Convent of Lips
Community ID
Alternate Names
Monastery of Constantine Lips
Modern Location
Located in the Lykos valley in west-central Constantinople.
Date Founded
907; 1294-1301 renovated
Foundation Information

Constantine Lips founded the Monastery of Lips. The church was dedicated in June 907 and named in honor of the Mother of God. There is no evidence to discern whether the monastery housed males or females upon its foundation, and little is known about the monastery at this time. At the end of the 13th century, Theodora Palaiologina restored the monastery, contributed a second church dedicated to St. John the Forerunner, and built a hospital. If it had not already been so before, Theodora Palaiologina committed the site to female monastic patron. Her typikon proclaims the convent’s independent status even though the convent maintained a close relationship with the imperial family.

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

Emperor Leo VI (886-912) attended the dedication of the church of the Monastery of Lips in 907.

Several notable individuals were buried at in the Church of St. John the Forerunner. These include two sons of the former emperor Andronikos II (1282-1328), Irene of Brunswick, wife of the Theodora’s great grandson, buried in 1324, the Russian princess Anna, bride of John VIII Palaiologos, buried in 1417.

Population Counts

50 nuns (1294-1301). 30 of these nuns were assigned to the performance of the canonical hours and 20 were assigned to household duties. Nuns acted as officials in the monastery, namely as superior, cellarer, sacristan, ecclesiarchissa, and assistant to the ecclesiarchissa. The cellarer was primarily concerned with the supply and preparation of food and drink. The sacristan guarded the foundation’s reserve funds.

Several men possessed salaried positions in the convent, but did not live there. These included four priests, a steward, and a gatekeeper. In addition, a spiritual father, a cenobitic or hesychastic monk, visited the convent for three days every month to hear confessions from the nuns.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

The patriarch was included in liturgical commemorations and, if he attended services, he received the traditional commemoration. He retained the right of spiritual correction. However, he did not play any role in the installation of the superior.

Theodora’s typikon states that the convent should also follow rules set out by the typikon of the Monastery of St. Sabas (in Jerusalem).


Constantine Lips founded the original Monastery of Constantine Lips and dedicated a church in honor of the Mother of God. He was killed fighting the Bulgarians in 917.

Theodora Palaiologina, widow of the Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, restored the monastery at the end of the 13th century. She also contributed a second church dedicated to St. John the Forerunner and built a hospital. The Church of St. John the Forerunner was intended to serve as an imperial burial chapel. She entered the monastery, became a nun with the monastic name of Eugenia, and died in 1303.

Upon its restoration, Theodora Palaiologina requested a number of privileges for members of the imperial family and the nobility who might join the convent. She states that if her daughters enter the convent, they should be granted the provisions of four nuns, three personal attendants or nuns from the convent, and her own quarters or to live together with a nun of her own choice. If her granddaughters enter the convent, they should be granted two attendants. If her imperial relatives or other noble women enter the convent, they should be granted one attendant and the provisions for two nuns. Theodora also requests the church be used as a burial place for her relatives.


The empress endowed her foundation with properties from Constantinople and Smyrna. The steward was responsible for the management of the convent’s property. He appointed property administrators for convent’s estates, managed agricultural lands, and maintained buildings.

Theodora gave several estates to the monastery, including property in the theme of Pergamon called Kastellon, the estates of Achilleion and Barys, the mill of Thermene, the vineyards of Emporianos, a cattle byre called Kythrina, the double mill near Anaia, the katepanikion of Smyrna, the houses of Batrachonites and Gabras in the Kynegoi quarter, the workshop near the gate of Kynegoi, the house of Chabaron near Blachernai, the houses at Tzochaeria, the houses of John Eulogios, the houses of Sampson, and other vineyards, gardens, arable lands, and houses for rent.

Theodora also set aside property as revenue for the hospital. These included the village called Nymphai, mills near Aphameia, the village Skoteinon in Macedonia, and the estates of Lachanas at Lopadion.

Theodora’s mother donated money and property to the convent, and the convent also owned property inside Constantinople, which included several vineyards, gardens, mills, houses, and one convent, the small convent of Skoutari of the great martyr St. George, also called Trapeza.


The monastery's main form of income came from the properties which Theodora Palaiologina and her family endowed to it.


The convent maintained a hospital with beds for 12 patients. The hospital employed three doctors, an assistant, a nurse, a pharmacist, two apothecaries, six attendants, a bloodletter, three servants, a cook, and a laundress.

Art & Artifacts
Architecture & Archaeology

Constantine Lips founded the Monastery of Lips. The monastery’s church, the Church of the Virgin, was dedicated in June 907. 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 was of the ambulatory type; thus, a triple arcade to the north, west, and south divided the nave from the aisles. Two columns separated each arcade. It 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 corresponded exactly to the length of the Church of the Virgin, but the width of the church of St. John the Baptist was 2 meters larger than the width of the Church of the Virgin. Theodora also added a parekklesion, or side chapel, with additional arcasolia for more burials. The parekklesion extended along the south side of the church and joined with an exonarthex which stretched along the west side of both churches.

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; thr 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 also 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.


The church of St. John the Baptist housed a relic of St. Irene.

Manuscript Sources

Typikon. The manuscript includes gaps of varying length at the beginning and throughout the document.

Published Primary Sources

Lips: Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Lips in Constantinople. Le typicon du monastere de Lips. Theodora Palaiologina states in the document that she composed the typikon for the monastery, but an anonymous author actually wrote the document. The author of the typikon likely had access to the typikon of Kecharitomene or a typikon derived from the typikon of Kecharitomene as is demonstrated by the close organizational parallels displayed in the two documents. The typikon was read aloud at the two feast days of the patrons and at Easter.

Miscellaneous Information

An anonymous Russian pilgrim who visited Constantinople between 1424 and1453 says that south of the church of the Holy Apostles one encountered two nunneries, and in one of these nunneries the body of St. Irene was preserved. A Russian pilgrim Zosima (1419-1421) visited a women’s monastery called Lipesi (i.e. Lips) where the Empress Irene was buried along with Russian dignitaries.