albanian exiles who took refuge in southern Italy and Sicily from the 15th century under the pressure of TurkishOttoman persecutions in Albania and the Balkans.

[Otherwise, of course, “there is no compulsion in religion.” me, NB, my emphasis above as well]

Here are some photos I put together:

And, of course, as per my chum Ayesha Siddiqui, unless you’ve had 90% of your cultural and artistic heritage — the product of what was one of the main poles of human civilization for two millenia — destroyed and lost, with the remnants still being vigorously vandalized today, in 2020 AD, “I don’t think I can really be that close to you.”

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Why Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Love Affair with the Ottoman Empire Should Worry The World — Alan Mikhail

5 Sep
Selim I

By Alan Mikhail September 3, 2020 7:00 AM EDT Mikhail is Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Yale University. His new book is GOD’S SHADOW: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World (Liveright/W.W. Norton & Co.)

At the end of August, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the Islamic New Year with aplomb. Fresh off his conversion of the monumental Haghia Sophia to a mosque, he converted another former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church, one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine structures. The day after that he announced the largest ever natural gas depository in the Black Sea. This followed another recent discovery of natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Both of these areas are hotly contested zones of international competition between the powers around these seas. Later that week he welcomed a delegation of Hamas to Ankara, where he expressed support for Palestinians in the wake of the recent announcement of an agreement between Israel and the UAE.

All of these moves project Erdogan’s vision of Islamist strength into the world. Standing up for Islam at home goes hand in hand with securing natural resources and imposing Turkey’s power abroad. It also goes hand in hand with domestic repression. The Islamic New Year saw Erdogan further tighten his grip on social media freedom and consider pulling Turkey out of what is known, now farcically, as the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty of the Council of Europe that commits countries to protecting women from domestic violence. Democratic peoples in Turkey, the Middle East, and around the world should worry.

Much has been written about Erdogan’s attempts to “resurrect” the Ottoman Empire or to style himself a sultan. There is truth here. But to understand Erdogan’s political agenda and horizon we must be specific about which Ottoman sultan Erdogan strives to be. It is the empire’s ninth sultan, Selim I.

Selim died 500 years ago in 1520. It was during his lifetime that the Ottoman Empire grew from a strong regional power to a gargantuan global empire. For Erdogan, this sultan from half a millennium ago serves his contemporary needs. Selim in many ways functions as Erdogan’s Andrew Jackson, a figure from the past of symbolic use in the present. Selim offers a template for Turkey to become a global political and economic power, with influence from Washington to Beijing, crushing foreign and domestic challengers alike. He helps Erdogan too to make his case for Islam as a cultural and political reservoir of strength, a vital component of the glories of the Ottoman past, which he seeks to emulate in contemporary Turkey against the dominant elite secularism that has reigned since its founding.

We should be wary of Erdogan’s embrace of Selim’s exclusionary vision of Turkish political power. It represents a historical example of strongman politics that led to regional wars, the attempted annihilation of religious minorities, and the monopolization of global economic resources. In addition to his attempts to monopolize natural gas reserves around Turkey, today this takes the form of Erdogan’s foreign military ventures in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. At home, he has gone after Turkey’s Shiite community, Kurds, intellectuals, Christians, journalists, women, and leftists. Erdogan cultivates his own Sunni religiosity to position Islam at the center of Turkey’s domestic agenda, with the church conversions the most potent recent symbols of this. Erdogan’s represents a political logic of zero-sum competition that pits Turkey against Saudi Arabia and Iran for control of the region and over claims of global Islamic leadership.

Erdogan likes Selim because he made Turkish global political power possible. From 1517 through the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire maintained the geographic shape Selim won for it, dominating the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1517, the Ottomans defeated their major rival in the region, the Mamluk Empire based in Cairo, capturing all of its territory in the Middle East and North Africa. This more than doubled the empire’s size. This explosion of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle East turned it into the region’s foremost military and political power and one of the world’s largest states. The Ottomans now controlled the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean and thus dominated the globe’s most important trade routes overland between Europe and Asia and by sea through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The Turkish Republic inherited much of that power after the empire’s demise and the republic’s rise in 1923.

While every modern Turkish ruler has distanced himself from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, and Islam, to attempt to project a more “western,” “secular,” and “modern” face for the republic, Erdogan is the first who has actively embraced the Ottoman past and the empire’s Islamic heritage. Here too Selim proves key to Erdogan’s image of his rule. Selim’s defeat of the Mamluks made the Ottoman Empire a majority Muslim state for the first time in its history, after over two hundred years of being a state whose population was mostly Greek Orthodox. [my emphasis] With this victory, Selim became the first Ottoman sultan to rule Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, thus earning the title of caliph and cementing the empire’s global Islamic credentials. If Selim was the first Ottoman to be both sultan and caliph, Erdogan is the first republican leader to profess to possessing both titles.

Like President Donald Trump’s purposeful deployment of the symbols of Andrew Jackson—prominently displaying his portrait in the Oval Office and defending his statues—Erdogan has trafficked publicly and specifically in the symbolic politics of Selim in Turkey. His most striking act was to name the recently constructed third bridge over the famous Bosphorus Strait after Selim. Erdogan has also lavished enormous resources on Selim’s tomb and other memorials to his rule. After winning a 2017 constitutional referendum that greatly expanded his powers—a process marred by irregularities—Erdogan made his first public appearance at Selim’s tomb. Staged as a kind of pilgrimage, there Erdogan returned to the long-dead sovereign his kaftan and turban that had been stolen years before. This far-from-subtle first act after winning a referendum that gave him near-limitless power made clear who Erdogan’s role model is.

Erdogan and his Islamist party colleagues regularly describe themselves as the “grandchildren” of the Ottomans. In this very pointed genealogy, Erdogan purposefully skips a generation—that of Turkey’s republican fathers since 1923—to leapfrog back in time to when the Ottomans ruled the globe with their particular brand of Turkish Sunni politics, to Selim’s day when wars and domestic repression led to wealth and territorial power. Recreating a political program akin to Selim’s is a dangerous prospect for Turkey and the Middle East and indeed the world. To make Turkey Ottoman again requires the kind of violence, censorship, and vitriol that Erdogan has indeed shown himself ready to use. The universal lesson here is that calls for returns to perceived greatness, whether in Turkey or in United States, selectively embrace controversial historical figures, mangle their history, and elevate hatred and division.

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The Apse and Gabriel Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

31 Aug

Check out: The Hidden Face of Istanbul@thehiddenfaceof — great Twitter thread.

And now covered over:

For years I had hoped that someone, even Turkish Islamists, might have the good taste to remove those hideous green billboards. Instead it just got worse and the puritanism and neurotic iconophobia of monotheism wins out. Oh well. У другом животу…in another life.

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I don’t necessarily think I’m against the changing of former churches that had become mosques then museums and then back into mosques again if they weren’t going to be churches again: but I didn’t know, like in the case of the Savior in the Chora in C-Town, that reusing a mosque would necessitate covering up the artwork… See more soon.

16 Nov

How are they going to cover all that beauty without destroying it?  A ruling is expected from a Turkish court this week to allow the church to be used as a mosque again, this, of course, creating a precedent for Hagia Sophia itself.  I don’t mind that but we have to be clear about what happens to the artwork.

Do any readers know what happened to the Hagies Sophies of Nicaea (Iznik) and Trapezounda (Trabzon), both of which have been re-opened as mosques again.?

Somebody, something, UNESCO…has to do something!

(Note : something was up with my WP account for a while no and readers couldn’t “click” on photos I posted to get full size and appreciation.  Some WP tekkies helped me out with this post, but I have to rearrange all the rest too for past posts.  Thanks for your patience.]

Saint-Sauveur_in_Chora_-_Christ_Pantocrator.jph.jpgAnastasis_fresco,_Chora_Church,_IstanbulGenealogy_of_Jesus_mosaic_at_Chora_(1)KariyeCamii-Aussenansichtup_418_churchofst.saviorinchora2Chora_Church_Constantinople_(6)Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 12.18.07 AMSaint_Andronikos_of_Cilicia_at_Chora.jpg

Very old but interesting article about the issue from New York Times 2013:  “From Church to Mosque to Museum Back to Mosque” by Andrew Finkel, an old journalist hand for the NYT, covers mostly cultural, social, artistic life than political, but he does some great work.

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