CHORA MUSEUM

MOSAICS DEPICTING THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST

Joseph’s Dream and Journey to Bethlehem:Three different scenes are depicted in the lunette on the north wall of the outer narthex. On the left side of the scene, Virgin Mary is together with Elizabeth. Mary says, “you are the dear subject of God, and the baby in your womb has been blessed” (John the Baptist was going to be born). On the lower left corner of the scene, Joseph has thoughtfully fallen asleep after recognizing that Virgin Mary was pregnant. An angel approaching Joseph says that he should not leave her, that Virgin Mary was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, that she was going to give birth to a son who would save people from their sins, and that he was going give him the name Jesus. Here, the monograms above the head of Virgin Mary mean “Mother of God”.

In the depiction on the right side, Joseph is seen in the back in a mountainous area, Virgin Mary is seen on top of a mule in the middle, and the son of Joseph is in the front. The background includes the depiction of the city. The inscription on the upper part of the scene reads “and Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David”, and the one on the lower part reads, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his dream, and said, Joseph, you the son of David, do not be afraid of accepting Mary as a spouse, for the one who has been born by her is the Holy Spirit”.

Enrollment for Taxation before the Governor:In the depiction on the east lunette of the northern section, the census conducted upon the order of Emperor Augustus for collecting taxes in all Roman provinces. Since everyone had to register in the city where he/she was born, Joseph, a descendant of David, and his family went to Bethlehem for the census. Quirinius, the governor of Syria and Palestine is sitting on the throne, and there is a military guard next to him. In front of the governor, a Roman soldier who is in charge during the query and holding a sword, and a scribe who is recording, are enrolling the pregnant Virgin Mary. When the father of the child was asked, Virgin Mary remained silent, but Joseph behind her answered immediately and accepted him as a son by declaring himself his father. Behind him, his three sons are seen. The inscription reads, “... because he belonged to the house and line of David... he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child”. The monogram above the head of Virgin Mary means “Mother of God”.

Birth of Christ:On the eastern arch in the central section is the scene of the birth of Christ. During their return from Bethlehem, where they had been for the census, since there was no room for them in the inn and since Mary was suffering childbirth pains, she was obliged to give birth to her baby in a cave. In the scene, Virgin Mary is resting on a blanket in lying position, and the child Christ wrapped in clothes is warmed by a donkey and a bull that breathe upon him, under light beam coming from the sky. There is a group of angels behind Virgin Mary on the right side, and a messenger angel, who is addressing shepherds, on the left side.

In the scene on the lower part of the mosaic panel about preparations for the bath of the child Jesus, a woman is preparing the first bath water of Jesus, while another woman is holding Jesus in her arms. Joseph, who is sitting next to them, seems to be astonished. The inscriptions read, “Birth of Christ” and “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”.

Three Astrologers from the East before King Herod:There is a two-part depiction on the first eastern lunette of the south wing of the outer narthex. On the left side, the three Magi (Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior) on horseback who follow the star of Bethlehem come to Jerusalem and say, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage”. These words are heard by King Herod and he asks chief priests and scribes for information about this issue. When he learns that the newborn is in Bethlehem, he calls the three Magi, says that he would pay him homage and asks them to find the prophet.

The three Magi find the newborn Jesus, and become the first ones who pay him homage. Since they recognize the bad intention of King Herod, they return to their homes without informing him about the location of Jesus. King Herod realizes that he had been outwitted, and he gives orders to his soldiers to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who are two years old and under. In the scene, King Herod, who is sitting on a throne before an architectural structure, is holding a staff in one of his hands and extending his other hand towards the Magi. There is a guard behind the king, and three Magi standing before him. The astrologer on the left side with a long beard is holding a chest, which contains a gift to be presented to Jesus Christ.  The chest contains moral symbols that are going to be presented to a god for the first time, namely myrrh, incense and gold. The inscription on the scene reads, “Magi from the east came and asked, where is the one who has been born king of the Jews”

Return of Three Astrologer Kings to their Countries:In the scene between the two arches in the east leading from the outer narthex to the parecclesion the return of the astrologer kings to their country after presenting their gifts is depicted. This scene is only partially preserved, showing a rider on a rearing horse.

Inquiry of Herod:The depiction on the second east lunette of the southern wing of the outer narthex is partially destroyed. Here, only the depictions of King Herod and the guard behind him are seen. King Herod, who was informed by the three Magi about the birth of the new king, learns from his chief priests and scribes that this event was to occur in Bethlehem. Behind him, a guard is waiting. The inscription on the scene reads, “When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born”.

Flight into Egypt:The mosaics in the inner part of the outer narthex extending towards the parecclesion have not completely survived. On the lunette on the south wall of this section, Joseph, who saw in his dream that Herod was going to harm Christ, takes the holy family to Egypt. The inscription here reads, “Flight into Egypt”. 

Ordering of the Massacre:In the scene on the south lunette in the southern wing of the outer narthex, since the Magi from the east returned to their country after finding the baby Christ and presenting him their gifts, King Herod orders the killing of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. On the left side is King Herod who is sitting on a throne, two guards behind him, and three soldiers before him, and on the right side, children are killed by the soldiers. One of the mothers is not able to look at her child who was disemboweled, and another one is trying to hide her child. The inscription on the mosaic scene reads, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under”.

Mothers Mourning:In the mosaic depiction, which has not completely survived, on the west arch of the second section of the southern wing of the outer narthex, mothers whose children were killed mourn together their dead children. The inscription reads, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning”.

 

Flight of Elizabeth and John from the Massacre:In the scene on the west arch of the first section of the southern wing of the outer narthex, Saint Elizabeth takes shelter in a cave in a mountain together with her son John the Baptist, and a soldier on the left side is pursuing them with a drawn sword. Elizabeth and her son miraculously escaped the massacre, thanks to a rock closing the entrance to the cave. The inscription on the mosaic scene reads, “Flight of Elizabeth”.

Return of the Holy Family from Egypt to Nazareth:In the scene on the arches above the windows on the western walls of the outer narthex, the Holy Family, which had went to Egypt fleeing from the massacre of King Herod, returns to Nazareth. On the left side, an angel approaching the sleeping John says that King Herod had died, his son Archelaus had replaced him, and they could return. In the other scene, John is carrying Child Christ on his shoulders in the front, Virgin Mary is behind them, and the son of John pulling a loaded donkey is behind her. The city of Nazareth is seen on the far right of the scene. The inscription reads, “Having been warned by God in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth”. The monogram above the head of Virgin Mary reads “Mother of God”, and the one above the head of Christ reads “Jesus Christ”.

Christ taken to Jerusalem for the Passover:In the scene on the last arch on the western wall of the outer narthex, the holy family is every year traditionally going to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover in order to fulfill their religious duties. In this scene, Jesus was twelve years old and when the family recognized during their return from Jerusalem that he was missing, John and Virgin Mary returns to Jerusalem and look for him for three days. They find him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. In the scene, Virgin Mary is at the back, the two sons of John and Christ in front of her, and John in the forefront. The city of Jerusalem is depicted on the right side of John.

This scene is interesting as the last scene in the Chora where the young Christ is without a beard. The inscription on the scene reads, “And every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover”.

Inside the medallions on the arch, some saints such as Anempodistus, Elpidephoros, Aphthonios, Akindynos and Pegasios are depicted. Since these mosaic panels were made by different artists, some of them are not of great artistic value. The monogram seen above the head of Virgin Mary means “Mother of God” and the one above Christ’s head means “Jesus Christ”.

Mosaics Depicting the Youth of Christ:Most of the mosaics on the east vault of the northern wing of the outer narthex have not survived. As understood from the existing remains, scenes depicting Jesus’ childhood and youth should have been here. In the surviving depiction, the young Jesus is at the temple, among the doctors.

John the Baptist- Christ and Devil:On the middle section of the first vault in the north is a decorative medallion. The scenes are surrounding the medallion. The baptism of Jesus is depicted on the northern part of the vault. At the shore of the Jordan River, John the Baptist is introducing Jesus standing before him to the crowd behind himself. Here, there are two apostles next to Jesus. John the Baptist, who was born shortly before Jesus, is calling people to turn back to God and to be baptized in the Jordan River so that their sins would be forgiven. When asked, “are you the Messiah”, John replied, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been charged before him (Jesus). I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. Jesus accepts the invitation and comes to the Jordan River. Despite the insistence of John who wanted to be baptized by Jesus, Jesus himself becomes baptized. At this moment, the Holy Spirit comes down from the heaven in the form of a dove and settles on the head of Jesus. At this moment, a voice from the heaven is heard: “This is the beloved son of God...” With this event, Jesus was for the first time introduced to the people as a Messiah. The killing of the snake by the bird in the river symbolizes humans’ purification from sin. The inscription on the scene reads, “This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am, because he was alive before I was born”, and the monograms read, “Saint John, harbinger” and “Jesus Christ”.

After his baptism, devil tries to tempt Jesus. After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus confronts the efforts of devil aimed at tempting him. In this scene, devil is depicted as a black and ugly creature with wings. Inscriptions on the figures narrate the events.

In the first scene, devil extends a stone towards Jesus who feels hungry, and says, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread”. Jesus answers: “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word of God.” The inscription above reads, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread”, and the one below reads, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word of God”.

In the second scene here, devil wants Jesus to worship him, and he leads him to the roof of the temple and orders him to throw himself. Jesus refuses devil again, by saying that the angels to be sent by God would safely bring him down. Here, the lower inscription reads, “then devil lead him to the holy city”, the one below reads, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” and the one above reads, “Get away, Satan”.

In the third scene, devil takes Jesus to the highest hill to show him all the kingdoms of the world, and says, “if you worship me, it will all be yours”. Jesus again refuses devil, answers, “Get away, Satan! The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” and passes this examination of devil as well successfully. The inscriptions here read, “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me” and “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test”. In those scenes, monograms of “Jesus Christ” are seen next to the aureola of Jesus. 

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