The monastery of St. John the Forerunner “tou Stoudiou” or “en tois Stoudiou” (lit. “in the Stoudios estates”), was founded in the 5th century. It was located within the Theodosian walls, in the Psamathia region of Constantinople (now Samatya, Istanbul), in the southwest corner of the city near the Golden Gate. The three-aisled basilica, today missing its roof and in ruinous condition, is the oldest surviving church in the city and preserves a lot of its lavish original decoration. The monastery played a significant role in the religious and political life of Constantinople, especially during and after the Iconoclastic controversy. The most eminent member of the monastery was Theodore of Stoudios (759-826), who served as the abbot.
The Stoudios was founded sometime before 454 (maybe in 450) by a certain consul Stoudios (latin: Studius), of which little is known.1 Very little is known of the first three hundred years of the monastery’s history.2 Mango has suggested that the basilica was constructed in the hopes to house the head of St. John the Baptist, which was discovered in 453 in Emesa. The relic, however, was not acquired, so the church was turned over to the Akoimetoi (lit. “sleepless monks,” which celebrated liturgical services continuously) in ca. 460. The Akoimetoi served in the monastery until the 8th century.
The monastery acquired prominence under its most famous abbot, Theodore (759-826). In ca. 798 Theodore was invited by empress Eirene to Constantinople and he became the leader of the monastic community at Stoudios, which had fallen in decline. Theodore favored independent monasteries and objected imperial intervention. He opposed the court on the issues of the Moechian controversy and Iconoclasm and he was exiled twice. He died in Principos in 826 and his relics were transferred to Studios in 844. Theodore’s Testament3 and a Typikon4 for his monastery both proved extremely influential for Byzantine monasticism until the 12th century. The liturgical reforms initiated in the Stoudios resulted in the increased influence of the monastic over the cathedral rite of the Great Church. This has been called the Studite synthesis.5
After the 10th century the monastery changed sides and supported the interests of the palace. After the Latin conquest in 1204 Stoudios was abandoned. The monastery was reinstituted in 1293 by Constantine Palaiologos, brother of emperor Andronikos II, and functioned until 1453. With the Ottoman conquest it was converted into a mosque.
Despite the Stoudios’ importance for the history of Early Byzantine architecture, there has not been a thorough study of the monument. The Russian Archaeological Institute surveyed the monument in 1907-09, during which the building was cleared, a crypt under the sanctuary was excavated, and a marble inlaid floor, probably of Middle Byzantine date, was uncovered, along with burials on the south aisle.6 Due to political complications the survey was never completed. Ebersolt,7 Van Millingen,8 Peschlow,9 and especially Mathews10 also studied the building, providing valuable observations and reconstructions. Throughout the 20th century the Stoudios basilica has been both neglected and overjealously restored. Access to the site today is restricted.
Of the original buildings in the Stoudios monastery only the main church survives along with a cistern located to the southeast of the building. Gourlay also reports the existence of a two-column chapel of Middle of Late Byzantine date nearby which has since disappeared.11
The main church is an elegant three-aisled basilica, measuring ca. 27x26 m, preceded by a spacious atrium of similar proportions. Of the latter only the eastern colonnade remains, doubling as a narthex, along with portions of the north exterior wall. The atrium was square and, judging from the north wall, multiple doors on each side gave access to it. Sources indicate the existence of a font, which would have been probably located in the middle of the courtyard.
Five doors are located on the west wall of the basilica, three giving access to the nave and two to the side aisles. There are further doorways on all sides of the naos, including four on the east side.The interior of the naos is remarkable for its openness.12 The naos was divided into nave and two aisles by means of two colonnades, of which only the north one survives, made up of seven exquisite columns of verde antique marble.
The basilica had originally a gallery that extended over the narthex and the side aisles. It was accessed via staircases located on the exterior of the building.13
The chancel of the presbutery followed the traditional π-shaped form, which projected into the nave. The apse was equiped with a synthronon, although its exact form is unknown.14 A cruciform crypt was located at the cord of the apse, accessed from the east through stairs.The altar was probably placed on top of the crypt, which would have contained one of the numerous relics that the monastery possessed.
Much of the original lavish decoration of the church, described by medieval visitors, has been lost.15 Theodore of Stoudios dedicated a series of epigrams to images of saints, including John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzos, Euthymios, Dalmatios and others, which were located in the basilica.16 These were probably destroyed in the second period of Iconoclasm. The 10th-century poet John Geometres has left a lentghy ekphrasis of the building, in verse, where he described, in vague terms, the decoration of the apse.17 This included a Majestas Domini with Christ enthroned, flanked by the Mother of God and St. John the Baptist. Woodfin has convincingly argued that this was a Middle Byzantine composition.18 A fragmentary mosaic depicting the head of the Mother of God, now at the Benaki Museum in Athens, has been identified as coming from Stoudios.
The opus sectile floor is today in poor condition. It included scenes of classical inspiration, such as Orpheas, Bellerophon and Chimaera, as well as eagles and a gryphon. The floor has been dated to the 5th century19 and to the Palaiologan period.20 Megaw has argued that this pavement is similar in terms of technique and iconography to the opus sectile floor in the south church of the monastery of Pantokrator in Constantinople (first half of the 12th century) and it was part of the redecoration of the building by Isaac Komnenos, which was carried out after 1059.21
The building preserves large parts of its original sculptural decoration, such as capitals, entablatures, marble revetments, door and window frames, which are of the finest quality.22
5. Chapels and Relics
Several chapels were located within the monastery.23 The head of St. John the Baptist (acquired in the 10th century) was located in a parekklesion to the right of the main church. There is also mention of a chapel dedicated to the Mother of God, which was decorated with mosaics, and of one dedicated to St. George, where St. Blasios of Amorium was buried. Plato of Sakkoudion, Theodore of Stoudios, his brother Joseph, Naukratios, who was Theodore’s successor, and Nicholas of Studios were buried in the chapel of the Forty Martyrs, located to the right side of the basilica. In addition, the monastery possessed relics of Zacharias the prophet, St. Babylas, and others. It appears that some of the relics were lost after 1204.
1. Mango, C., “The date of the Studius Basilica at Istanbul,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 4 (1978), pp. 115-122. The date 450 was proposed by Peschlow, based on his examinations of brickstamps from the site, see Peschlow, U., “Die Johanneskirche des Studios in Istanbul,” Jahrbuch der Österrreichischen Byzantinistik 32 (1982), pp. 429-434.
2. On the history of the monastery see Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin, I: Le siège Constantinople et le patriarcat oecuménique, 3: Les églises et les monastères (Paris 21969), pp. 430-440; also “3. Theodore Studites: Testament of Theodore Studites for the Monastery of St. John Stoudios in Constantinople,” in J. Thomas and A. Constantinides Hero (ed.), Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents. A complete translation of the surviving Founders' Typika and Testaments 1 (Washington D.C. 2000), pp. 67-70, with further bibliography.
3. PG 99, cols. 1813-1824; translated “3. Theodore Studites: Testament of Theodore Studites for the Monastery of St. John Stoudios in Constantinople,” in J. Thomas and A. Constantinides Hero (ed.), Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents. A complete translation of the surviving Founders' Typika and Testaments 1 (Washington D.C. 2000), pp. 67-83.
4. Dmitrievsky, A., Opisanie liturgicheskikh rykopisei, 1: Typika, pt. 1 (Kiev 1895), pp. 224–38 [Recension A]; Mai, A. and Cozza-Luzi, J., Nova patrum bibliotheca (Rome 1849), vol. 5, 111–25 [Recension B]; repr. in PG 99, cols. 1704–20 ; trans. “4. Stoudios: Rule of the Monastery of St. John Stoudios in Constantinople,” in J. Thomas and A. Constantinides Hero (ed.), Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents. A complete translation of the surviving Founders' Typika and Testaments 1 (Washington D.C. 2000), pp. 84-119.
5. During the late Byzantine period (1261-1453), the Studite rite was replaced by the Neo-Sabaitic rite (namely an adaptation of the Studite typika by Palestinian monastic communities following the rite of the Lavra of St. Sabas), in its Athonite reduction, see Taft, R., The Byzantine Rite. A Short History, (Collegeville 1992), pp. 52-66.
6. Panchenko, B., “Ha. Ioannes Studios,” Izvestija Russkogo Arheologičeskogo Instituta 14 (1909), pp. 136-52; 15 (1911), pp. 250-257; 16 (1912), pp. 1-359.
7. Ebersolt, J. and Thiers, A., Les églises de Constantinople (Paris 1913), pp. 3-18.
8. Van Millingen, A., Byzantine Churches in Constantinople (London 1912), pp. 35-61.
9. Peschlow, U., “Die Johanneskirche des Studios in Istanbul,” Jahrbuch der Österrreichischen Byzantinistik 32 (1982), pp. 429-434.
10. Mathews, T.F., The Early Churches of Constantinople: Architecture and Liturgy, (University Pa. 1971), pp. 19-27.
11. Gourlay, C., “Minor Churches of Constantinople, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects 14 (1907), pp. 637-649.
12. The side aisles, however, might have been separated from the nave, see Peschlow, U., “Dividing Interior Space in Early Byzantine Churches: The Barriers between the Nave and Aisles,” in Gerstel, S.E.J. (ed.), Thresholds of the Sacred: Architectural, Art Historical, Liturgical, and Theological Perspectives on Religious Screens, East and West (Washington D.C. 2006), p. 55.
13. Mathews, T.F., The Early Churches of Constantinople: Architecture and Liturgy, (University Pa. 1971), p. 23.
14. Mathews, T.F., The Early Churches of Constantinople: Architecture and Liturgy, (University Pa. 1971), pp. 23-27.
15. R.G. de Clavijo, Embassy to Tamerlane, 1403-1406, ed. and trans. G. Le Strange, (New York 1928), p. 68; Majeska, G., Russian Travelers to Constantinople in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (Washington D.C. 1984), p. 40.
16. Theodore Studite, Iambi de variis argumentis, in PG 99, cols. 1797-1801; Speck, P. “Ein Heiligenbilderzyklus im Studios-Kloster um das Jahr 800,” Actes du XIIe Congrès international d’études byzantines III (Belgrade 1964), pp. 333-344.
17. John Geometres, In templum Studii in Carmina Varia, ed. J.A. Cramer, Anecdota graeca e codd. manuscriptis bibliothecae regiae parisiensis IV (Oxford 1841; repr. Hildesheim 1977), pp. 306-307 [= PG 106, cols. 942B-944B].
18. Woodfin, W., “A Majestas Domini in Middle-Byzantine Constantinople,” Cahiers Archéologiques 51 (2003-2004), pp. 45-54.
19. Panchenko, B., “Ha. Ioannes Studios,” Izvestija Russkogo Arheologičeskogo Instituta 15 (1911), p. 255.
20. Schweinfurth, P., “Ein Mosaik aus der Komnenenzeit in Istanbul,” Belleten 17 (1953), p. 496; Schweinfurth, P., “Der Mosaikfussboden der Komnenischen Pantokratorkirche in Istanbul,” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 69 (1954), p. 255.
21. Megaw, A.H.S., “Notes on Recent Work of the Byzantine Institute in Istanbul,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 17 (1963), p. 399.
22. Kautzsch, R., Kapitellstudien (Berlin - Leipzig 1936), pp. 131, 135-136, 167; Deichmann, F.W., Studien zur Architektur Konstantinopels (Baden-Baden 1956), pp. 56-108.
23. Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin, I: Le siège Constantinople et le patriarcat oecuménique, 3: Les églises et les monastères (Paris 21969), pp. 434-435, 439.