What Happened to the Apostles?

Are some of the apostles buried under a mosque in Istanbul?

After the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the center of gravity for the church moved to Turkey. Most of the New Testament books were written either in Turkey or to people who resided in Turkey. Some of the apostles based their ministry in Turkey, and the believers were first called Christians in Turkey. The twelve apostles, all recently dead, were revered by the Christians there.

In the early 300s, Emperor Constantine dedicated a church building in Constantinople (Istanbul) which was called “The Church of the Holy Apostles.” He intended to gather the remains of the apostles and have them interred here in this church. That proved impossible, but four of the New Testament heroes were evidently buried there – Andrew, Mark, Luke, and Timothy. The latter two, Luke and Timothy, had originally been buried in Ephesus but their remains were moved to the Church of the Holy Apostles.

Constantine himself was also buried there. So were the remains of the celebrated preacher of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, whose sermons were so good he was called the “Golden Mouth.”

The Church of the Holy Apostles became a kind of “Westminster Abbey” of the East, with tombs and inscriptions to the great heroes of apostolic and post-apostolic Christianity.

A couple of hundred years later, the church was renovated from the ground up by Emperor Justinian, the man who also commissioned the Hagai Sophia (see my previous blog on that). It was consecrated on June 28, AD 550. When he died, Justinian joined Andrew, Mark, Luke, Timothy, and Constantine in being interred there.

According to old manuscripts, an inscription was placed over the main gate of the church recording what happened to all twelve of the apostles. This is the source of much of our tradition and/or history concerning the Twelve. It said:

Mark is put to death by the people of Alexandria.

The great sleep of life Matthew sleeps.

Rome sees Paul die by the sword.

Philip is given what was given Peter.

Bartholomew suffers death on the cross.

Simon too on the cross ends his life.

In Rome vain Nero crucifies Peter.

In life and death John lives.

Luke died peacefully at the end.

The men of Patras brutally crucify Andrew.

A knife severs the life paths of James.

Lances kill Thomas in India.

Second in size only to the great Hagai Sophia, the Church of the Holy Apostles was a place of pilgrimage for thousands of believers for hundreds of years.

Sadly, no trace of the Church of the Holy Apostles remains today. The Crusaders looted it in the 1200s; and when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the church was turned into a mosque and later destroyed. The Fatih Mosque now sits on the site, perhaps over the tombs of Timothy and Luke. Marks remains were perhaps shuttled off to Venice. I can just see Luke and Timothy flying up through that mosque at the resurrection!

When I discovered our hotel was near the Fatih Mosque, Joshua and I took a cab there, though there was nothing to be discovered in terms of its ancient history. We did find a little framing store nearby. The owner couldn’t speak a word of English, but we communicated with sign language. I’d been looking for an inexpensive painting of the Bosphorus; and even after I toppled over a shelf of paintings (resulting in broken fames and shattered glass and at least one bent canvas), he was as kind as could be, offering us tea to settle our nerves. See him smile and pour the steaming tea after I accidentally wrecked his shop? See Joshua smirk?

I bought the painting of the Bosphorus, by the way, and I didn’t even haggle. I wan’t in a very good bargaining position.

Here are some pictures of the Fatih Mosque and of the nearby shop.