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Church of St Benoit

Kemeraltı Caddesi No. 11, Karaköy

Catch the tram to Tophane

The Church of St Benoit was built in 1427 and is the oldest Roman-Catholic church still in use in the city. It is reachable by a staircase and its west side entrance features an atrium whose columns and capitals are almost totally Byzantine spolia.

The church was built to commemorate the Saints Virginis Mariae and Beati Benedicti of the Benedictine order. It was joined to the French Kingdom in 1540 and was passed into the hands of the Jesuits in 1583. After the fire of 1687, a new dome was built despite a law prohibiting this construction. In the late 17th century, it was considered to be the most beautiful church in the neighbourhood and its restorations were financed by wealthy merchants from Marseille. The church was again ravaged by fire in 1865, with only the 15th-century bell tower remaining. The tomb of the famous Hungarian revolutionist Francis II Rákócz, who died in Tekirdağ in 1735, was carried to Hungary from the church in 1906.

The church complex leans on a terrace, perhaps part of the Byzantine cistern which was once nearby. During the Ottoman times, the site was a fruit garden and was known as ‘Çukurbostan’ (‘Hollow Garden’). Originally the small church with three naves had only one dome, an atrium and a gallery, while the interior was decorated with mosaics depicting Jesus Christ. The main and the south naves are from the 1752 restoration, while the north nave was erected during the 1871 reconstruction. The first two naves have small chambers covered with domes on their ends and it is possible that the southernmost of these chambers are remains from an ancient Byzantine church. The interior has several inscribed gravestones from the 17th and 18th centuries of wealthy Levantine families, the church’s benefactors and French ambassadors.

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Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
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