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Stone from Malta, Timber from Trieste, Tiles from Marseilles and Money from England…

The Crimean Church in Istanbul: a monument to Victorian Gothic

Stone from Malta, timber from Trieste, tiles from Marseilles, and money from England…
A monument to Victorian Gothic. By Geofrey Tyack

  • The Crimean Church from the southwest, with the Bosphorus in the distance. Visability from the sea was an important consideration for the building's promoters. The short spire is faintly reminiscent of a truncated minaret

To anyone familiar with Victorian church architecture in Britain, a visit to Christ Church, Istanbul, is an uncanny experience. Here is a church that seems to have strayed out of the London suburbs or, perhaps, one of the seaside resorts of the English south coast. Having approached it through narrow streets lined with wooden houses, the visitor is suddenly confronted by a building in uncompromising Gothic style which pays no respect whatsoever to the genius loci.

Largely hemmed in by other buildings, its gabled west front partly hidden by trees, the most prominent external feature is a spire that points upwards from the north side, close to the minaret of a small local mosque. The walls are of local grey rubble stone, with stone imported from Malta for the carved detailing; the tiles (which later had to be replaced) came originally from Marseilles and the internal timberwork from Trieste. Massive buttresses give the exterior a sturdy, muscular character shared by many Victorian Gothic churches.

The narthex-like west porch leads into a calm, light and beautifully proportioned interior. Lightness and space are also characteristics of Istanbul’s famous mosques, but at Christ Church the effect is achieved in a totally different way. Like Sinan in the sixteenth century, the architect, George Edmund Street, wanted to bring worshippers to their knees. Here, however, instead of exploiting the numinous power of domed spaces, he used the North European devices of the pointed arch and the stone vault (the nave roof is of wood). The church is fairly narrow for its height, and is well-lit by large traceried windows inspired by early French Gothic architecture, with triple lancet windows at the west end and a rose window over the altar to the east. There are no aisles, and the eye is immediately directed to the chancel, which, at Street’s insistence, and against the protests of Evangelical clerics, is raised up on steps, highlighting the Eucharistic emphasis of the church’s worship: something which is still maintained. This allows for the provision of a crypt beneath, thus taking advantage of the sloping site (the east wall is eighty feet high from ground level)…

Included in this feature: ‘Restoration Drama… or How The Church Was Saved’ by Andrew Finkel

To read the full article, purchase Issue 25

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Issue 25, 2002 The Abstract Heart
£12.00 / $15.24 / €13.96
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 25
  • Mellow Fruitfulness

    When the traveller Evliya Çelebi went to Bursa in the seventeenth century, he declared that the chestnuts there were “unrivalled in the entire world”. They are still famous today - and this is the heartland of Turkish marron glacés.
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  • The Abstract Heart

    The remarkable photography of Zafer Baran emerged from a hard-edged education in a Bauhaus atmosphere. But Baran’s powers of observation were to lead him into a world of pure colour, moods and associations into which the viewer is irresistibly drawn.

  • An Odyssey in Blue and White

    Chinese blue and white has had an unparalleled influence on taste in East and West for more than six centuries. Every self-respecting Islamic court had its collection of this precious porcelain, but the Topkapı Palace amassed one of the richest in the world.

  • The Orchid Hunters

    They are a dedicated breed, but not all orchid hunters share the same agenda. Some are driven to record in minute detail the glory of Turkey’s orchid species – all 148 of them. Some are more interested in eating them. The botanist Andrew Byfield joins the quest.

  • Spirit of the Vine

    Georgia’s 9,000-year love affair with the grape has produced many a spectacular wine. Here Kevin Gould continues his series on the wines of Turkey and the former dominions of the Ottoman Empire with a visit to the country that boasts 500 grape varieties. By Kevin Gould with photographs by Jason Lowe

  • Reflections on a Summerhouse

    Arlette Mellaart recalls her life in her parents’ yalı in Kanlıca, the hauntingly beautiful Safvet Pasha Yalı, with photographs from her album. The house burnt down in 1976, taking with it her husband James Mellaart’s drawing and photographs

  • Moving Freely

    In 1960 Maureen Freely’s family packed up all they possessed, waved goodbye to Princeton, New Jersey, and stepped out into the unknown. She had no idea why. Their destination was to her merely a name on a map: Istanbul. It was to become the place she still thinks of as home. Her father, John Freely, would write the classic guidebook ‘Strolling Through Istanbul’. More than forty years later, Maureen looks back on a golden childhood of parties, laughter and, above all, adventure

Good places to stay
Buy the issue
Issue 25, 2002 The Abstract Heart
£12.00 / $15.24 / 504.31 TL
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