In the comments section of my post on the Georgian Catholic church in Istanbul, a reader requested “a series of posts on some of the odder churches of Istanbul“. As far as I know, the Georgian church I wrote about is the only one in Istanbul, and so a whole series of posts about Istanbul churches would be too far afield from the main focus of this blog. But one post about churches in Istanbul is still somewhat related to Georgia, and so that’s what this post is. Of course, a post about churches in Istanbul would not be even remotely similar to a post about religion in Istanbul, since the modern city is overwhelmingly Islamic. So in the interest of comprehensiveness, this post will also cover some mosques of interest. Religious life also deals with cemeteries, so I’ve included those too.
Still, as a post dealing with the general topic of “Religion in Istanbul”, this discussion will be woefully incomplete. For one thing, I won’t talk about big, flashy tourist spots like the Hagia Sophia or the New Mosque. There’s plenty of information and pictures of that stuff out there already, and the world really doesn’t need any more. For another thing, in several cases I wasn’t able to enter the church or cemetery or whatever, and even if I could, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. So this post will be more uneven than I would have liked. On the other hand, there will be a lot of nice pictures (all taken by me).
This post is really long, so for your convenience, here’s a clickable table of contents (seriously, click the links to go straight to what interests you the most!):
Sayat-Nova (Սայաթ-Նովա, საიათნოვა, Саят-Нова) was an Armenian troubadour poet and musician. He is an important figure in the history of Armenian literature, but he composed songs in all the major languages of the South Caucasus and maintained friendly relations with Georgians and Azeris. For this reason, it has become something of a cliche in writings about the South Caucasus to invoke Sayat-Nova as a symbol of peace and ethnic neighborliness. Besides his intrinsic importance, Sayat-Nova was also the quasi-subject of Sergei Parajanov’s brilliant film The Color of Pomegranates.
Sayat-Nova as portrayed by Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli in The Color of Pomegranates
The Armenian alphabet is an alphabet used mostly for writing the Armenian language, though it has occasionally been used for other languages. It looks strange to me, like a cross between the Georgian alphabet and the Arabic alphabet. I don’t know if there’s any objective sense in which individual Armenian letters are actually harder to read than Georgian ones, but because of its distinct upper and lower cases, Armenian writing as a whole is probably objectively harder to learn than Georgian.
The Armenian alphabet with Eastern and Western transliterations (I think “fort” indicates aspiration rather than ejectivity)
When Jesus was crucified, so the story goes, Pontius Pilate affixed a sign to the cross which read “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” . On most crucifixes, this mocking title is represented by initials on a sign over Jesus’s head. On Catholic crucifixes, the sign says INRI, short for the LatinIesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum; on most Orthodox crucifixes, the sign says ΙΝΒΙ, short for the GreekIesous ho Nazoraios ho Basileus ton Ioudaion (Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων).
Georgians, on the other hand, use their own language: ႨႬႫჀ (INMH), for Iesu Nazareveli Meupey Huriatay (იესუ ნაზარეველი მეუფჱ ჰურიათაჲ).