Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

On Sunday, the 28th of October, the Emperor (Manuel II) of Constantinople sent for the ambassadors, and they went from Pera to Constantinople in a boat (across the Golden Horn), and found a crowd of people waiting for them, and horses to convey them to the palace (Blachernae). The emperor had just returned from hearing mass, and he received them very well, in his private chamber, the Emperor was seated on a small dais carpeted with small rugs, on one of which there was the skin of a leopard, and in the back part a black pillow were placed, embroidered with gold. Having conversed with the ambassadors for some time, the emperor ordered them to return to their lodgings, and he sent them a large stag, which had been brought in by some of his huntsmen. The emperor had with him, the empress his wife (Eirene) and three small children (John, Theodore, Andronikos), the eldest being about eight years old. On the following Monday he sent some courtiers to the ambassadors, to answer what they had said to him.

On Tuesday, the 30th of October, the ambassadors sent to the emperor to say that, as they were desirous of seeing the city, and the churches and relics which it contained, they hoped that he would graciously order them to be shown ; and the emperor directed his son-in-law, a Genoese named Ilario (Dario), who was married to one of his illegitimate daughters (Zampia), to accompany them, and show them what they wanted.

The first thing they went to see, was the church of St. John the Baptist, which they call St. John of the stone, and which is near the emperor's palace. On the top of the first doorway of this church there was a very rich figure of St. John, well designed in mosaic ; and near this doorway there was a lofty capital, raised on four arches ; and the roof and walls are covered with beautiful images and figures in mosaic. This mosaic work is made of very small stones, which are covered with fine gilt, and blue, white, green, or red enamel, according to the color which is required to depict the figures, so that this work is very marvellous to behold.

Beyond this place there is a great court, surrounded by houses, and containing many cypress trees : and opposite the door into the body of the church there is a beautiful fountain, under a canopy raised upon eight white marble pillars, and the pipe of the fountain is of white stone. The body of the church is very lofty, and near the entrance there are three small chapels, each containing an altar, and the door of the center chapel is plated with silver ; and by the side of the door there are four marble columns inlaid with small jaspers, and silver crosses, and precious stones : and there are curtains of silk across these doors, placed there that the priest may not be seen when he goes in to say mass. The roof is very rich, and inlaid with mosaics. On the roof of the body of the church there is a figure of God the Father (Christ Pantokrator); and the walls are inlaid in the same manner nearly to the ground; and the floor is enriched with jaspers. The chapel was surrounded by seats of carved wood, and between each chair there was a brazier with ashes, into which the people spit, that they may not spit on the ground ; and there are many lamps of silver and of glass.

There are many relics in this church, of which the emperor keeps the key. On this day the ambassadors were shown the left arm of St. John the Baptist, from the shoulder to the hand. This arm was withered, so that the skin and bone alone remained, and the joints of the elbow and the hand were adorned with jewels set in gold. This church also contains many relics of Jesus Christ ; but the ambassadors were not shown them on that day, because the emperor had gone out hunting, and had left the keys of the church with the empress, but he forgot to give her the keys of the place where these relics were kept. But on another day they were shown, as will presently be related. This church belongs to a monastery, and the monks have a very large hall, in the middle of which there is a table of white marble, thirty paces long, and there are many wooden seats round it ; and there are three other small tables. Within the precincts of this monastery there are gardens, and vineyards, and other things which there is not space to describe.

The same day they went to see another church called Peribelico (Peribleptos), dedicated to St. Mary. At the entrance to this church there is a great court, containing many cypresses, walnut trees, elms, and other trees. The outer walls of the church are covered with images and other figures, in gold, blue, and other colors. On the left hand side of the entrance to the church there are many figures, and amongst them an image of St. Mary, with one of the emperor and another of the empress on each side. At the feet of the image of St. Mary there are representations of thirty castles and cities, with the names of Grecian cities written under them. They say that these cities and castles formerly belonged to this church, having been given by an emperor called Romanus, who lies interred here. At the feet of the image there were certain documents written in steel, and sealed with seals of wax and lead, which described the privileges enjoyed by this church over those cities and castles.

There are five altars in the body of the church ; which is very large and lofty, supported on pillars of various colored marble, and the walls and floor are inlaid with jasper ; and the ceiling is inlaid with very rich mosaics. On the left hand side, at the end of the church, there is a handsome stone monument, where the body of the emperor Romanus is interred: they said that this monument was formerly covered with gold and precious stones, but that when the Latins captured this city, ninety years ago, they plundered this tomb. In this church there is another great stone tomb, in which another emperor is interred, and this church also contains the other arm of the blessed St. John the Baptist, which was shown to the ambassadors. This was the right arm, and it was fresh and healthy ; and, though they say that the whole body of the blessed St. John was destroyed, except one finger of the right arm, with which he pointed when he said "Ecce Agnus Dei," yet certainly the whole of this arm was fresh and in good preservation, but it wanted the thumb. The reason given by the monks for the thumb being gone was this, — they say that at the time when idolatry prevailed in the city of Antioch, there was a terrible dragon, to which one person was given every year, to be eaten. They drew lots who should be the victim, and the person on whom the lot fell, could not be excused from being eaten by the dragon. Once the lot fell upon the daughter of a good man, and when he saw that his daughter must be given up to the dragon, he was very sad, and gave her to a church of Christian nuns, who were then in that city, saying to the nuns, that he had heard that God had performed many miracles through St. John, and that he wished to believe, and to adore the arm of that saint, which they possessed. He prayed that, in addition to the other miracles which God had performed through him, he would save the girl from being eaten by this ferocious dragon, and deliver her from danger. The nuns, taking compassion on him, showed him the arm, on which he threw himself down to worship it, and bit on its thumb, without letting the nuns see him. When the people were going to give the maiden to the dragon, and the monster opened its mouth to eat her, the good man threw the thumb of the blessed saint into its mouth ; upon which the dragon turned round, and fled, which was a great miracle : and the good man was converted to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In this same church they were shown a small cross, a palm in length, ornamented with gold, with a small crucifix ; and it was placed in a recess which was covered with gold, so that it could be taken out and replaced at pleasure. They say that it is made of the wood of the true cross, on which our Lord Jesus Christ was placed, and its color is black. It was made when the blessed St. Helen, mother of Constantine, who built this city, brought the whole of the true cross from Jerusalem to Constantinople. They were also shown the body of the blessed St. Gregory, which was whole and undecayed. Outside the church there is a cloister, where there are many beautiful representations of history, among which is the root of Jesse, showing the lineage whence came the blessed Virgin Mary. It was figured in mosaic ; and was so wonderful, so rich, and so well drawn, that it surpassed all the other works. There are many monks belonging to the church, who showed the above things to the ambassadors ; and also took them into a very large and lofty refectory, in the midst of which there was a table of white marble, very well made, being thirty-five palms long, and the floor was of marble flags. At the end of this refectory there were two small tables of white marble, and the ceiling was covered with mosaic work ; and on the walls pictures were represented in mosaic work, from the salutation of the blessed Virgin Mary by St. Gabriel, to the birth of Jesus Christ our God, together with his journeys with his disciples, and all his blessed life, until he was crucified. In this refectory there were many flag stones, made to place meat and other food upon ; and in the monastery there were many cells, where the monks live ; and gardens, and water, and vineyards, so that this monastery is like a large town.

Next on that same day we were taken to visit another church of the name of St John which is at the Monastery [of the Studion] is inhabited by a congregation of monks, under the rule of a prior. The entrance gateway to the convent is very high and richly wrought, this leads on to a great court beyond which stands the main building. This is the church, which is in plan square shaped with a semi-circular apse very high built. The nave is enclosed by three aisles [namely two side aisles and the narthex] the nave and aisles being all under one roof level. The church has seven altars: and the ceiling of both nave and aisles, and the walls likewise, all are adorned with mosaic work extremely richly wrought, displaying the incidents of sacred history. The nave is built on either side with twenty-four columns of green jasper, and the three aisles have galleries, which open into the central nave. In these aisles also there are to be seen twenty-four [dwarf] columns of green jasper [placed for support below the galleries]. As regards the ceiling of the nave as also the surface of the walls, everywhere it is adorned with mosaic work. From the galleries in the aisles you may look down into the central nave, and here in place of [the usual metal grating] there is a stone lattice work that is formed of small pieces of jasper. At the east end beyond the nave is a beautiful chapel wrought with the most exquisite mosaic, whereon is displayed the figure of the Virgin Mary, for this chapel indeed was built to her honor. Attached to the church is a great chamber used as the refectory, here within stands a large white marble table, and the walls of this refectory display, wrought in mosaic, the glory of the Last Supper, showing our Lord Jesus Christ seated at table with His disciples. Further this monastery possesses many suitable outhouses, with orchards and fountains, and various other convenient commodities. 

On another day the ambassadors went to see a plain called the Hippodrome, where they joust. It is surrounded by white marble pillars, so large that three men can only just span round them, and their height is two lances. They are thirty-seven in number, fixed in very large white marble bases ; and above, they were connected by arches going from one to the other, so that a man can walk all round, on the top of them ; and there are battlements, breast high, of white marble, and these are made for ladies, and maidens, and noble women, when they view the jousts and tournaments which are celebrated here. In front of these seats, there is a row of pillars, on which is a high seat, raised on four marble pillars, surrounded by other seats, and at each corner there are four images of white marble, the size of a man; and the emperor is accustomed to sit here, when he views the tournaments. Near these pillars, there are two blocks of white marble, one on the top of the other, of great size, each one being the height of a lance, or more ; and on the top of these blocks there are four square blocks of copper. On the top of these blocks there is an immense stone, sharp at the end, at least six lances in height. It is not fixed in any way ; so that it was marvellous to think how so great a mass of stone, yet so sharp and fine, could have been placed there. It is so high that it may be seen above the city, from the sea. This column has been placed there in memory of some great event ; and on the base there is an inscription, announcing who it was who caused this stone to be placed there, and for what reason ; but as the writing was in Greek, and it was getting late, the ambassadors could not wait to have it read to them. But they say that it was raised to commemorate some great deed. Beyond it the range of columns continues, though they are not so high as the first, and the deeds of the knights are painted on them ; and between these columns there are three copper figures of serpents. They are twisted like a rope, and they have three heads, with open mouths. It is said that these figures of serpents were put here, on account of an enchantment which was effected. The city used to be infested by many serpents, and other evil animals, which killed and poisoned men ; but an emperor performed an enchantment over these figures, and serpents have never done any harm to the people of the city, since that time.

The plain is very large, and is surrounded by steps, one rising above the other to a considerable height ; and these steps are made for the people of the city ; and below them there are great houses, with doors opening on the plain, where the knights who are going to joust are accustomed to arm and disarm.

On that same day also we were taken to see the church called Santa Sophia; and the name Santa Sophia has the signification in Greek as who should say the True Wisdom, namely the Son of God. To this dedication the church was built, and it is the largest, and most honorable, and best endowed of all the churches of Constantinople. Here there are canons resident called by the Greeks Caloyers, who serve the Mass in Santa Sophia which indeed is their Cathedral Church, for the Patriarch of the Greeks has his seat here who is known among them as the Metropolitan.

On one side of the Court which fronts the church stand nine great white stone columns, the very largest and tallest that ever a man saw. Their summits are crowned each with its capital, and they relate that here aforetime had been built on the summit a great palace chamber where the Patriarch and his clergy were wont to assemble and hold their chapters. In this same Court before the church was a single wonderfully tall column of stone on the top of which stood a great horse, in copper. This was of the bulk of four ordinary horses, and astride it sat the figure of an armed warrior, of copper likewise, with a great plume on his head the shape of the tail of a peacock. We saw that the horse by iron chains from its body was firmly attached to the pillar on which it stands, lest it should be shaken loose by the wind and so fall. This great steed is extraordinarily well fashioned, one of its hind legs and a forefoot both are raised in the air as though it were prancing and about to leap down. The warrior on its back has his right arm raised, the hand open, and with the left hand, of the other arm, grasps the reins. In his right hand he holds a round gold ball. Both horse and man are so huge, and the column so tall, that it is indeed a marvel to behold. The figure of the warrior is, they say, the semblance of the great Emperor Justinian, who set it up, and who also built the Church of Santa Sophia, and performed many mighty deeds in his day fighting against the Turks .

The main entrance to the church of Santa Sophia is under an archway which rises above the doorway and is supported on four columns; it is like a little chapel very richly and beautifully wrought. Beyond this comes the great doorway of the church, the door very broad and high, and it is sheathed in bronze. Next comes a closed passage [the outer narthex] in which high up is a gallery, and beyond this again another doorway, the door covered with bronze like the first one, and this leads into the hall [or inner narthex] which is t high and broad and its ceiling is of wooden beams. On the left hand of the hall [the inner narthex] opens a broad aisle very beautifully constructed, its walls faced with many slabs of marble and jasper of divers colors; and there is a like aisle from the right side [of the narthex]: both these aisles being under the same ceiling as the hall [of the narthex] which, as we have said, is beyond the inner door of the church. [From the inner narthex] the great nave of the church may be entered through five great and high doorways where each door is covered with bronze plates, but the central doorway is the highest and is the chief gate of entrance. Thus by these you enter the nave of the church, which is square shaped with an apse, the most spacious and the loftiest, and the most beautifully and richly wrought, that I think anywhere in the whole world can be seen. This nave occupies the center of the building being bounded on three sides by the two aisles and the hall [of the inner narthex] all very high and broad, and there are passage ways between all three of them and into the nave. Further these two aisles and the hall [of the inner narthex] have upper galleries [the Gynaceum for the women] which overlook the central nave, so that thence you may hasten to and hear the Mass and the Hours. All the three upper-galleries lead one into the other, and their floorings are supported on columns of marble and green jasper, their ceilings visible, looking from the nave.

But the mighty dome that roofs the nave is by far more lofty than the ceilings of the side aisles, and this dome is circular in form and so lofty that a man must have good eyes who would examine it from below.

The nave covered by the dome measures 105 paces in the length and 93 in the width, and the dome above is supported on four huge pilasters which are encased in slabs of jasper of many colors. High up spring arches, rising from twelve pilasters of green jasper, all very tall and stout, and these are what support [the dome and the cupolas] of the main building of the church. Of the twelve pilasters the four first named are especially huge, and they stand two on the right hand [of the nave] and two to the left, and are artificially stained with a red coloring matter made from powdered porphyry. As to the ceiling of the great dome it is richly adorned with mosaic work, and here above the high altar is figured very wonderfully an immense picture displaying God the Father (Christ Pantokrator), which is wrought in mosaic of many colors. Now the mighty nave is so high, that the figure of God the Father (Christ Pantokrator) in this picture, as seen from below, appears to be only of ordinary human height. But in fact, as they assert, the two eyes on the divine face stand apart a distance of three palm lengths, though to him who looks up they appear distant one from the other no further than in the face of a man: this because of the immense height at which the picture is set.

In the center of the floor of the nave rises a sort of pulpit, which is set on four jasper columns, and its sides are covered with jasper slabs of many colors. This pulpit is surmounted by a cupola which is supported on eight pillars of colored jasper of some considerable size. Here the sermon is preached, and also on feast days they read the Gospel in this place. The whole of the flooring of the nave, and its walls, likewise the walls of the side aisles, all these are covered with numberless great slabs of many colored jasper. These slabs are well polished, displaying scroll-work and lines that are very beautiful to see. A part of the wall below the archways of the nave is built up with very fine white stone slabs, carved all over with many different figures and designs, and these slabs which are thus ornamented are set in the walls at about a man’s height from the floor, while above these the surface of the walling is wrought in most beautiful mosaic work. The upper galleries of the aisles [and narthex] overlook and enclose the nave on every side, all except [at the east end] where is the high altar: and this altar is indeed a wonder to behold. These galleries are each some twenty paces in the breadth, more or less and in the circuit these three galleries together run for a length of 410 paces. The walls of the galleries with the ceilings above them all are faced and adorned in mosaic work that is most beautifully wrought.

In one of the side galleries on the left hand fronting one who should go up there, may be seen a very large white slab of stone which is built into the wall, the center of many others that surround it. On this slab there appears, formed naturally and not wrought by human art either of sculpture or painting, the perfect figure of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, who holds our Lord Jesus Christ in her arms, while on the further side adjacent is the figure of Saint John the Baptist, His very glorious precursor. These figures as I have said are not drawn or painted with any pigment, nor graven in the stone artificially, but are entirely natural and of its substance; for the stone evidently was formed thus by nature with this veining and marking in it which so clearly depict those Persons whose figures now appear upon its surface. It is said that when unsuspectingly the workmen were quarrying out this piece of stone purposing to bring and set it up in some sacred building, forthwith they suddenly perceived these most wonderful and blessed Figures that were here, and knew it for a great mystery and miracle. Further seeing that Santa Sophia is the greatest church of the city, this slab was ordered to be brought and set up there. These sacred Figures on the stone appear as if standing on the clouds in the clear heaven, indeed it is as though a thin veil were drawn before them; and they are a very marvellous and spiritual manifestation which God Almighty has vouchsafed to grant unto us. Below this wonderful slab there stands an altar within a little chapel, where Mass is said. Near this shrine in the church we were shown a sacred relic, namely the body of a certain Patriarch that was most perfectly preserved, with the bones and the flesh thereon. Further we were here shown the Gridiron on which the blessed Saint Lawrence had been roasted alive.

This appeared most wonderful, as a thing which God himself had shown; and at the foot of these images there is an altar, and a small chapel, in which they say mass; and in this church was shown the holy body of a patriarch, which was entire, both in bone and flesh.

There are many cellars and cisterns and chambers below ground in Santa Sophia which are wrought in a fashion that is very marvellous to behold, also we saw many houses with other outbuildings round and about, but these for the most part are already falling to decay. The outer walls here are all in ruin, and various doorways that lead into the church have recently been walled up or are blocked by fall of stones. But indeed they say [that of old] the outer circuit of the church buildings enclosed a space that measured ten miles round. There is in Santa Sophia underground an immense cistern, holding much water, and it is stated to be so large that a hundred galleys might easily float in it. All these marvels that we have spoken of, we were shown in this church of Santa Sophia with many others, and they are so innumerable that it were impossible in brief to describe all, or even to enumerate the greater part. Indeed the church is so immense in size, and so wonderful are the sights to be seen there, that spending many hours of time it were impossible to make a complete examination. Even though the visitor should day by day return seeing all he could, yet always on the morrow there would be new sights to view. We may here add that the roof of Santa Sophia is entirely overlaid with sheet lead. Lastly, it is to be understood that the great church is an inviolate sanctuary, where any criminal, whether by birth a Greek or a man of other foreign nation, and whether it may be a theft or a burglary or a murder that he have committed, if he come to take refuge in this church he is perfectly safe from being forcibly taken.

On that same day we were taken to see another church which is that of Saint George [at the Mangana]. Before the same stands a great court, wherein there are orchards and many houses and the main building of the church lies beyond these. At the church door stands a great font for baptism, very beautifully wrought, and it is surmounted by a cupola supported on eight pillars and capitals of white marble that are carved and ornamented with figures. The main building of the church is very lofty, and it is everywhere adorned with mosaic work. There is seen here the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ as He appeared ascending into Heaven. The flooring of the church is a wonder of workmanship being flagged with slabs of porphyry and jasper in many colors, with scroll-work very deftly accomplished. The walls are similarly wrought, and the ceiling immediately inside the doorway displays the figure of God the Father in mosaic work. Further there is here the semblance of the True Cross which an angel points to as it appears up in the clouds of heaven, while the Apostles are seen below, as at the time when the Holy Spirit descended on them in Tongues of Fire. All this is done in mosaic work and very beautifully accomplished. In this same church is to be seen a great tomb of jasper, which is covered over with a pall of silk, and here lies buried a certain Empress.

As it was now late, the ambassadors waited until Wednesday to visit the gate called Kynegos - Hunter Gate; where they found the said Master Ilario, and the other courtiers of the emperor; and they then went to see the other things in the city, returning to Pera, where they lodged.

On another day the ambassadors were unable to pass to Constantinople, as they intended, because news came to the city of Pera, how that certain Venetian galleys had come upon the Genoese fleet, which was making war on the kingdom of Alexandria (of which Mosen Buchicate was captain), and that many persons had been killed near Mondon, and several galleys taken, together with Chastel Morate, the nephew of Buchicate.

On account of this news, there was a great stir in the city, and the people seized upon certain Venetians who were there, and took their ships ; and the governing power of the city seized a galliot in which the ambassadors were about to go to Trebizond, because they wanted to send her with a message. This caused great annoyance to the ambassadors, for the time was short, and they were unable to find such a vessel as they required, so they were obliged to seek for another ship, to enable them to proceed with the king's service. They, therefore, sent to master Ilario, to say that they could not go to Constantinople on that day, as they had promised, but that they would do so some other day ; and he sent half a pig to the embassy, being one which had been killed lately.

The following day which was Thursday the 1st; of November, as settled, we passed over to Constantinople where we found Messer Ilario awaiting our coming at the Kynegos Gate, with many lords of the Imperial household, and all taking horse they accompanied us as we went to view the Church of Saint Mary [of Blachernae].  This church is within the [Blachernae] quarter and stands close to a castle [which is the Tower of Anemas] now a ruin, but which formerly had been used as the place where ambassadors [to the Imperial Court] were lodged. We learnt that this Tower indeed had been dismantled by the late Emperor [John Palaeologus, father of the Emperor Manuel], because within its walls his elder son [Andronikos] had at one time imprisoned him the Emperor: as we shall further explain on a later page.

This church of St Mary was formerly the chapel of the Imperial Palace [of Blachernae]. It consists, in the main-building of three naves, [or rather a nave and two aisles] the nave being far greater in width and height than the aisles. These last are low built, and have galleries [forming a second floor], from which you may overlook the nave. The roofing of both the aisles and the nave is seen to be supported on great pillars of green jasper, whose bases and capitals are formed by blocks of white marble, very skillfully sculptured with figures and designs. The walls in the aisles, up to half their height under the ceiling, are faced with slabs of many colored jasper, the same being very artistically sculptured in scroll-work of a beautiful design. The ceiling of the central nave is most richly wrought with squared beams of wood joisted together, the whole ceiling of squared beams and joists being thickly gilded in fine gold. Further, though this church is elsewhere in some places out of repair, the gilding and workmanship of the ceiling aforesaid are as fresh and as beautifully preserved as though the same had but recently been completed. In the nave stands a very fine altar, also a pulpit most richly wrought: the whole edifice indeed is splendidly built, rich, and very costly; and the roof outside is entirely covered with a sheeting of lead. 

On the same day the ambassadors went to see the relics in the church of St. John the Baptist, which were not shown to them before, for want of the keys. When they arrived at the church, the monks robed themselves, and lighted many candles, and took the keys, singing and chanting all the time. They then ascended to a sort of tower, where the relics were; and with them there was a knight of the emperor's household. They then came forth chanting very mournful hymns, with lighted tapers, and many incense bearers before them, and they placed the relics on a high table covered with a silken cloth, in the body of the church. The relics were contained in a colored chest, which was sealed with two seals of white wax, on two plates of silver. They opened it, and took out two large silver gilt plates, which were placed on the top of the relics. They then produced a bag of white dimity, sealed with wax, which they opened, and took out a small round golden casket, in which was the bread which our Lord Jesus Christ gave to Judas at the last supper, as a sign who it was who should betray him, but he was unable to eat it. It was wrapped in a red crape cover, and sealed with two waxen seals, and the bread was about three fingers in breadth.

They then took out a gold casket smaller than the first, in which there was a crystal case, which was fixed in the casket, and which contained some of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which flowed from his side, when it was pierced by Longinus. They also took out another small golden casket, the top of which was pierced like a grater, and it contained the blood which flowed from a crucifix in the city of Beyrout, when a Jew once attempted to injure it. They also showed a little case of glass, which had a cover, and a little golden chain attached to it ; in which was a small red crape cover containing some hairs of the beard of our Lord Jesus Christ, being those which the Jews pulled out, when they crucified him. There was also a piece of the stone on which our Lord was placed, when he was taken down from the cross. They then showed a square silver casket, two and a half palms long, which was sealed with six seals made of six plates of silver, and it was opened with a silver key. They took out of it a board, which was covered with gold, and on it was the iron of the lance with which Longinus pierced our Lord Jesus Christ. It was as fine as a thorn, and of well tempered iron, and the handle was bored through, being about a palm and two fingers long ; and the blood on it was as fresh as if the deed which was done with it had just been committed. It was fixed on the board, which was covered with gold, and the iron was not bright, but quite dim. There was also fixed on this board, a piece of the cane which they gave our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was before Pilate. It was a palm and a half long ; and near it there was also a piece of the sponge with which Jesus Christ, our God, was given gall and vinegar, when he was on the cross. In the same case with this board, there was the garment of Jesus Christ, for which the knights of Pilate cast lots. It was folded, and sealed, that people who came to see it might not cut bits off, as had been done before, but one sleeve was left outside the seals. The garment was of a red dimity, like muslin, and the sleeve was narrow, and it was doubled to the elbow. It had three little buttons, made like twisted cords, like the knots on a doublet, and the buttons, and the sleeve, and all that could be seen of the skirt, seemed to be of a dark rose color ; and it did not look as if it had been woven, but as if it had been worked with a needle, for the strings looked twisted in network, and very tight. When the ambassadors went to see these relics, the people of the city, who knew it, came also, and they all cried very loudly, and said their prayers.

On the same day the ambassadors went to see a convent of old ladies, called Omnipotens (Pantokrator Monastery) and they were shown a stone of many colors in the church, on which it was said that our Lord was placed, when he was taken down from the cross. On it were the tears of the three Marys, and of St. John, which they wept when Jesus Christ, our God, was taken down ; and these tears looked fresh, as if they had just fallen.

Further again in the city of Constantinople there is a very holy church called Santa Maria de la Dessetria [otherwise the Hodegetria].  It is but a small church where are established certain Canons, and these religious men eat no meat, neither do they drink any wine, they partake of nothing cooked with olive-oil, nor any flesh of fish in which there is blood. The main building of this church is mo£t beautifully adorned with mosaic-work: and they keep here an icon representing the Blessed Virgin Mary, set in a fine carved frame, and the same it is said was drawn and painted with his very own hand by the glorious and blessed Saint Luke. This icon they reported to us has done, and does daily do, many miracles. The Greeks here profess great devotion to this icon: and keep the festival thereof very magnificently. The icon is painted on a wooden board, square in shape and six palms high by the like across. The board stands supported on two feet, and the painting itself is now covered over by a silver plate in which are encrusted numerous emeralds, sapphires, turquoises and great pearls with other precious stones. The icon is preserved for safety in an iron chest. Every Tuesday is its feast-day when a great concourse of folk assembles, clerics and lay persons who are of pious mind. These with many of such as are clerics from the other churches of the city, when they have said the Hours, piously take the icon out from this church and carry it to a court near by. As it goes forth it is found to be so heavy that it requires three or four men to carry it, using straps of leather, attached to cramping-irons, by which the frame must be supported. When it is thus brought forth it is set up in the middle of that court where all present make their prayers and devotions with sobbing and wailing. This being done there comes forth an old man, who prays before this image of Our Lady, and then he lifts up the icon and carries it off, as though it were of but a trifling weight, and all by himself he bears it in the procession that returns forthwith to the church. Indeed it is a miracle how one man can possibly thus lift so great a weight as is the burden of the frame. They say that to no others is it possible thus alone to lift and carry it save to this particular man [and his brothers]. But this man is of a family any of whom can do so, for it has pleased God to vouchsafe this power to them one and all. On certain feast-days of the year they carry this icon with great solemnities to Santa Sophia, thus to display it for the great devotion in which the people hold the same.

In this church [of the Hodegetria] is buried the Emperor [Andronikos, elder brother of the present Emperor Manuel and] father of the Young Emperor [John already spoken of] who is now in exile living away from Constantinople, but who they say has legal right to be Emperor, though indeed he it was who would have traitorously brought Constantinople and the Empire to ruin.  He who is now reigning as Emperor in Constantinople is named by the Greeks (Chirmanoli or) Chitmanoli, (Kyr - lord in Greek - Manuel) that is to say Manuel, and his elder brother [Andronikos] was emperor before him and at his death had left a son [John whom we call the Young Emperor. Now this Andronikos] had been disobedient, he had rebelled against his father [the Emperor John Palaeologus] and would have dethroned him. At that time the Turkish Sultan was Murád the father of Sultan Báyazíd — whom Timur so lately overcame—and at that time the eldest son of Sultan Murád [whose name was Sávají] also was disobedient rebelling agains his father. The son of the Emperor and the son of the Sultan therefore came together in a conspiracy which should have dethroned respectively their fathers, they intending then to seize on the empire and the sultanate. The Sultan and the Emperor became allies, now, to put down their sons, and marching against the conspirators came up with them and captured them in the castle of Gallipoli, the same that at this present moment is in the hands of the Turk. It had been agreed between the Emperor and the Sultan that when they should have made prisoners of these rebels, each respectively should blind the eyes of his son, and that the castle of Gallipoli should be demolished, thus to make an example to any who should in the future rebel. When the rebels were captured this castle was demolished and the Turk immediately proceeded to put out his son’s eyes: but the Emperor had compassion on his son and would not tear out his eyes, but he ordered him to be thrown into a deep dark prison, and with red-hot basins caused him to be [partially] blinded.

After some time he consented that his son's wife should go to him in prison, and she used certain remedies, which enabled him to see a little. One day, when this woman was with the emperor's son, she saw a great serpent come out of a large hole, and she told her husband ; and he said to the woman that she must point out to him the place where the serpent had entered ; and he waited there until it approached, and killed it with his hands. It was very large and wonderful, and they showed it to the emperor. When he saw it, he felt great compassion for his son, and ordered him to be liberated.

After a short time, the son returned to his evil practices, seized upon his father the emperor, and kept him prisoner for some time, until he was liberated by his knights, when the son fled. The father destroyed the castle in which his son had seized him, disinherited him, and left the empire to his brother Chirmanoli, who now enjoys it.

His son left a son whom they call Demetrius ; and it is said that he now has a right to the empire, and the question is arranged in the following manner : that they shall both be called emperors ; that after the death of him who now enjoys the sovereignty of the empire, the other shall be emperor ; that after his death, the empire shall go to the son of him who is now emperor ; then to the son of the other ; and thus it is arranged, but I do not believe that any of these arrangements will ever take effect.

There is to be seen in Constantinople a very beautiful cistern, which is called the cistern of Muhammad; it is domed in cement, and this roofing is supported from below by marble columns. These are arranged to form six naves, and the ceiling rests on 490 of the aforesaid columns, all very Stout in size. Much water can be Stored in this place, sufficient to supply the need of a great number of folk. The city of Constantinople is enclosed within a Stout and lofty wall, defended by many strong high towers. This wall runs from three angles [thus making a triangle] and from angle to angle the length of the wall is six miles, so that the whole outer circuit measures 18 miles, to wit six leagues. On two sides this wall faces the Sea [of Marmora and the Golden Horn], on the third side it is of the land. At the angle furthest from the Sea of Marmora, and overlooking the Golden Horn] is a height on which is built the Imperial Palaces [of Blachernae]. Though the circuit of the walls is thus very great and the area spacious, the city is not throughout very densely populated. There are within its compass many hills and valleys where corn fields and orchards are found, and among the orchard lands there are hamlets and suburbs which are all included within the city limits. The most populous quarter of the city is along the lower level by the shore towards the point that juts into the Sea [of Marmora]. The trading quarter of the city is down by the gates which open on the Strand [of the Golden Horn] and which are facing the opposite gates which pertain to the city of Pera: for it is here that the galleys and smaller vessels come to port to discharge their cargoes: and here by the Strand it is that the people of Pera meet those of Constantinople and transact their business and commerce.

Everywhere throughout the city there are many great palaces, churches and monasteries, but most of them are now in ruin. It is however plain that in former times when Constantinople was in its pristine state it was one of the noblest capitals of the world. They say even now that it holds within its circuit 3,000 churches, great and small. Within its area are many fountains and wells of sweet water. In that part of the town which lies adjacent below the Church of the Holy Apostles, there stretches from hill to hill, rising above the houses and orchards the Aqueduct [of Valens], and this carries water that is used to irrigate all those orchards. In a Street that leads to a gate—of those that open out towards Pera — is seen the Exchange, and in the midst of the roadway here stand the stocks firmly built on the ground, where are set those convicted of heinous crime and about to be imprisoned: or those who have contravened the laws and ordinances of the city authorities, namely, for instance, those who sell bread and meat with false weight. All such are exposed in the Stocks, where they remain night and day at the mercy of the rain and the wind, none allowed to succour them. Along the Strand by the water side [of the Golden Horn] outside the city wall and facing Pera there are innumerable warehouses and shops for the sale of all sorts of goods. Hither the traders bring and store the merchandise that comes in from overseas. Constantinople as has been said stands by the Sea [of Marmora] and two sides of the triangle of its plan lie along the shore. Facing Constantinople lies the city of Pera, and in between the two is the port [of the Golden Horn].

Thus we may say that Constantinople is similar to Seville, while Pera is like Triana [the suburb of Seville on the west bank of the Guadalquivir] with the port and ships lying between the two. The Greeks do not know the city by the name of Constantinople, as we are wont to call it, but name it commonly Estombol. (Eis ton Poli in Greek meaning "To the City").

Pera is a small city, but well peopled and surrounded with a wall, and it contains good and handsome houses. It is inhabited by Genoese, and is a lordship of Genoa It is peopled by Genoese and Greeks, and is so close to the sea, that between the wall and the water there is not sufficient breadth for a carrack to pass. The wall runs along the shore, and then ascends a hill, on the top of which there is a great tower, whence the city is watched. This hill, however, is not so high as another outside the town, which rises above it ; and on that eminence the Turk encamped when he besieged Pera and Constantinople, and here they fought, and hurled missiles from engines. The Turk twice assaulted the city, and blockaded it by sea and land for six months, with four hundred thousand men on land, and sixty galleons and ships by sea ; but they were unable to enter, nor even to occupy a suburb, so that it seems that the Turks are not good combatants, as they could not enter. The sea between Pera and Constantinople is narrow, not being more than a mile across, which is the third of a league ; and this sea serves as the port for both cities ; and I hold it to be the best and most beautiful in the world, and the most secure from all winds. Vessels lying in it are also secure from enemies, who cannot enter if both cities are of one mind.

It is very deep and clear, so that the largest ship can come close to the walls, and place a gang board to the shore.

The land of Turkey is also very close to these two cities ; and opposite Constantinople, on the land of Turkey, there is a plain near the sea, called Scutari. Many vessels pass from these cities to the land of Turkey every day.

The Genoese obtained the city of Pera in the following way. They bought the site, as much as a bullock's hide cut into strips would go round, from an emperor, and on it they have built the city ; and they made two walls, in which they enclosed two suburbs which were near the city. But the primary jurisdiction over the city belongs to the emperor, and he has certain rights over it. The Genoese call this city Pera, but the Greeks call it Galata; and they give it this name because, before the city was built, there were certain places here, where flocks of sheep were collected every day, and they took the milk from those which they were going to sell in the city, and for this reason they call it Galata, which means the milk yard, for milk in their language is gala. It is now ninety-six years, a little more or less, since this city was built.

There are two very handsome monasteries in Pera, one dedicated to St. Paul, the other to St. Francis. The ambassadors went to see them both.

The monastery of St. Francis is richly ornamented, and contains several relics. First they were shown a glass case, very richly adorned, and set on a silver gilt stand, in which were the bones of the blessed St. Andrew and the glorious St. Nicholas, and the dress of the blessed and glorious St. Francis. In another case there were the bones of St. Catherine, of the blessed St. Louis of France, and of St. Li of Genoa ; and in another there were the bones of the innocents. They were also shewn the arm of St. Pantaleon, the arm of St. Mary Magdalene, of St. Luke, three heads of the eleven hundred virgins, a bone of St. Ignatius, the right arm of St. Stephen, the first martyr, with the hand missing, the head and arm of St. Anne. The latter wanted one finger, and they say that the emperor of Constantinople took it away to pat amongst his relics, and that there was a law suit about it. They were also shewn a silver cross inlaid with stones, in the center of which a small cross was fixed, made of the wood of the most holy true cross ; and a richly ornamented glass case, containing a bone of the glorious St. Basil. They then examined a richly gilded silver cross, inlaid with many stones, on which many relics of saints were fixed. Next they saw a glass case containing a silver hand, holding a bone of the blessed St. Llorente, relics of St. John, St Dionysius, and many other things belonging to the saints.

They say that these relics were taken, when Constantinople was occupied by the Latins ; that afterwards they were claimed by the Greek Patriarch, and that there was a law- suit about them. The ambassadors were also shown some very rich dresses, chalices, and crosses.

In this monastery is interred, before the high altar, the body of the grand marshal of France who fought the Turk, when he routed the French who came with the king of Hungary ; l and in the monastery of St. Paul lies interred the body of the lord of Truxi, and many other knights slain by the Turk, after they had yielded, and he had received a ransom for them.

The said ambassadors were in the city of Pera, from the Wednesday on which they arrived to Tuesday the 13th of November, for during all that time they could not find a vessel to take them to Trebizond ; and, as the winter was approaching, and the sea is very dangerous for navigating during the winter, they took a galliot to prevent further delay, the master of which was a Genoese named Nicolo Socato, and they caused him to obtain sailors and provisions ; and they intended to have sailed on the said Thursday, had not several accidents prevented them. On Wednesday, the 14th of November, at the hour of mass, they made sail, and set out with a fair wind down the strait, which forms the mouth of the great sea. At the third hour they were off a tower, which stands close to the sea on the Grecian side, called Trapea. They went into port at this place, filled up with water, and had dinner. After dinner they continued their voyage, and soon afterwards they passed two castles on hills near the sea, the one being called "El Guirol de la Grecia," and the other "El Guirol de la Turquia," the former being in Greece, and the other in Turkey. The Grecian tower is ruined and deserted, but the Turkish one is inhabited. In the sea, between these two castles, there is a tower surrounded by the water ; and at the foot of the Turkish castle there is a tower built on a rock, with a wall connecting them. Formerly a chain was stretched from one tower to the other, and when the land on both sides belonged to the Greeks, these castles were used to guard this strait ; and any vessel passing from the greater sea to Pera and Constantinople, or from Pera to the sea, was stopped by a chain stretched across from one castle to the other, and was thus detained until the dues were paid.

Meet Bob Atchison - the Creator of this Website

I am an icon painter, Russian Historian and Austin Web Designer formerly of Seattle, Washington and now living in Austin, Texas. My interest in Byzantium and icons began when I was 8 years old and read my first book on Byzantium called "The Fall of Constantinople".

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