The Monastery of Stoudios
History of the Monastery of Stoudios in Constantinople (Istanbul)
This article is about Monastery of Stoudios, the most important monastery in Eastern Roman (Byzantine) history. However, I would like to address the issue from a broader perspective in order to explain exactly how the power of Christianity had increased over time in Roman politics.
Roman politics from Julius Caesar to Constantine
Military victories were necessary to gain political power in ancient Rome. This was a tradition that started from the republican era before the Roman Empire was established. As an example, let’s touch on the Julius Caesar period.
Julius Caesar was one of three consuls that ruled Rome during the First Triumvirate period. With his legions, he organized military expeditions to the barbarian tribes in the north. His victories in Gaul and Britain made him invincible. The soldiers in the Roman legions he ruled for years worshiped him. Fearing that Julius Caesar would bring the end of the Republic, the Roman Senate killed him with an assassination.
Octavius, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, did what the Senate feared. The Roman Empire, the most powerful state of the Antiquity, was established. Octavius became the first emperor of Rome under the name Augustus.
The imperial system has continued successfully for many years. The generals, who were blessed by the legions, seized the administration and caused chaos for some periods. For example, emperors changed frequently during the 50-year period between 235 and 285.
There was a polytheistic pagan belief in the Roman Empire and emperors were declared gods by the senate. The political might of the emperors was supported by a sort of shield of holiness. They didn’t have to get approval from anyone for what they did.
Transition from Paganism to Monotheistic Religion
What triggered the change of this system was the reign of Emperor Constantine. Constantine I, who came to the throne after the Tetrarchy Rule, made major reforms. First of all, he moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople. Then he took strong steps to change the religion of the state.
Constantine abandoned the polytheistic pagan religion, and accelerated the transition to monotheistic religion. By adopting Christianity, he equipped Rome and Constantinople with churches. From this point on, the emperor’s divinity would end and he would have to share his authority with the clergy.
The transition to the new order was not easy in the Roman Empire. The change that began in the reign of Emperor Constantine would be completed in 50 years. By the time of Emperor Theodosius, there were important clergymen in many religious centers of the empire.
The first incident in which clerics overshadowed the authority of the emperors occurred in 393. Emperor Theodosius, who brutally suppressed the uprising in Thessaloniki, killed 7000 people. The Massacre of Thessalonica, which was against Christian values, was condemned by the clergy. Pious Theodosius, who regretted what he had done, wished forgiveness before Saint Ambrose (Archbishop of Milan). This incident was a milestone in Roman history.
A bishop was appointed to each of the religious centers of the empire, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria. The influence of these clergy in the administration increased day by day. Thus, the coronation was no longer in the form of legions carrying emperors on their shields. Instead, bishops would bless the emperors in the name of God.
Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I was the first ruler to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Since then, the emperors had to share their authority with the clergy. Throughout the Middle Ages, the struggle for power between emperors and clergy never ended.
The Most Important Monastery of Istanbul
The main reason I made such a long introduction was to tell you how Christianity got stronger over time in the Roman Empire. In this process, The Church gained the power to give way to state policies.
One of the most influential religious institutions of the Eastern Roman Empire was the Stoudios Monastery. The abbot of the monastery had the greatest authority after the Patriarch of Constantinople. If we consider that the most powerful clergymen in the Middle Ages were the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch in Constantinople, we would understand the political power of the Stoudios Monastery.
Among the 80 monasteries in Constantinople, Stoudios Monastery was ranked first. The church, dedicated to John the Baptist, is also referred to as Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in some sources.
Ruins of the Monastery of Stoudios in Istanbul
History of Stoudios Monastery
Stoudios Monastery is the oldest church in Istanbul that has survived to the present day. It was built in 462 by Flavius Studius, the Eastern Roman consul. Studius, a wealthy statesman, built the church on his land. Devoted to Saint John the Baptist, the church also had his relics.
The Stoudios Monastery was located somewhere between the Forum of Arcadius and the Golden Gate. The Golden Gate, the most important gate opening to the city from the of Theodosian Walls, was the monumental gate used by the emperors.
A monastery was added next to the church built by Flavius Studios. The monastery, where a thousand monks lived, had self-sufficient facilities. Farming was carried out in the monastery garden so that enough food was provided to the monastery. The monastery, which trained prominent clergymen, became an important political power within the Byzantine Empire over time.
The monastery had peaked its power under the leadership of Theodore the Studite. Stoudios Monastery was the head of those who opposed Byzantine Iconoclasm.
In the Byzantine Empire, the emperors or members of the dynasty who were deposed were forced to live the monk life. Sometimes the emperors who were overthrown by their rivals took refuge in monasteries with their own consent to protect their lives. Stoudios Monastery shielded emperors such as Michael V Kalaphates, Isaac I Komnenos, and Michael VII Doukas.
Like many buildings in Constantinople, the Stoudios Monastery suffered great damage during the Fourth Crusade (aka Sack of Constantinople). The Latins, who plundered the city, stole the relics of John the Baptist, the church’s most important sacred relic. The Monastery was restored by the Byzantines only in 1290.
Architecture of Stoudios Monastery
Church of Stoudios was built in early Christianity. Like all early Roman-Byzantine churches, it was inspired by the Basilica plan. However, it was possible to see the traces of Greco-Roman architecture, as it was built in an era where Ancient Art was still present.
Columns supporting the church, a three-nave basilica, had majestic column heads in the Corinthian order. These column heads, decorated with very elegant motifs, are still standing despite all earthquakes and fires that damage the structure.
Imrahor Mosque in the Ottoman Period
The monastery was converted into a mosque during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II. The task of turning the monastery into a mosque was given to Imrahor Ilyas Bey. It was opened to worship after the renovations in 1486. The title “Imrahor”, which means the person responsible for the sultan’s stables, remained the name of the mosque in the local language.
The fame of the Stoudios Monastery also attracted the attention of the Ottomans. They built a Tekke (Muslim Monastery) next to the mosque and made those who dedicate their lives to worship live here.
The Imrahor Mosque was damaged by earthquakes and fires over time. An earthquake in 1766 weakened the foundations of the building. Due to the fire in 1782, the columns on the right side of the building were destroyed. With the roof collapsing in 1908, it became completely unusable.
The Stoudios Monastery, which has a history of approximately 1600 years, is still known worldwide. The walls surrounding the building are still standing. However, the building is closed to visitors for security reasons.