Icon of Saint Eudokia
Original Country
Sorting Title
Icon of Saint Eudokia

In the center of the icon, a female figure stands full-length in an orant posture. An inscription carved on either side of her head reads HAGIA EUDOKHA. A yellowish halo surrounds her crowned head. Her imperial crown is decorated with pearls and precious stones, and perpendulia hang from either side of the crown. The figure wears a long red garment decorated with gold and precious stones. Small, circular inlaid plaques represent the precious stones. The yellow stone suggests gold; the green stone suggests emerald; and the white stone suggests pearl. The front of the garment is decorated with a double row of yellow rectangular plaques with green centers. The plaques are separated from one another with white discs representing pearls. The collar, girdle, fringes, and cuffs of the garment are yellow with squares of red and green glass plate. The girdle and cuffs also include white circles which represent pearls. A thorakion is attached to the girdle. A circular segmentum is found on both arms and at knee level of the garment; the thorakion covers the segmentum on the right knee. Pink stone denotes the face, neck, and hands. Shallow incisions indicate facial features. The saint is set on a background of white marble. The border of the plaque is filled with yellow stones in the shape of diamonds, placed end to end. A glass circle sits in the center of each diamond, alternating in red and green. The spaces between the diamonds are filled with dark red stone. At each corner is a yellow square with a diamond at the center. Only the square on the top right remains.

Macridy identifies the saint as the Empress Athenais-Eudokia, wife of Theodosius II (408-450). Athenais-Eudokia is celebrated in Constantinople’s synaxarion entry for August 13. Athenais-Eudokia was a Christian poet and hagiographer. After the death of her husband she fled to Jerusalem due to charges of adultery, where she lived for the rest of her life. In Jerusalem she sponsored numerous building projects.

Gerstel argues that Macridy’s identification of the figure is incorrect. She notes that Athenais-Eudokia is always referred by her imperial title, and never as a saint. Furthermore, the August 13 synaxarion entry lacks details and thus may honor any other renowned Byzantine Eudokia. In addition, Athenais-Eudokia died on October 20, and this date does not match the date celebrated in the synaxarion. Finally, her burial in Jerusalem makes her commemoration in Constantinople unlikely. Thus, neither the plaque nor Eudokia of the synaxarion refer to Athenais-Eudokia.

Gerstel suggests that the saint in the plaque and the synaxarion entry both make reference to Eudokia Baiane, the third wife of Leo VI. She was laid to rest in the mausoleum of the Holy Apostles on April 13. Gerstel suggest that in the synaxarion, the abbreviation for August is a scribal error and should be April.

Creation Date
Style Genre
66 by 28 cm.
Format Medium

The icon is an inlaid plaque. The technique is based on opus alexandrinum. The craftsman sketched an outline of the saint on a plaque. He cut away the field within the outline to a depth of approximately 0.7 to 1 cm. The craftsman placed binding matter in the hollow sections. Then the craftsman inserted thin pieces of stone (marble is used most often). The plaque is 7.3 cm thick.

Original Location

Monastery of Constantine Lips (Fenari Isa Camii), Istanbul, Turkey

Original Structure

Church of the Virgin, Monastery of Constantine Lips

Specific Location

The icon of St. Eudokia was placed upside down in the roof during the reconstruction of the Turkish roof in the seventeenth century. Macridy suggests that the icon must have belonged to one of the four ceiling chapels. The icon is slightly concave, and thus Mango and Hawkins puts forward that it was part of the décor of the main apse on the bottom floor of the church. Without further evidence, the original location of the Eudokia panel remains unresolved by scholars.

Historical Context

History of the complex

The icon was part of the décor of the church of the monastery of Constantine Lips. Macridy argues that Constantine Lips restored a sixth-century church, and consequently this church was rededicated as the church of Constantine Lips in 907. Megaw refutes Macridy’s thesis and proposes that Constantine Lips constructed the church de novo. Constantine Lips dedicated the church to the Virgin, and thus, it is also called the church of the Virgin.

The Church of the Virgin is a cross-in-square structure. Scholars debate whether the structure originally had three aisles or five aisles. At the south end, the church had five polygonal half-cylinders. An abundance of original ornamentation has survived on column shafts, bases, and capitals. The church included a central dome over the nave. Four small, independent chapels rise over the four corners of the church on the second story. Supplicants reached these upstairs chapels using one of two wooden staircases placed on either side of the narthex.

The church itself was small. The length of the nave was 14.5 meters, the width of the nave 9.5 meters. Including the side aisles, Macridy estimates that the total width of the church was 13.5 meters. The narthex was 9.5 meters long (corresponding with the nave) and 3.2 meters wide. The interior height of the church from the floor to the base of the central dome is 11.5 meters high. Thus, the church was unable to accommodate large crowds. The chapels were used for private worship.

At the end of the thirteenth century, the Empress Theodora, widow of the Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, added a second church to the south of the Church of the Virgin. She dedicated this church to St. John the Baptist. The church of St. John the Baptist had a similar layout to the Church of the Virgin. It had three apses; the north apse was adapted from the southernmost half-cylinder structure of the Church of the Virgin. The church had three aisles. The length of the church of St. John the Baptist corresponds exactly to the length of the church of the Virgin, but the width of the church of St. John the Baptist is bigger by 2 meters. Theodora designated the church as a burial church for her family.

The church of St. John the Baptist included twelve tombs and two ossuaries and the narthex of the church included six tombs. Several members of the Palaeologan family were buried in the monastery of Constantine Lips. These tombs included several women, namely, Eudokia (d. 1297-1304), wife of the Emperor of Trebizond John II Comnenus; foundress of the church Theodora (d. 1304); Theodora’s mother; Irene (d. 1324), first wife of the Emperor Andronicus III; and Anna (d. 1418), first wife of John VII Palaeologus. All tombs were opened by the Turks before the church was excavated. In 1924, W. H. Buckler published the funeral stele of Maria, daughter of a Palaeologus. The stele was not found during excavations and was first documented on the art market in 1917. Macridy argues that Maria was a nun associated with the monastery and one of Theodora’s descendants. The church of St. John the Baptist housed a relic of St. Irene. After its conversion, Theodora Palaiologina committed the church and the monastery to female monastic practice.

Some time after the Turkish conquest, Alaeddin Ali of the Fenari family converted the church into a mescid towards the end of the fifteenth century. The conversion only affected the apse of the south church, in which the Turks put up a Mihrab, and the southwest corner of the exonarthex, in which the Turks erected a minaret. Otherwise, they did not introduce any significant changes to the structure of the complex. The Mohammedans whitewashed the mosaics, icons, and mural decorations.

In 1636, the Grand Vizier Bayram Paşa restored the mescid and made major architectural changes to the structure of the building. These changes may have been due to a fire that ravaged the city in 1633. The columns were removed, domes were rebuilt, and the roof was replaced. The interior surface of the walls and vaults were scraped down to the brick. The fragments of decoration were left on the floor. The floor was raised and consequently covered the scraps of decoration and the bases of the Byzantine columns.

The mescid fell victim to the Istanbul fire of 1917 and for twelve years the ruins of the two churches stood abandoned. In 1928, Theodore Macridy visited the site. He acquired support from the Istanbul Museum and a private individual, Mr. George Evnorfopoulos, to excavate the site.

Patrons and Others

Macridy proposes that the patron of the plaque was Eudokia, the first daughter of the emperor Constantine VIII. Macridy suggests that this Princess may have been a nun in the monastery of Lips and that the plaque was placed in a roof chapel which she used for private prayer. Thus, the plaque was commissioned during her lifetime, in late tenth or early eleventh centuries.

Gerstel argues that there is no evidence that the monastery of Lips served a female population in the eleventh century. She asserts the thesis that Leo VI commissioned the plaque in the early tenth century and that it was in place when the church was consecrated in June 907.

Leo VI was married three times. He dedicated churches for his first two wives, Theophano and Zoe, upon their death and he commemorated each wife as a saint. This “imperial canonization” caused some backlash from parts of the population and clergy of Constantinople and eventually the name of Theophano’s church was changed to All Saints. Both women were also remembered in the synaxarion.

In 900, Leo married Eudokia Baiane, but this marriage was not sanctioned by canon law. The patriarch Antony II Kauleas permitted the union for reasons of political expediency. When Eudokia died, along with Leo’s first son, the official church was unwilling to provide her with an honorable funeral. Gerstel suggests that instead of commissioning a church for her, which would have excited a great amount of opposition against him, he opted for a more private context. He honored her with this plaque and placed it in an imperially favored building project, the church of Constantine Lips. The abstract style of the plaque prevented recognition of a specific portrait type. In addition, her entry into the synaxarion elevated her to the ranks of the holy without formally granting her sainthood.

Descriptive Notes

The sides of the plaque are beveled. No clamps or dowel holes remain. Some white plaster from its insertion onto the wall of the church still remains on the plaque. Although some small pieces are missing, the plaque is in good condition. The plaque is curved.

Current Repository

Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Repository Number
Inv. no. 4309
Dina Boero
Image of Icon of Saint Eudokia.