Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Fall of Constantinople, 1453

‘Then a great horde of mounted infidels charged down the street leading to the Great Church… In the early dawn, as the Turks poured into the City and the citizens took flight, some of the fleeing Romans managed to reach their homes and rescue their children and wives. As they moved, bloodstained, across the Forum of the Bull and passed the Column of the Cross [in the Forum of Constantine], their wives asked, “What is to become of us?” When they heard the fearful cry, “The Turks are slaughtering Romans within the City’s walls,” they did not believe it at first. They cursed and reviled the ill-omened messenger instead. But behind him came a second, and then a third, and all were covered with blood, and they knew that the cup of the Lord’s wrath had touched their lips. Monks and nuns, therefore, and men and women, carrying their infants in their arms and abandoning their homes… ran to the Great Church…

‘Why were they all seeking refuge in the Great Church? Many years before they had heard from some false prophets that the City was fated to be surrendered to the Turks who would enter with great force, and the Romans would be cut down by them as far as the Column of Constantine the Great. Afterwards, however, an angel, descending and holding a sword, would deliver the empire and the sword to an unknown man, extremely plain and poor, standing at the Column. “Take the sword,” the angel would say, “and avenge the people of the Lord.” Then the Turks would take flight and the Romans would follow hard upon them, cutting them down. They would drive them from the City and from the West, and from the East as far as the borders of Persia, to a place called Monodendrion.

‘Because they fully expected these prophecies to be realised, some ran and advised others to run also. This was the conviction of the Romans who long ago had contemplated what their present action would be, contending, “If we leave the Column of the Cross behind us, we will avoid future wrath.” This was the cause, then, of the flight into the Great Church. In one hour’s time, that enormous temple was filled with men and women. There was a throng too many to count, above and below, in the courtyards and everywhere. They bolted the doors and waited, hoping to be rescued by the anonymous saviour…

‘Pillaging, slaughtering, and taking captives on the way, the Turks reached the temple… The gates were barred, but they broke them with axes. They entered with swords flashing and, beholding the myriad populace, each Turk caught and bound his own captive…

‘Who can recount the calamity of that time and place? Who can describe the wailing and the cries of the babes, the mothers’ screams and the father’s lamentations? The commonest Turk sought the tenderest maiden. The lovely nun, who heretofore belonged only to the one God, was now seized and bound by another master. The rapine caused the tugging and pulling of braids of hair, the exposure of breasts, and outstretched arms. The female slave was bound with her mistress, the master with his slave, the archimandrite with the doorkeeper, tender youths with virgins, who had never been exposed to the sun and hardly ever seen by their own fathers, were dragged about, forcibly pushed together and flogged. The despoiler led them to a certain spot, and placing them in safekeeping, returned to take a second and even a third prize. The abductors, the avengers of God, were in a great hurry. Within one hour, they had bound everyone, the male captives with cords and the women with their own veils. The infinite chains of captives who like flocks of sheep poured out of the temple and the temple sanctuary made an extraordinary spectacle. They wept and wailed and there was none to show them mercy.

‘What became of the temple treasures? What shall I say and how shall I say it? My tongue is stuck fast in my larynx. I am unable to draw breath through my sealed mouth. In that same hour, the dogs hacked the holy icons to pieces, removing the ornaments. As for the chains, candelabra, holy alter coverings and lamps, some they destroyed and the rest they seized. All the precious and sacred vessels of the holy sacristy, fashioned from gold and silver and other valuable materials, they collected in an instant, leaving the temple desolate and naked; absolutely nothing was left behind…’

(Doukas)