Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Crimean Church in Galata

Istanbul's dramatic skyline is world famous with its thousands of mosque minarets punctuating the horizon, from which the call to prayer echos five times a day – sounding so romantic to the Western ear. It belies the fact that there are many churches and synagogues there too. The Ottoman Empire was an islamic empire of course with a sizeable minority of people of other faiths whose places of worship were to be located discretely, so no Star of Davids or church steeples spoiling the view. One of the few exceptions is the Crimean Memorial Church in Beyoglu which is still very much a working church with a loyal following of worshippers. As you look at the European side of the city from the water, with the exception of the catholic Saint Antoine, it is the only church spire which pops up to the right (or east) and down from the Galata Tower.

Father Ian (or more correctly the Canon Ian Sherwood OBE) arrived in Istanbul 20 years ago to serve at the British Consulate chapel (recently reopened after the 2003 Al Qaeda bomb attack) and went on to save the derelict Crimean Memorial from the squatters and almost certain conversion into a concert venue. It's difficult to imagine the task he was faced with at the time but for sure today it's an intimate building beautifully restored and very much the hub of all sorts of activities, including the undercroft which is home to Sri Lankan refugees. Last summer saw a visit from Cambridge's Jesus College choir which I was privileged to photograph as part of my ongoing project on the church.

As part of the project I talked to Father Ian about the history of the building and its architecture and became so infected by his love and enthusiasm for it. I especially remember how when he first saw the church all those years ago his immediate reaction was 'Aaaah, now I know why I'm here' after having reluctantly come to an unknown city. It is of historical significance too as it was designed by the Victorian architect G.E. Street (of the Royal Courts of Justice in London) on land specially given to the British by the sultan of the time (1858) as a 'thank you' for their help during the Crimean War. Father Ian has kept the building alive by, for example, commissioning from Scottish artist Mungo McCosh a series of scenes incorporating Biblical characters, local people and the city of Istanbul which adorn the panels of the rood screen.

Where it is: An Anglican church located in the heart of Beyoglu on Serdar Ekrem Sokak, slap bang next to a small mosque whose call to prayer interrupted the Christmas Eve service last year. If coming from Istiklal Caddesi head towards Tunel and turn left at Kumbaraci Yokusu (Lebon Pattiserie is on the corner). Once you've passed the Russian consulate walk downhill for a good 5 minutes before taking the first really steep right turn, the gate to the church is on the left. Services are at 10am every Sunday and there is evensong at 6pm

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