Cycle of the Infancy of Christ and of Christ's
The second bay of the outer narthex includes scenes from both
the Infancy cycle as well as the Ministry of Christ.
The Nativity, in the second lunette, displays standard Byzantine
features . The setting is a cave. The Virgin reclines on
a mattress while Joseph ponders the miracle of the Virgin Birth.
The Christ child appears twice, once in the manger, and once
being bathed by midwives. Over the hill, angels and the star
announce the birth to the shepherds.
Opposite the Nativity is Joseph Dreaming in the second lunette,
north of the entrance. An angel informs him in a dream that it
is safe to return to Palestine. This is followed by the Return
of the Holy Family from Egypt . Joseph carries the infant
Christ piggyback as they return to Nazareth. The city fills the
right side of the lunette.
John the Baptist Bearing Witness of Christ fills the domical
vault of the second bay of the outer narthex in a circular composition
. On the north side, John the Baptist gestures toward Christ
and testifies to his divinity, saying "This was He of whom
I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for
He was before me." In a detail, a heron attacks a snake,
perhaps symbolizing the overcoming of sin through baptism.
The Temptation of Christ, in the southern half of the second
vault, shows four episodes of Christ being confronted by the
Devil , divided into several scenes, including (1) the Devil
challenges Christ to prove his divinity by changing the stones
into bread; (2) Christ is offered the kingdoms of the world if
he will worship the Devil; the kingdoms are represented in a
small, fortified enclosure; (3) the Devil takes Christ to the
mountaintop to show him the kingdoms, and (4) Christ stands on
the pinnacle of the Temple, where the Devil asks him to prove
his divinity by casting himself down unharmed.
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.
The cycle of the infancy of Christ
and of Christ's ministry begins in the domical vault of the first bay of the
outer narthex and concludes in the south bay of the inner narthex. The story
is taken up directly from the previous narrative. As in the inner narthex, the
narratives are sometimes contorted to fit the domical vaults. Normally two different
episodes appear in each vault.