Patriarchal Church of Saint George (Phanar)
The Patriarchal Church of St George, Phanar (Greek: Kathedrikós Naós tou Agíou Geōrgíou, Καθεδρικός ναός του Αγίου Γεωργίου; Turkish: Aya Yorgi) is a Greek Orthodox cathedral church in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly Constantinople). Since the early seventeenth century it has been the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the senior patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox church.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453, the population of Constantinople became largely Muslim. The Phanar district, which is northwest of the center of old Constantinople, became the center of Greek Christian life in the conquered city. Following the fall of Constantinople to Mohammed II, he assigned the use of the Church of the Holy Apostles (the burial place of Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian) to Patriarch Gennadius Scholarius as his cathedra. Since the church was in a section of the city with few Christians, Gennadius was given permission to use the Church of the Pammakaristos as the cathedral church. Pammakaristos remained the patriarchal seat from 1456 to 1586 when the Sultan took it back and converted it into a mosque. Over the next couple decades the Patriarchal cathedra first moved to the Church of the Panagia of Consolation and then to Church of St. Demetrius of Xyloporta. In 1601, Patriarch Matthew II moved the patriarchate to the church of the female monastery of St. George in the Phanar district, making it his cathedral church. During the following years the original church was much modified.
In 1614, Patr. Timothy changed and enlarged the church. In the late seventeenth century Patr. Callinicus II the Acarnan modified the church again. Early in the eighteenth century the church was severely damaged by fire. Patr. Jeremias III finally received permission in 1720 from the Turks to begin rebuilding the church. The reconstruction effort, begun by Jeremias III, was continued under Patr. Paisius II. A major fire in 1738 again severely damaged the church, and permission to rebuild it was not obtained until 1797.
The reconstruction, begun in 1797 by Patr. Gregory V, largely produced the structure of the church that exists today. Little remains of the original building. The plan for the church was a basilica with a nave and two aisles with three semicircular apses in the eastern end. A narthex was built across the western end. The aisles are defined by colonnades that separated them from the nave. A synthronon is arranged at the back of the altar as a semi-circle of seats along the curved wall of the apse for the senior clergy, with the patriarchal throne of marble in the center.
Patr. Gregory VI made further changes to the church in the late 1830s. Principal among these changes was the raising of the roof to its present height. Also added was the neo-Classical marble doorway that makes the exterior in front of the church different from the Byzantine style of most Orthodox churches in the region. During the reign of Patr. Joachim III in the late nineteenth century extensive remodeling of the interior of the church was conducted. In 1941, the church was again damaged by fire. For political reasons this damage was not repaired until 1991.
Among the treasures in the church are the marble throne which is believed to date from the fifth century and the relics of Sts. Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. These relics were among the loot taken from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 that were returned to the patriarchate in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.
With the Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul greatly reduced, the Cathedral Church of St George, while relatively small for the cathedral of the senior hierarch of the Eastern Church, serves today mainly as the symbolic center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and a center for pilgrimages for Orthodox Christians.
The address of the cathedral is Fener Rum Patrikhanesi, Sadrazam Ali Pasa Cadesi, Fener 34220, Istanbul, Turkey.
- Claude Delaval Cobham, The Patriarchs of Constantinople, H.T. E. Duckworth, Introduction II, 84-85
- Church of St. George, Phanar article by Athanasios Paliouras (Ecumenical Patriarchate Website)
- Wikipedia: Church of St George in Istanbul