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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

St. Sophia 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 3

The most difficult task of the builders of St. Sophia, a feat yet unsurpassed even in modern architecture, was the erection of an enormous, and at the same time very light, dome. The task was accomplished, but the remarkable dome did not last very long; it caved in even during Justinian's period and had to be rebuilt on less daring lines at the end of his reign. Justinian's contemporaries spoke of St. Sophia with as much transport as did later generations, including the present. The Russian pilgrim of the fourteenth century, Stephen of Novgorod, wrote in his Travels to Tsargrad (Constantinople), As for St. Sophia, Divine Wisdom, the human mind can neither tell it nor make description of it. In spite of frequent and violent earthquakes, St. Sophia stands firm even today. It was transformed into a mosque in 1453. Strzygowski said: In conception the church (St. Sophia) is purely Armenian.

As time went on the true story of the erection of St. Sophia was transformed in literature into a sort of legend with a large number of miraculous details. From the Byzantine Empire these legends found their way into south-Slavic and Russian as well as into Muhammedan, Arabic, and Turkish literature. The Slavonic and Muhammedan versions present very interesting material for the history of international literary influences.

The second famous church of the capital erected by Justinian was the Church of the Holy Apostles. This church had been built by Constantine the Great or by Constantius, but toward the sixth century it was in a state of complete dilapidation. Justinian pulled it down and rebuilt it on a larger and more magnificent scale. It was a cruciform church with four equal arms and a central dome between four other domes. Again the architects of the Church were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore The Younger. When Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453 the church was destroyed to make room for the mosque of Muhammed II the Conqueror. A clearer conception of what the Church of the Holy Apostles was like can be obtained from St. Mark's at Venice, which was built on its model. It was copied also in St. John at Ephesus, and on French soil in St. Front at Perigueux. The beautiful lost mosaics of the Church of the Apostles have been described by Nicholas Mesarites, a bishop of Ephesus, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and were thoroughly discussed by A. Heisenberg. The Church of the Apostles is known to have been the burial place of the Byzantine emperors from Constantine the Great to the eleventh century.

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