The church of prophetes Elias in Thessaloniki, Anna of Savoy and the so-called "Avle tou Syrge"

ANASTATIOS TANTSIS

Abstract


 

The article reexamines certain architectural peculiarities of the church known as Prophetes Elias. These are examined in conjunction with other historic details of 14th century Thessaloniki to develop a new proposal for its iden­tification.
The building stands apart from other surviving churches of Palaeologan Thessaloniki, because of its size, its prominent location, its typology (being a triconch variation known for its Athonite connotations) and also its gallery.
Its size and location speak of a possible imperial foundation. This is further corroborated because in its neighbourhood was also located the Ottoman administrator’s residence (konaki) and the area was known pos­sibly as balaat (relating to a palatial residence). Moreover the church, when turned into a mosque, was called sarayli camii (palace mosque), possibly continuing a late Byzantine arrangement. The gallery itself indicates a possible connection to a female member of the royal family since there is such a trend in women-funded monasteries in Constantinople at least from the Komnenian period. And still the choice of the Athonite architectural type might be an indication of Thessaloniki’s special affiliation to the monastic community in Chalkidiki.
Bringing all these together the possibility that the church is the result of Anna Palaeologina’s (Anna of Savoy) patronage is reexamined since her connection to the city and her activity there are well attested from other sources: she became the nun Anastasia, praised by the Athonite community for her role in the hesychast controversy, and she was often visited by monks in her “God-guarded palace”. She established Gregory Palamas (a former Lavra abbot) as the city’s archbishop and she made a donation to the nunnery of Hagioi Anargyroi including a large estate comprising of a residence among other lots. This is the most interesting piece of information since the property in question was a prized one (judging from its continual change of hands) and known as the one belonging to Syrge (Guy de Luzignan) later King of Armenia.
Therefore, in order to tie all these and make some sense out of the scat­tered information it is proposed that the church known as Prophetes Elias might have been the Katholikon of Hagioi Anargyroi nunnery where Anna/Anastasia ended her days as a nun residing in the so-called Avle tou Syrge her “God-guarded palace” nearby. That is why the church became known later as the “palace mosque” while its neighbourhood had a similar name. Apparently Nea Mone built later in the vicinity of former palaces, was also nearby and thus the transference of the Avle tou Syrge to the monastery is explained as well as is its reclaiming issued by the nuns of Hagioi Anar­gyroi.
What we come up with, beyond the interesting suggestion, is a fresh way to look at Byzantine architecture while trying to explain the peculiarities of an impressive monument. 


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