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St. Irene: The First Church of Istanbul

St. Irene Church is both the first church and the first museum of Istanbul! The name of the Hagia Irini comes from the name of Hagia Eirene (Aziz İren) which means "Sacred Peace". Let's take a look at the legendary history and architectural structure of this mosque, which has a history of about 2,500 years.


The influence of Saint Iren on Rome


It is a young woman named Penelope who gave the name to the St. Irene Church. According to the legend, like many other Romans, she came to Constantinople at the time when Great Constantine rebuilt the city as a capital. Penelope, a faithful Christian, endeavors to introduce the people of Rome to Jesus. However, the pagan Romans who refuse this do various denials to the woman to deny Mother Mary and to be subject to Paganism.

First they throw her to a well filled with snakes, but the snakes do not go to it overnight. Then they accuse the woman with witchcraft. Finally they tie her to horses and drift for hours... The Romans swear allegiance to Penelope when she is not harmed. According to legend, the people of Istanbul who meet with Christianity do not make any extremism and the revolts end when they are intermittent for centuries. As a result of this, the Emperor Constantine gave the name of Saint Hagia Eirene, meaning "Holy Peace", to the young lady, and ordered the Church of the Holy Irish in honor of her.

The place where the church is built is extremely meaningful: on the temple of Pagan Jupiter!

History of the St. Irene


In addition to having the legendary past above, Aya Irini is the greatest sanctuary of the Roman period after Hagia Sophia.

Today's Aya Irini is not a church built during the Constantine era. The original was burnt in the Nica uprising of 532 and replaced by the Emperor Justinian. Once again in the same century, this time it was not destroyed, it was enough to be repaired. All the apses and ceilings were adorned with new frescoes and mosaics while the church damaged in the earthquake of 738 was being repaired. In the period of iconoclasm, depictions were closed like all other places of worship.

Ottoman and Republican Period


Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, after the 1453 conquest, did not touch the church. Some historians write that the Sultan, who knows Greek and Roman history well, knows the story of St. Iren and does not turn it into a monument because of his respect. Topkapi Palace's Sur-i Sultani, the first order of the mosque, was used as ammunition. The weapons of the palace guards were maintained and repaired here. In the 18th century, the Ministry of War began to use it as a weapons depot and an inscription on the north side of the structure "Darü'l-esleha" was added (1726).

Over time, when the weapons in the warehouse became old and became antiques, the Hagia Irini was converted into a weapon museum by Fethi Ahmet Pasha with the order of Sultan Abdülmecit. This is the first museum of the Ottoman State; Mecma-i Esliha-i Atika (Old Arms Collection) and Mecma-i Asar-ı Atika (Old Works Collection). It is stated that the Museum of the St. Irene brought old weapons from other parts of the empire.



Hagia Irini, which was connected to the Hagia Sophia Museum during the Republican era (1939), was used as a military museum until 1949. After opening the Harbiye Military Museum, this function was lost. Since 1983 it has been used for various art events.

Architectural Structure of St. Irene Church




The Hagia Irini, like a classical Roman prayer house, was drawn in a basilica. It consists of narthexes and apses. The main dome carries 4 large elephant feet 35 meters high. The central courtyard is just as empty as in Hagia Sophia. The upper floor of the building is planned as a gigantic ancient Roman cross. Hagia Irini was not only the first church of Istanbul in the period of its construction, but also one of the greatest structures of the Roman Empire.

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