Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Harrowing of Hell

The Harrowing of Hell (1315-1321)
The Anastasis fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora Church, Constantinople

The risen Christ, triumphant over Death, tramples on the shattered gates of Hell and raises up Adam and Eve. Behind Adam stand John the Baptist, David, and Solomon. Others are righteous kings.

The Chora Church was originally built outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of the Golden Horn. The church's full name was the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country.

The last part of that name, Chora, referring to its location originally outside of the walls, became the shortened name of the church.

The original church on this site was built in the early 5th century, and stood outside of the 4th century walls of Constantine the Great.

The powerful Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites endowed the church with much of its fine mosaics and frescos. Theodore's impressive decoration of the interior was carried out between 1315 and 1321.

The mosaic-work is the finest example of the Palaeologus Renaissance. The artists, unfortunately, remain unknown.

In 1328, Theodore was sent into exile by the usurper Andronicus III Palaeologus. However, he was allowed to return to the city two years later, and lived out the last two years of his life as a monk in his Chora Church.

The Anastasis fresco is in the parecclesion of the Church.The parecclesion was used as a mortuary chapel for family burials and memorials. The second largest dome (4.5 m diameter) in the church graces the centre of the roof of the parecclesion.

After the Turkish conquest in 1453, the church remained as it was for a time, and was turned into a mosque in 1511 by addition of a minaret. Then it became a museum ("The Kariye Museum") in 1948 and its frescoes and mosaics were cleaned.