The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple is in the vault of the central bay
. The Virgin Mary is given to be raised in the Temple at the age of three.
She is shown again in the same panel, seated inside the Holy of Holies, where
she is fed manna by an angel.
The Virgin Fed by an Angel , in the adjacent arch, is located
above the figure of St. Paul. The Temple resembles a Byzantine
church sanctuary, with the Virgin seated on the altar, below a
The Instruction of the Virgin in the Temple (damaged) is on the
opposite haunch of the same arch . Its composition was similar
to the previous scene.
The Virgin Receiving a Skein of Purple Wool is in the west lunette
of the central bay . The Virgin is presented with wool, symbolizing
her purity, with which she is to weave the veil of the Temple.
Zaccharias Praying before the Rods of the Suitors is on the arch
between bays two and three  opposite the First Seven Steps
of the Virgin . The high priest is shown praying over the
twelve rods presented by the Virgin's suitors. When the Virgin
was twelve years old, the priests decided she should leave the
Temple. Zaccharias was instructed by an angel to select a husband
for her from among the widowers. According to the angel's instructions,
each suitor presented a rod, which was left in the Holy of Holies
overnight. The rod belonging to the old man Joseph miraculously
The cycle of the Life of the Virgin is left unresolved in the
pictorial decoration of the inner narthex, but the story continues
in the outer narthex with the cycle of the Infancy of Christ.
The Enthroned Christ and the Donor Theodore Metochites are located in the lunette
above the entrance to the naos . Metochites kneels and presents a model
of the church to a seated Christ. In Byzantine art, this was the standard way
of representing an architectural donation. Metochites is ostentatiously garbed
and wears a high hat symbolizing his important office and his court titles are
inscribed behind him.
Below the Enthroned Christ, flanking the doors to the naos, are SS. Peter and
Paul [4, 5].
This discussion of the Kariye Camii iconography
is adapted from Robert G. Ousterhout, The Architecture of the
Kariye Camii in Istanbul, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research
Library and Collection, 1987. We would like to thank Professor
Ousterhout for generously allowing us to adapt his text for this
The outer and inner narthexes are decorated with mosaic cycles of the lives of
the Virgin and Christ. Both begin at the northern end, with thematic and visual
references linking the two cycles.
Three bays of the inner narthex are devoted to the story of the Virgin, from
miraculous birth to miraculous pregnancy. The unfamiliar subject is based on
the Protevangelium, or Apocryphal Gospel of St. James, which was widely accepted
during the Middle Ages. The Genealogy of Christ fills the two dome mosaics of
the inner narthex in the northern and southern bays [7-81]. The mosaic
encrusted domes are known as pumpkin domes with undulating, faceted surfaces.
The result is multiple curves that capture the light from many angles, creating
a shimmering surface and suffusing the interior with a golden glow. The
Bust of the Virgin, surrounded by the royal ancestry, is in the north dome and
the Bust of Christ is in the south dome.