Chalcedon and its Monuments

Chalcedon’s Origins

Chalcedon’s Origins

Chalcedon (modern Kadiköy in Istanbul) was established in 685BC, a few years before the founding of Byzantium, as a colony of Greeks from Megara, on a small peninsula on the Asian shore of the Sea of Marmara. In antiquity, a nearby river that spilled into the Bosphorus, the Kalkidon or Halkis (known today as Kurbağalıdere, or “the stream with frogs”), provided the source of the city’s name. Soon after the fall of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II granted this region to the first kadı, or “judge,” of Istanbul, whence the modern name Kadiköy (“the village of the kadı”) originated. Today, there are almost no surviving remains of the ancient city. 

Rivaling the glory of both Delphi in Greece and Byzantium, especially with its magnificent temple of Venus and oracle of Apollo, Chalcedon prided itself on giving birth to renowned sculptors, statesmen and sophists. The city retained its eminence in Byzantine times, as well as its prominence in the Orthodox Church, with the veneration of a number of Christian martyrs and the subsequent elevation of its metropolitan diocese to a senior church rank. Its first bishop was Theokritos, who flourished toward the end of the second century.

The Church of St. Euphemia the Great Martyr

During the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian, many in the region of Chalcedon were martyred for confessing their faith. Among them, the most distinguished and celebrated is St. Euphemia the Great Martyr, who lived during the third century in the city, where she was consecrated as a virgin (the Christian precursor to nuns) and finally tortured to death for defying imperial orders to denounce her beliefs. She died on September 17 (between 303-6), when she is commemorated in the Orthodox Church.

Above the place of her martyrdom, Constantine the Great is said to have constructed a cathedral to preserve her precious relics. After being transferred to a church in her honor near Constantinople’s Hippodrome (today’s Sultanahmet Square) during the seventh century, when the Persian invasion probably resulted in the destruction of the former building, the relics of the saint were ultimately moved to the patriarchal church of the Holy Apostles by Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios (1454), and subsequently transferred to each new patriarchal cathedral. Today, they are preserved in the church of St. George at the Phanar.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, which comprised 630 bishops from throughout the empire, convened at the church of St. Euphemia in Chalcedon in 451. It proved to be the largest and most influential, albeit contentious and divisive council in church history. It issued the historical definition on the person of Jesus Christ as “fully human and fully divine.” At a critical moment of the council’s deliberations, when the disputing parties were unable to reach any consensus, two drafts of the confession were placed in the tomb of St. Euphemia and sealed in the presence of the emperor Marcian. After three days of prayer and fasting, the tomb was reopened and the orthodox confession lay in the right hand of the saint. This miracle is still commemorated every year on July 11. 

Although the remains of the original church have not survived, scholars believe that they lie beneath the Haydarpaşa railway station. Another church in her honor was erected nearby, in Kadiköy’s old marketplace. It was constructed in 1694 over the ruins of an early Byzantine church.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

The rapid progress and development of Istanbul’s Greek populace during the second part of the nineteenth century, combined with the expanding cultural and spiritual needs of its affluent and educated members, prompted plans for the construction of a new place of worship on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. This church, intended for one of the most attractive and suitable areas of Chalcedon, would reflect the growing prosperity of the local residents, which paralleled a similar evolution in the Greek community across the water, at Stavrodromion, where another cathedral had recently been built (Holy Trinity at Taksim).

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a central property was purchased for purposes of a temporary wooden edifice, which was consecrated in 1887 by the local Metropolitan Kallinikos. At the same time, the architect Velissarios Makropoulos designed the present marble structure, which was completed in 1905, when it was consecrated on Palm Sunday by Metropolitan Germanos V of Chalcedon (subsequently Ecumenical Patriarch from 1913-20). Historically, this is the last Orthodox church to be erected in Istanbul prior to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. The tomb of Patriarch Germanos lies in the courtyard.

The imposing basilica—reminiscent of traditional church architecture in Istanbul—is flanked by two tall bell towers. The interior holds up to 3,000 faithful and is flooded with light. The iconostasis, bishop’s throne, and pulpit are fashioned of Athenian marble. The bronze candle stands and Bohemian crystal chandelier, the marble baptismal font, and unique iconography, complement the imposing architecture.

Two contemporary iconographers were commissioned with the task of completing the icons: Deacon Prokopios (1845-1932) and Nikolaos Kessanlis (1859-1931). Deacon Prokopios hailed from the monastic brotherhood of Joasaphites on Mt. Athos, whose members were renowned through the centuries for their iconographic skills and were heavily influenced by Russian masters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the cathedral of the Holy Trinity, he painted the icons of the Pantokrator (in the interior dome), the four evangelists, and the Platytera (in the apse), as well as two icons of the Bridegroom Christ and the Resurrection inside the holy altar. Beyond his reputation as an iconographer and artist, Deacon Prokopios was also an accomplished photographer.

The second iconographer of the cathedral, Nikolaos Kessanlis, was born in the Phanar, studied art in Rome, and later worked in France and Italy. In the beginning of the twentieth century, he taught at Istanbul’s Megali tou Genous Scholi (Great School of the Nation), where he established an art studio. Influenced by the Italian Renaissance, especially by Raphael, he also served as official artist of the patriarchate. A number of his icons in the cathedral of the Holy Trinity depict scenes from the life of Christ, as well as the Holy Trinity, on the four levels of the iconostasis. His works are also found on the royal door, the bishop’s throne, the pulpit, and Epitaphios, as well as inside the holy altar.