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The church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki

The church of the Holy Apostles rises on the south side at the beginning of Ayiou Dimitriou Street, which coincides with the site of the Letaia Gate. Once the katholikon of a monastery, it owes its modern name to the popular belief that the church was once roofed with twelve domes symbolising the apostles. In all probability, however, the katholikon was dedicated to the Virgin, as is attested by the repertoire of the wall-paintings in the ambulatory of the church, and the portrayal of its second founder along with the Virgin.

The monastery was founded in the period 1310-1314, with a grant from the Patriarch Niphon I. Between the years 1520 and 1530 the church was converted into a mosque by Cezeri Ka-sim Pasa, alter whom it was named. It was also known as Soguk Su Camii (cold water mosque), however, from the cistern next to it. The surviving parts of the monastery complex include, in addition to the katholikon, a portal to the south- west, and a cistern to the north-west.


Mosaic scene of the Transfiguration

The katholikon belongs to the type of the complex tetraslyle cross-in-square church with a narthex and ambulatory on three sides. The ambulatory ends at the east in chapels and is roofed with four small domes at the corners, the two at the west end of the church being folded internally. The east, face is dominated by the large, seven-sided sanctuary apse, flanked by the smaller three-sided apses of the prothesis and diakonikon.
The building has very harmonious proportions, its facades are relieved by blind arcading and brick half-columns, and there is some very rich decorative brick-work, especially on the east face.
The brilliant - even in its present fragmentary condition - mosaic decoration of the church was executed thanks to a grant from the Patriarch Niphon, for works of this kind were very costly. The Patriarch's intention was to decorate the upper part of the church with mosaics and the lower part with marble revetment, presumably in imitation of churches in Constantinople, particularly the Chora Monastery, which he seems to have used as a model.

The appearance of the angel to Zacharias

The scene of the bathing of the infant, from the Birth of Saint John the Baptist


On the main dome, the mosaics depict the Pantokrator in bust, surrounded by ten full-length prophets. Lower down, the pendentives have portrayals of the four evangelists, with the Ayion Mandelion amongst them at the base of the dome. Scenes from the Dodekaorton are preserved on the vaults over the arms of the cross, on two arches, and on the west wall. The Nativity and Baptism are depicted on the south vault of the cross, the Transfiguration and the Entry into Jerusalem on the west, the Descent into Hell and the Crucifixion on the north, and a small part of the Annunciation and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple can be made out above the arches linking the north-east column with the north wall and the south-west column with the south wall respectively. On the west wall is preserved part of the Dormition of the Virgin, and ten full-length figures of saints are depicted in the west part of the church, with the busts of two more saints above the three-light window on the north side.


The Entry into Jerusalem. The Hebrews.

Herod's Banquet.


The wall-paintings completing the decoration of the katholikon are of equally high quality. They were inspired by the Abbot Pavlos, who followed the iconographic programme laid down by the Patriarch Niphon, as is clear from the unity of conception of the decoration as a whole. The apse and vault of the sanctuary were left undecorated. The lower parts of the walls of the sanctuary, the nave, the ambulatory and the esonarthex were adorned with figures of hierarchs and deacons, hermits, martyrs and military saints. The upper parts of the walls of the ambulatory and the esonarthex have scenes from the Old and New Testaments, from the lives of the Virgin and St. John the Baptist, the martyrdom of Saint Demetrios, and the Forty Martyrs, as well as scenes inspired by the texts of hymns.

Salome's dance, from Herod's Banquet.

It is interesting to compare this church with the Karie Camii (Chora) in Istanbul: chain article

Editor(s): Zoi Terlibakou
Latest revision: 23. March 2011 21:34 

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