1 April 2018
On the hunt for proper Easter cards, rather than bunny rabbits, chicks emerging from eggs, or spring flowers, I stumbled upon the image above and fell upon it breathlessly. It did all the things that pull you up short. It is an image to contemplate time and again.
It is also one of those that whatever you write or say about it sounds crass.
Just look at it. Christ is breaking, exploding out of the tomb, hauling Adam and Eve out of their graves with either hand (that’s you and me). He is flanked by John the Baptist, David, Solomon, and other kings. He has broken down the gates of Hell and Satan lies bound before Him.
It is quite the most dynamic illustration of the Resurrection that I have ever seen. The force, the energy, and the springing strength of the risen Christ is palpable. It is unlikely that I will ever get to see it, but those of you who still travel (and there are many of you) head to the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, in the Edirnekapı district of Istanbul.
There has been a church on the site since the fourth century, but much of the fabric of the present building dates from the eleventh. Here are some of the oldest and finest mosaics and frescoes, lots and lots of them, mercifully well-preserved and restored.
The church is also known, charmingly, as the Church of The Holy Redeemer in the Fields, because of its situation outside the walls of Constantine. Think St Martin in the Fields, or St-Germain-des-Prés. In the 16th century during the Ottoman era, it became a mosque and is known today by its Turkish name Kariye Camii. The stunning frescoes and mosaics representing the life of Jesus, His mother, and other episodes from the Bible were covered up with plaster, paint and dirt, but not lost.
When the church was secularised and became a museum in 1948, they were uncovered and restored to all their glorious magnificence; work sponsored by the Byzantine Institute of America and Dumbarton Oaks.
Don’t imagine that I knew everything I have described above. Far from it. Still breathless from the beauty of the painting, a friend lent me a superb book: Strolling in Istanbul by Hilary Sumner Bond and John Freely. It contains 537 pages of incentives to pack up and go there immediately. I have just ordered a secondhand copy for 27p – a snip, even with the delivery charge.
BH and I always intended to visit Istanbul, but Rome (and a special uncle) never failed to beguile us westwards.
I know that the miracle of Easter is the same wherever we celebrate it, be it St Peter’s or St Catherine’s or St Casimir’s. But in Istanbul we are in magic carpet territory. Would that I had one to whisk me not only to the place, but also back in time to partake in the Greek Orthodox Liturgy on this holiest of days!
Happy Easter Day!
καλό Πάσχα !