1. Foundation of the Monastery (probably in the 7th century)
According to tradition, the Monastery, whith the church dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, was founded by and named after a hieromonk and subsequent bishop of Nicaea called Hyakinthos. The founder’s name, unknown to other early sources, is mentioned in an abbreviated invocation inscribed on a chancel slab reporting ‘ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ, ΒΟΗΘΕΙ ΤΩ ΔΟΥΛΩ ΣΟΥ ΥΑΚΙΝΘΩ, ΜΟΝΑΧΩ, ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΕΡΩ, ΗΓΟΥΜΕΝΩ’ (Virgin Mary, help your servant monk, priest, abbot Hyakinthos) as well as on monograms inscribed on the pillar capitals of the church.1 The accurate date the monastery was founded by the hieromonk Hyakinthos is not known. However, the latest possible year of foundation must have been the year the Seventh Ecumenical Council was held in Nicaea in 787, with the participation of the abbot of the Monastery of Hyakinthos Gregorios. Besides, the minutes of the Council are the earliest written source reporting the name of the Monastery.
The above reference of the monastery abbot as well as remarks on the architecture and the decoration of the Katholikon show that both the monastery and the Katholikon must have been built in the late 7th century, which is extremely interesting and impressive in a period which has left behind very little information about building activities.2
2. The History of the Monastery through its Mosaics
The study of the missing mosaics of the Dormition Monastery, dedicated to theVirgin Mary, provides valuable information about the turbulent period of Iconoclasm, as the monument is a superb example of the ideological dispute escalating in Byzantium at the time. In the years of Constantine V Kopronymos (740-775) the original decoration of the , which was probably made in the 7th century, for at certain points there were monograms of the founder Hyakinthos, was extensively altered by carefully removing representations including figures and by replacing them with aniconic decoration. When the icons were restored in 843, the mosaics were once again replaced, however, in the opposite direction, while the aniconic decoration were then replaced by specific holy figures on the initiative of a reported official called Naukratios.3
The last mosaics added to the Katholikon of the monastery shed light on a completely new period of the monastery as they were made after the devastating earthquake of 1065 and are connected with Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067) and the Nikephoros. It seems that the monastery had been assigned by Emperor Constantine X to the and ‘megas hetaireiarches’ Nikephoros under the system of ‘’. Nikephoros restored the church after the earthquake, ordered and funded new mosaics on the (replacing the previous ones that had been destroyed) and, what is more, left an inscription with his name on one of them, above the entrance door of the main church: ‘ΚΥΡΙΕ ΒΟΗΘΗ ΤΩ ΣΩ ΔΟΥΛΩ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΩ ΠΑΤΡΙΚΙΩ ΠΡΑΙΠΟΣΙΤΩ ΒΕΣΤΗ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΓΑΛΩ ΕΤΑΙΡΙΑΡΧΗ’ (Lord, help your servant patrikios Nikephoros, the , the and megas hetaireiarches).
In between, and without any reference to the events of Iconoclasm, there is a reference to the monastery made in the Life of St. Constantine the Jew dating towards the late 9th century. On his way back from Cyprus, where Constantine had travelled in order to obtain the sacred relics of St. Palamon, he stopped in Nicaea and deposited the relics in the Dormition Church at the Monastery of Hyakinthos, which at the time was an establishment particularly famous for the devotion of its monks.4
Information about the monastery comes again from the early 13th century as well as after the fall of Constantinople to the Latins and the transfer of the capital to Nicaea, as in 1209 Patriarch Michael IV Autoreianos (1207-1213) presided over a local council convened, according to the synodal act, in the external "pronaos" of the church, probably some kind of exonarthex, while, according to sources, the church of the monastery had been assigned to the Patriarch as his ‘seat’ ("κάθισμα").5 This reference brought about intense discussion about whether the Monastery of Hyakinthos was also the seat of the Patriarchate when the latter was exiled to Nicaea.6 In any case, the monastery is closely connected with the imperial family, as it is the usual burial place of the members of the imperial family. The former Emperor Alexios III Angelos, who remained on the Byzantine throne from 1195 to 1203, was captured in 1211, while fighting on the side of Seljuk Turks, and was confined in the monastery, where he finally died and was buried. Theodore I Laskaris, whose wife had already been buried there, was also buried in the monastery in 1222. A long verse on an inscription dating from 1211 reports that some Prince Manuel belonging to the family of Komnenoi and related to the potentates of Sicily, was also buried in the church. He was probably the nephew of Alexios III Komnenos.7
In 1240 the bishop of the Monastery Methodios was elected Patriarch, but served for a brief period of three months and was buried in the monastery. The scholar priestManuel Holobolos was also displaced to the Monastery of Hyakinthos, when he fell into disgrace with Michael VIII Palaiologos. In 1241 the Calabrian monks escorting the bride of John III Vatatzes to Nicaea decided not to return and were welcomed at the Monastery of Hyakinthos.
The monastery was extensively restored in the 19th century and continued to operate uninterruptedly until the early 20th century. The last reference in Byzantine sources comes from the early Ottoman period of the city, in 1354, when the bishop Gregorios Palamas was carried in Nicaea after he was captured by the Ottomans.8 He fled to the Monastery of Hyakinthos, which was the centre of the Christian community, and rested in the shade of its garden. According to him, the part of the city where the monastery was built was of breathtaking beauty, as its neighbourhood included an elaborately decorated church and a well surrounded by a wooded garden.
3. The Monastery of Hyakinthos as a Pronoia
Among the many graves the monastery accommodated was one of the two graves preserved until the early 20th century, which was built by marble screens forming a . The grave was in a niche (blind coving) in the south aisle of the main church. Close to this grave was the mosaic of hetaireiarches Nikephoros, probably above the door leading from the narthex to the southern aisle. It was already missing when Wulff took his photographs. Neither the inscription nor the mosaic representation was saved but they are reported by the traveller J. Von Hammer, who saw them in 1804. The mosaic represented the Virgin Mary holding little Jesus and standing between Emperor Constantine X and hetereiarches Nikephoros; the mosaic was accompanied by the abovementioned inscription. It is particularly important that the monastery is reported to have been assigned to Nikephoros under the system of pronoia, as this is one of the earliest reports. The administrative institution of pronoia, as a reward for specific services, when state property was assigned to powerful Byzantines to manage it and along with all income from the said property, was actually introduced in the 11th century.9 There was a structural difference between pronoia and the gratuitous land donation, as the former was assigned for a specific period, which usually ended when the person assigned with the pronoia died. The information provided by archaeological, rather than historical, evidence that the monastery was a pronoia already from the sixth decade of the 11th century, is valuable, as the institution is witnessed to have been expanded mainly after 1070.
1. Wiegand E., ‘Zur Monogramminschrift der Theotokos -(Koimesis-)Kirche von Nicaea’, Byzantion 6 (1931), pp. 411-420. Peschlow U., "The Churches of Nicaea – Iznik", Ankbaygil I., Inalcik H., Aslanapa O. (ed.), Iznik throughout history, Istanbul 2003, p. 205.
2. Janin R., Les églises et les monastères des grands centres byzantins, Paris 1975, pp. 121-124, Mango, C., ‘Notes d’ Epigraphie et d’ Archéologie Constantinople, Nicée’, Travaux et Mémoires 12 (1994), p. 353.
3. Underwood P. A., ‘The evidence of restorations in the sanctuary mosaics of the Church of the Dormition at Nicaea’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 13 (1959), pp. 235-242.
4. Foss Cl., Tulchin J., Nicaea : A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises, Brookline 1990, pp. 97-98.
5. Laurent V., Les régestes des actes du patriarcat de Constantinople I.4: Les régestes de 1208 a 1309, Paris 1971, p. 1210, See Foss Cl., Tulchin J., Nicaea : A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises, Brookline 1990, p. 98.
6. Foss Cl., Tulchin J., Nicaea : A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises, Brookline 1990, p. 111.
7. Van Dieten J., ‘Manuel Prinkips: Welcher Manuel in welcher Kirche zu Nikaia?’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 78 (1985), pp. 63-91.
8. Foss Cl., Tulchin J., Nicaea : A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises, Brookline 1990, p. 85.
9. Ostrogorsky G., History of the Byzantine State, New Jersey 19954, pp. 330-331.