The Church of the Holy Apostles (Greek: Ἅγιοι Ἀπόστολοι, Turkish: Havariyyun Kilisesi), also known as the Imperial Polyándreion (Imperial Cemetery), was an Eastern Greek Orthodox church in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The first structure dates from the fourth century, although future emperors increase and improve space. It was the second in size and importance only for the Hagia Sophia among the great churches of the capital. When Constantinople fell in the Ottomans in 1453, the Holy Apostles became briefly the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. Three years later, the building, which was in a dilapidated state, was abandoned by the Patriarch, and in 1461 was demolished by the Ottomans to make room for the Fatih Mosque.
The original church of the Holy Apostles was dedicated in about 330 by Constantine the Great, the founder of Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman Empire. The church was unfinished when Constantine died in 337, and it was brought to completion by his son and successor Constantius II, who buried his father’s remains there. The church was dedicated to the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and it was the Emperor’s intention to gather relics of all the Apostles in the church. For this undertaking, only relics of Saint Andrew, Saint Luke and Saint Timothy (the latter two were not strictly apostles) were acquired, and in later centuries it came to be assumed that the church was dedicated to these three only.
By the reign of the Emperor Justinian I, the church was no longer considered grand enough, and a new Church of the Holy Apostles was built on the same site. The historian Procopius attributes the rebuilding to Justinian, while the writer known as the Pseudo-Codinus attributes to the Empress Theodora. The relics of Constantine and the three saints were re-installed. The relics of Constantine and the three saints were re-installed. The relics of Constantine and the three saints were re-installed. in the new church, and the mausoleum for Justinian and his family was built at the end of his northern arm.
For more than 700 years, the church of the Holy Apostles was the second-most important church in Constantinople, after that of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). But whereas the church of the Holy Wisdom was in the city’s oldest part, that of the Holy Apostles stood in the center of the newly expanded imperial capital, on the great thoroughfare called Mese Odos (English: Central Street), and was the city’s busiest church. Most emperors and many patriarchs and bishops were buried in the church, and their relics were venerated by the faithful for centuries.
The church’s most treasured possessions were the skulls of Saints Andrew, Luke and Timothy, but the church also held what was believed to be part of the “Column of Flagellation”, to which Jesus had been bound and flogged. His treasury also held relics of Saint John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers, saints and martyrs. Over the years the church acquired huge amounts of gold, silver and gems donated by the faithful.
Emperor Basil I restored and probably enlarged the church, and in 874 the remains of the historian and patriarch Nikephoros I, who had died earlier in the century, were reinterred in the popular and rebuilt church, where they became the site of annual imperial devotion. In the 10th century Constantine of Rhodes composed a Description of the building of the Apostles in verse, which is dedicated to Constantine VII. The basilica was looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The historian Nicetas Choniates records that the Crusaders plundered the imperial tombs and robbed them of gold and gems. Not even Justinian’s tomb was spared. The tomb of Emperor Heraclius was opened and his golden crown was stolen along with the late Emperor’s hairs still attached on it. Some of these treasures were taken to Venice, where they can still be seen in St. Mark’s Basilica, while the body of St. Gregory was brought to Rome.
When Michael VIII Palaeologus recaptured the city from the Crusaders, he erected a statue of the Archangel Michael at the church to commemorate the event, and himself. The church was partially restored again by Andronicus II Palaeologus in the early 14th century, but thereafter fell into disrepair as the Empire declined and Constantinople’s population fell. The Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti saw the dilapidated church in 1420.
In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. The cathedral church of Hagia Sophia was seized and turned into a mosque, and the Sultan Mehmed II re-assigned to the Greek Patriarch Gennadius Scholarius the church of the Holy Apostles, which thus became the new administrative center of the Greek Orthodox Church. But the Church was in a dilapidated state, and the area around the church was inappropriate and soon settled by Turks. After the killing of Turk by Greek, the Turkish dwellers became hostile to the Christians, so that in 1456 Gennadius therefore decided to move the Patriarchate to the Church of St Mary Pammakaristos in the Çarşamba neighborhood.
After the demolition of the dilapidated church in 1462, from 1463 to 1470 the Sultan built on the 11 hectare site to mosque complex of comparable magnificence. The result was the Fatih Cami (English: Mosque of the Conqueror), which although rebuilt after its destruction because of the earthquake of 1766-still occupies the site and houses Mehmed’s tomb.