The Chora Musem is extremely fortunate. It still hasn’t been completely dismantled by an earthquake. Should such a tragedy occur, the world will lose a priceless treasure. If you have downloaded Google Earth, you can view my pictorial of the Chora Museum, by clicking here.
I visited a number of Churches today, Two Greek Orthodox Churches, One Greek Orthodox Cathedral, One Bulgarian Catholic Church, One Roman Catholic Church, and the suppressed Church of Mary (Chora Museum). For the official church count of 365 churches in 365 days, I can only counting the last three.
Here is the breakdown of why.
Bulgarian Catholic Church / St. Steven’s? This gets a little complicated, but the Bulgarian Catholic Church is a rite of the Catholic Church that follows the Byzantine Liturgy. They have been in communion with Rome ever since 1859. Statistics from 10 years ago claimed that there were 15,000 members, a handful of parishes, and 20 priests in the world. I have no idea why they are here in Turkey, but St. Steven’s is a really cool church… or really hot, depending on the time of year. This statement is scientifically accurate because the church an excellent conductor of thermal energy. The entire structure is cast iron, poured in Vienna, shipped to Turkey, and then welded together. It is like walking into a submarine, but instead, it is a two story church with a steeple. Very interesting! To see to Google Earth pictorial I made of the parish click here.
Chora Museum? Well, before serving as a museum, it was a mosque. In 1948 the Byzantine Institute of America restored the mosaics and frescos on the walls that were previously covered by plaster during the Ottoman Empire. The building dates from the eleventh century, which is right around the time that there started to be a clear division between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church, so I’m going to say that for at least a few years, it was part of the undivided Church. Therefore it counts.
The Basilica of St. Anthony? This is the principal Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul. To view my Google Earth pictorial of the Basilica, click here. The Greek Orthodox churches I viewed were equally beautiful and stunning for many different reasons, especially St. George’s cathedral, the patriarch’s seat in Istanbul.
To view these churches click on their tabs in the Places section of your Google Earth Browser after you have downloaded any of the previous links.Today was a really good chance to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the Eastern and Western churches. But it wasn’t until I was in the Basilica of St. Anthony that I put it all together. My Muslim tour guide, (again… who was supposed to be giving me the tour) asked me about the Stations of the Cross, and while showing him the stations, it all clicked.
I was taking showing him the First Station… the Second Station… the Third Station… and then my tour guide said.“Gee this church really focuses a lot on death.”“Tell me about it.”“But where does it come from? How do you know that Jesus fell three times on his way to the cross?”“Do you remember those mosaics we saw today in the Chora museum?”
I explained to him that the Stations of the Cross were apocryphal. They came from the development of tradition, not any real canonical text that gives us the specific details. As a community, we have imagined these things, to aid us in understanding the importance of this event.And the artists who decorated the church that is now the Chora Museum did the same thing.
The reason the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this blog didn’t notice so much “death and dying” in this ancient Byzantine Church is because the religious imagination of the community focused more on Mary, but in the same apocryphal way that the Roman Church depicts the Stations of the Cross.
If you can go back to that Google Earth pictorial of Chora Museum, you will notice something very unusual for Roman Catholics. There are stories about Mary, which we never hear about. These stories have been put into the mosaics on the ceiling of the church. The Annunciation by Gabriel to St. Anna of Mary’s birth. The Birth of Mary. Mary’s First Seven Steps of Mary. The Courting of Mary by Suitors. The Selection of Joseph. Joseph’s Family from Previous Marriage, on and on… the story of Mary gets built up into this elaborate legend that is completely vacant in the Roman Catholic Church, almost to the same extent that the Stations of the Cross are vacant in Greek Orthodox / Byzantine Rite churches.
It is really worth a look to see the pictures. There is no biblical text that can support any of the mosaics, but it stands to reason that Mary was born, and had a father and mother, and they took care of her, and she learned to walk, in the same way that it stands to reason that Jesus probably fell when he had a heavy cross on his back.
There are a lot of differences between the Eastern and the Western Church. Some of these differences are glaring, some are subtle, but what I realized today, is that most of those differences are results of the exact same process, applied to the different contexts of the Church’s history. To see the inherent unity, longing to be made explicit, it means we have to look through the differences, not past them, in order to see what is really going on.