This monument is one of the high points of my visit. Unfortunately, none of the photos I have found give any idea of the sense of space and light in this church, which is behind Hagia Sophia, just inside the Imperial Gate of Topkapi.
As with so many buildings in Istanbul, I did not know what to expect when I walked in, down a Turkish stone passageway into the body of the Church. Actually, I say down, because over the centuries, the ground has risen up around, with the debris of the centuries.
The walls are almost bare, a product of both restoration and, it appears, the iconoclast movement. Thus, there is no mosaic, but in the apse on high, maybe 50 or 60 feet up, floats an extraordinary gold mosaic of a cross on a pedestal. A little bit of painted or plaster decoration is visible in the aisles.
When I first saw this church, the most extraordinary music was playing - the Officium, by Jan Garbarek, with the Hilliard Ensemble, accompanied by soprano saxophone to ancient music.
If ever I felt struck by the potential for a conversion experience, this was the moment: with that extraordinary, simple cross up above.
Below, in the bemah area of the apse, on the stage (it is now used as a performance space), is a wire globe with white doves fluttering inside. The artist on exhibition has set up tubular xylophone cylinders to let hit each other, and there is one stand with Turkish extracts of the Koran and the Bible. All sorts of other representations of man, derived from DaVinci's man with arms outstretched are around the church. Quite remarkable, to say the least.
I went back there 3 times, I think. It appears that the current church was rebuilt in 740, during an earthquake, but the original church goes back to Constantine's time. However, as with Hagia Sophia, during the Nike revolt of 532 - lots of murders by so just Justinian of his theological and political enemies (and the ordinary folk out for a good riot), it was set alight, along with Hagia Sophia. It was rebuilt by Justinian, and basically is the same building but for repairs and the iconoclast decoration. Most photos of the interior that I have seen in reference books predate the restoration.
At the rear is a wonderful Turkish wooden staircase that leads up into the gallery, and there is a narthex and atrium that are being restored. Go there, and experience that wonderful space!!