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Hodegon Monastery

The History of Hodegon Monastery

By Indunna (Jennifer Baker) March 2000

In July 1998 when we were choosing a suitable name for our group Egfroth put forward several suggestions of which Hodegon was one. At the time little was known about the monastery except a reference to it that Egfroth had come across, of it being a place where a group of Varangians had been quartered at or in very close proximity too. And a very ruff idea on it's location in City.

The puzzle was why would a group of varangians be stationed at a monastery?


To answer this puzzle you must follow the line of thought: 
What is there that is important about this one monastery, out of the hundreds that where in the city at the time.


First we must understand that Monasteries in Byzantium were mini cities. They often contained agricultural communities, public and social functions, school, hospitals, orphanages and homes for the aged.


Hodegetria is both the name of a very early Byzantium church and the Icon contained in it. The church was built pre 700 AD it is very close to Hagia Sophia church. Though a much smaller church it contained one of the most important Icons in Byzantium "The Hodegetria" or The Mother of God. Its name translates to "the Guide who shows the way".


We also now know that Hodegon Monastery was one on the important Manuscript producing monasteries of it's time. With it having it's own style known as the "Hodegon style". Some of these manuscripts can be still be seen today at Mount Athos monastery


The Icon was of Mary with the Baby Christ in her arms, which she is pointing at. On the reverse was the crucifixion and it was this Icon that was venerated on Good Friday.

 The Hodegetria Icon was first brought to Constantinople by the Empress Eudokia from Palestine and was reported to have been painted by St. Luke the Envanlgelist. And had it enshrined beside a miraculous well in a monastery (not named) near the Great Palace. Here it gained the reputation of curing the ill and the blind.

The Hodegetria Icon was one of the most traveled Icons in Byzantium and the city's most prized. It has become one of the most popular copied theme in religious art. In Lent it would be taken to the Church of the Mother of god in Blachernai, on the Anniversaries of the Emperors Funerals it was taken to their burial Chapel at the Monastery of the Christ Pantokrator. And every Tuesday during the rest of the year it made an excursion into the city. Though the exact route of the procession is unknown but there the participants are mentioned and drawn in Stylitzies.

A cross- bearer led the way, the brothers of the confraternity of the Icon carried the image mounted on a wooden pallet, and deacons waved flabella (ceremonial fans) and swung smoking censers around it. Cantors followed leading the people in song and finally came the laity, men and then women. Icon bearers claimed to feel a force within the Icon directing their way.


John I Tzimiskes Returns in Triumph to Constantinople with the Preslav Icon.

from the Chronicle of Ioannis Skylitzis, 
mid-12th mid-13th century, 
Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid. 
( Cat. No. 338) fol.172v (a)

But for us the most important aspect with this Icon was it's military connection. It was one of Icons carried by the Byzantine Armies to war and it was this Icon that the Emperor himself saluted when celebrating a military victory, several such triumphs are described by historians. Typically the parade route went from the Golden Gate to Hagia Sophia church and this Icon was carried next to Emperor and the winning General.


Unfortunately neither the Church, Monastery, nor the Icon remain today. The last mention of the Icon is in 1453  when the Last Emperor Constantine XI Paleologos carried it into war against the Ottoman Turks. He was killed, the Icon and the city were taken and a lot of the Churches, Monasteries and holy Relics destroyed.

Written records for the early history of the ikon are scarce. A long tradition associated with the ikon must have existed at least as early as the 4th century. The Hodegetria ikon was installed by the Empress Pulcheria in the mid-fifth century in a sanctuary (Theotokos ton Hodegon) she founded on a terrace overlooking the sea in the area of the Great Palace, which was in the eastern part of Constantinople. The sanctuary was alongside a sacred font. Later a monastery was erected beside the shrine of the ikon. Foundations of the sacred font, which is on two levels and fronted by a semi-circular colonnade, is all that is to seen of the church complex, although excavations about 10 years ago which seemed to be revealing more of it.


So we can now understand why a little Monastery held a unit of Varangians guard.

Maps showing the location Of Hodegon Monastery 
click on pictures to see a lager image



Ref: Egfroth on Hodegon the Monastery

Ref: Byzantium from Antiquity to the renaissance by Thomas f. Mathews, Perspective, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,Publishers ISBN 0-8109-2700-4

Ref: Triuphal Procession of John I Tsimiskes into Constantinople with the Preslav Icon, in John Skylitzes, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid ( ms. Vitr. 26-2, fol. 172v ( a) .)