The Significant History of the First Istanbul Church of Saint Irene
St. Irene Church is both the first church and the first museum of Istanbul. The name of the St. Irene comes from the name of Hagia Irene “Aziz İren” which means “Holy Peace”.It is one of the few churches in Istanbul that has not been converted into a mosque. Let’s take a look at the legendary history and architectural structure of this church, which has a history of about 2,500 years.
The Impact of St. Irene on Rome
It is actually a young woman named Penelope who gave the name Hagia Irene to the Church. According to the Legend, She came to Constantinople like many other Romans at the time when the city was being rebuilt by the Great Constantine as capital. Penelope, a faithful Christian, endeavored to introduce the people of Rome to Jesus. However, the pagan Romans who rejected to become acquainted with Jesus tortured the woman in various ways not just because of denying Virgin Mary but making her accept paganism.
They first threw the women into a well filled with snakes, but the snakes did not do anything during the whole night. Then she was accused of being a witch. Finally, they hang on her to the horses and dragged for hours … Incredibly, the Romans were not able to hurt the woman in any way that is why they decided to obey Penelope. According to the story, the people of Istanbul who met with Christianity never continued to run riot and eventually the endless revolts having occurred intermittently for centuries came to a halt. As a result of this, the Emperor Constantine built the church of St. Irene and gave the name of Saint Hagia Irene, which means “Holy Peace” in honor of his lady whom he also announced as a saint lady.
The place where the church was built is extremely meaningful: on the temple Pagan Jupiter!
History of the St. Irene
In addition to having the legendary past above, St. Irene is the greatest sanctuary of the Roman period after Hagia Sophia. There are also 588 Councils here.
Today’s St. Irene is not a church built during the Constantine era. The original building was burnt in the Nica uprising in 532 and it was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian. it was burnt once again in the same century but there was no need to rebuilt, it was enough to repair. While the church damaged by the earthquake in 738 was being repaired, all the apses and ceiling were adorned with new frescoes and mosaics. In the period of iconoclasm, the depictions were covered as it was in all other places of worship.
Ottoman and Turkish Republican Period
Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han did not do anything to the church after the conquest in 1453. Some historians say that the Sultan, who knew Greek and Roman history well, also knew the story of St. Iren and did not turn it into a monument because of his respect. The mosque which is behind the first row of the wall of Topkapi Palace named “Sur-i Sultani” was used as ammunition. The weapons of the palace guards were maintained and repaired here. In the 18th century (during the period of Sultan Ahmet III), the mosque began to be used as a weapons store and an inscription “Darü’l-esleha” was added to the north side of the building.