Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople

Date: 1136 (date of typikon), 1180s (installation of Stone of Unction)
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Turkey
Medium: Enamel, Porphyry, Stone
Description: Constantinople's Pantokrator Monastery was founded in 1136 by Emperor John II Komnenos (r. 1118–43) (John and his Hungarian wife, Irene, are depicted in a mosaic in the south gallery of Hagia Sophia. The surviving typikon details the multiple functions of the complex: not only would it house what for Byzantium was a sizable number of monks (up to eighty) but it also included a hospital, an old-age home, and a sanatorium for lepers. The monastery's katholikon was the south church, dedicated to the Pantokrator, built before the smaller church of the Theotokos to the north. Both are domed, cross-in-square buildings, united by a narthex. Between the two churches was a smaller chapel with two domes meant to serve as the mausoleum of the Komnenos dynasty. The typikon calls this chapel a heroon, a hero shrine.

The Pantokrator church boasted exceptional ornamentation, as befit an imperial commission. A sense of its colorful marble revetment and relief carving can be gleaned from the reuse of several panels on the minbar that was employed as spolia when the church became a mosque, named Zeyrek Camii, after 1453 (after many years of disrepair, it recently reopened as a functioning mosque). Its opus sectile floor includes an image of the zodiac and figural vignettes from the life of Samson, the Old Testament warrior to whom members of the Komnenian dynasty were compared. The church also had stained-glass windows and enamels panels on its chancel screen; some of the latter were taken to Venice during the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204–61), when the complex served as headquarters for the Venetian clergy. They were incorporated into the Pala d'Oro in San Marco, the cathedral of Venice.

The last major Passion relic to reach Constantinople was installed in the Pantokrator in the twelfth century: the Stone of Unction, on which Jesus was anointed before his burial and which allegedly bore the marks of Mary's tears. The large stone was shipped from Ephesos and supposedly carried on the back of Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–80), John II's son, to the relics chapel in the imperial palace. After Manuel's death the stone was placed near his tomb, between the heroon and the Pantokrator church. A long Greek poem on the stone commemorated these events and praised Manuel and his widow. With the insertion of the Stone of Unction, the Pantokrator Monastery evoked the Holy Sepulcher and the Komnenian rulers were uniquely elevated.

Relevant Primary Sources
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 7
Image Credits: Navid Jamali, Linda Safran, Wikimedia Commons

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Pantokrator Monastery, view from the east Pantokrator Monastery plan Pantokrator Monastery, opus sectile detail with Samson scene