Constantinople / Istanbul - Ancient and Modern - Crossroads of the World

Constantinople / Istanbul - Ancient and Modern - Crossroads of the World
Istanbul/constantinople - Ancient/Modern - View of the Old City from across the Golden Horn, atop the Galata Tower.

Pilgrims Progress: second week and return to Istanbul

Our Pilgrimage continued on Wednesday, May 4, with an early morning Mass at the tiny Church of St. Paul in downtown konua, which is ancient Iconium. The church is stafffed by two very dear religious sisters from northern Italy, Sr. Isabella and Sr. Serena, and they depend on visiting priests or pilgrims like us for Mass. These are truly doing an important work in a difficult mission, to help and support the tiny community of Catholics in the region, to evangelize by being quiet witness to Jesus Christ in the larger Muslim community of Konya, and to care for Chaldean Catholic refugees fleeing their violent and dangerous homeland of Iraq. They have captured the hearts of many of our Pilgrims of the past, and I was privileged to bring them a sizeable donation from a group of them.

After the Mass we visited the Museum / Shrine / Tomb of Mevlana (Rumi), Sufi mystic who was the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. Islam is not associated with mysticism in most peoples' minds, and this introduction to the mystical aspect of Muslim piety continues to be an important moment in our Pilgrimage.

Another relatively unknown, seldom-visited but, in my opinion, extremely important place for our purposes is Catalhoyuk, the excavations of a 9,600 year-old neo-lithic settlement. At that time, our ancestors we making the transition from wandering hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers cultivating crops and domestication animals. Here we come into contact with the human side of our heritage -- we touch the people from whom we came less than 500 genertions ago.

Our drive from there to Silifke was lengthened by a nearly two-hour detour through the Taurus Mountains on a narrow, winding, unpaved road. It was unexpectedly providential, however, because we watched the video "Journey of Man," by Spencer Wells, in which he geographically traces our human journey though the ages from our African origins to the present day using genetic variations in the Y-chromosome. While some see this sort of stuff as dangerous because it seems to disprove the need for God and his revelation, I, on the contrary find it provides a fascinating and very necessary insight into how God works. Watching this while slowly winding our way through a mountain wilderness that also saw the early migration of our human ancestors as well as the armies of ancient empires (including Alexander the Great) -- wow! A lot of food for reflection. Truly an important experience of Pilgrimage.

We found out later that this detour was occasioned by a landslide a day or so earlier that closed the freeway. We nonetheless got to the remains of the monastery of St. Thecla at Selifke, and arrived at our hotel on the Mediterranean coast in time for dinner and a good night's sleep to prepare for Tarsus and a lengthy drive the next day, Thursday, May 5.

Tarsus is, of course, the city where St. Paul came from, and we visited the ruins of what was traditionally held to be the site of his family house, including a well that still produces water. There are many other sites associated with history or legend, including the tomb of St. Daniel, the prophet of the Old Testament, which is also a place honored by Muslims.

After a nice lunch'by the river in Adana, we spent the afternoon journeying to Antakya, ancient Antioch-on-the-Orontes, for a good night's sleep to prepare for a full day Friday, May 6.

We began Friday with a visit to the Cave of St. Peter, on the side of Mt. Silpius, an ancient shrine, but one among many pagan shrines of those day in caves on the same mountain. This was followed by a tour of the wondeful Mosaic Museum of Antakya, displaying an abundance of carefully restored Mosaic from the nearby ancient Hellenistic resort city of Daphne. Then it was time for our Mass in the local Catholic Church which is in a renovated house, much like the "house churches" of the time of the Apostles. In fact, as Fr. Domenico, the pastor, explained, it is even in the old Jewish quarter, almost the exact location where the early Christians would have gathered for worship.

In the afternoon we drove to the seaside town of Samandag, ancient Seleucia Pieria, for a hike to the very impressive necroplis ("city of the dead" or cemetery) and the tunnel of Vespasian and Titus, an impressive, but ultimately unsuccessful, feat of engineering attempting to prevent the silting of the harbor by diverting the course of the Orontes river. Another interesting aspect of Muslim diversity was presented to us as we visited a shrine of the Alevi sect. It is a small building surrounding a white stone marking the grave of Hizar, who according to Alevi tradition was a companion of Moses.

The next day, Saturday, May 7, began with a long, six-hour drive through the snow covered Taurus Mountains through the pass known to ancient history as the "Cilician Gates." It didn't snow on the road, but we encountered some rain. As we neared Cappadocia, we stopped at the first of many churches and monasteries we would encounter that had been carved out of the volcanic rock in the area: Eski Gumus, which means "old silver," perhaps from the "tarnished" color of the stone.

A few miles down the road we toured the underground "city" of Kaymakli, one of many in the area. While portions of them may date from at least the Hellenistic and Roman times, the majority of what we see today was dug out in the Middle Yes by local farmers and villagers as shelter from the passing Byzantine, Arab, Seljuk, and Ottoman armies on their way to greater conquests. In the bus parking area of the underground city, I had the unique experience of being recognized by the bus driver of one of our previous Pilgrimages, whose name is Sadat. It was a delightful reunion.

On our way to the hotel,we stopped at a small mosque that, during the later years of the Ottoman Empire, served as both a mosque and an Orthodox church simultaneously -- sign of at least a degree of tolerance and cooperation in past ages.

After arrival and dinner at our hotel,this long day was lengthened evn more with a very nice folk-dance show at a local nightclub. (Yes, Pilgrimage involves play as well as pray.)

Our one full day in Cappadocia, Sunday, May 8, began with an informative tour of a local village carpet co-operative, where we learned the history and significance of Turkish double-knotted carpets and woven kilims. We then drove to a small village where we ate a wonderful lunch at a new hotel and restaurant carved out of the rock of the hillside. After lunch we celebrated Mass in a small 12th-century cave-church with some wonderful remains of frescoes of the Virgin Mary and saints. Later in the afternoon we had a demonstration of local pottery making, an art for which Cappadocia is famous, as well as a visit to a local crafts store with jewelry and other objects made with local turquoise and the semi-precious stones.needless to say, there was quite a bit of shopping at these locations.

Early Monday morning, many of us took a one-hour hot-air balloon ride over the fantastic Cappadocian landscape. The valleys, ridges, and unique "fairy chimney" formations are result from erosion of the various layers of hard and soft rock deposited by the two volcanoes, Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan, at either end of this broad valley. The highlight of the Christian historical sites in Cappadocia is the cluster of 11th and 12th century churches and monasteries, many with impressive iconography, some very well preserved. This is the famous Goreme Valley, which in the late Middle Ages must have had a very large population of monks and nuns, dedicated to the Christian faith.

After lunch in a restaurant built as a replica of a Seljuk "Han" -- a caravan stop along the Silk Road, of which there are many well preserved examples in Turkey -- we started the long drive to Ankara, ancient Ancyra, which is the capital of Turkey. There are vast stretches of green hills and meadows along this route, but very few towns of any size. This is the territory of the Galatians, whom St. Paul visited at least twice, and to whom he wrote his Letter to the Galatians to counter the influence of Jewish Christan who were insisting that they had to become Jews in order to be Christians. Along the way we discussed the unique character of the Galatian community and the reasons for Paul's loving concern for them.

The next morning, Tuesday, May 10, we toured the impressive Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which contains artifacts from many of the sites we visited, arranged chronologically according to the periods. After this we drove through mountainous territory toward the Black Sea to the mountain village of Safranbolu, where we stayed in a restored 17th-century house, converted into a hotel. This town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because it consists almost entirely of buildings from the Ottoman era, many of them carefully and beautifully restored. Both the accommodations and cuisine gave us a taste of life in an antique and, to our Western tastes, exotic setting.

On Wednesay morning, we began to feel the end of the Pilgrimage approaching as we made the five-hour drive to Iznik, ancient Nicaea. After lunch by the lake at a restaurant that specializes in local fish, we together recited the Nicene Creed, which was the result of the First Ecumenical Council. This council of the Church took place in 325 A.D. at Constantine's palace, right there at the shore but no trace of it remains other than possibly some foundation stones visible at water's edge. We then briefly toured the newly restored Church of Hagia Sophia, the site of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Nicaea) which, in the eighth century, dealt with Iconoclasm, a movement which vehemently oposed the veneration of images of Christ, Mary, or the saints.

Along the south shore of the lake, we stopped at the small village of Gemic, to visit Aydin's octogenarian nanny, Abidik, lives with her brother and family. A wonderfully warm and emotionally moving slice of Turkish family lifethatAydin has shared with our Pilgrims every year.

After a ferry trip across the Sea of Marmara and a congested freeway drive, crossing the Fatih Bridge overthe Bosphorus,we arrived at the hotel for a late dinner and a good night's rest. Tomorrow (Thursday) we start late (10:00 am) to revisit Istanbul in greater depth.
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1 comment:

  1. Dearest Fr.Tom, Thank you for the great update-especially given your grueling schedule and unexpected detour. What fun it is to read about your trip in actuality using your posted itinerary! So many of our prayers are with you and all those on the pilgrimage as your journey nears its end. Sending love and prayers from so many of us at Good Shepherd. We think about you and miss you ! Safe travels home ! God bless you all! Nicole