O, city, city, center of the four quarters of the world!
O, city, city, pride of the Christians and ruin of the barbarians!
O, city, city, second paradise planted in the West, including all sorts of plants bending under the burden of spiritual fruits!
Where is thy beauty, O, paradise?
Where is the blessed strength of spirit and body of thy spiritual Graces?
Where are the bodies of the Apostles of my Lord?
Where are the relics of the saints, where are the relics of the martyrs?
Where is the corpse of the great Constantine and other Emperors?
Monday marked the 554th anniversary of the fall of the Constantinople, Queen of Cities and New Rome, to the Turks. The City, by 1453 militarily insignificant and economically dependent on the fickle Italian maritime republics, faced her end with dignity and courage. A sorrowful event still to all true Christians, and lovers of the Classical world.
On the fifth of the month of April, one hour after daybreak, the sultan Mehmet came before Constantinople with about a hundred and sixty thousand men, and encamped about two and a half miles from the walls of the city.
Appeals to Rome and the West yielded no results, save for empty promises and expressions of sympathy. The Venetian senate was still deliberating about sending a fleet even in the middle of May. The Genoese colony of Pera, the opposite the City, stayed neutral. To the people of Constantinople, the only thing that mattered now, at the end of freedom and the beginning of a long darkness, was holding on to the true Faith.
Forty days later, in the early hours of 29th May, the final assault of the Turks began. Under the deafening noise of trumpets and drums, irregular bashi-bazouks and the elite janissaries alike poured through the walls of Constantinople. The Emperor, Constantine XI, realizing that everything was lost, threw off his imperial insignia, and followed by his cousin Theophilus Palaeologus, the Castilian Don Francisco of Toledo, and John Dalmatus, all four holding their swords, charged into the sea of the enemy soldiers, hitting left and right in a final act of defiance, never to be seen again.
Smashing through the great bronze doors of the Hagia Sophia, the Turks burst in, interrupting matins, massacring the congregation and priests. Later, the sultan Mehmet would walk into the great cathedral and claim in for Islam.
An empire which lasted for 1123 years, inheriting Greek thought and propagating the Christian faith, fell in a single night into the hands of infidels. When the sultan entered the City the sun, as it is said, veiled its brightness behind thick clouds in tokens of mourning. For us, 1453 does not only signify the beginning of the modern era; it evokes the memory of a world of grandeur, and all the memory of regret.
That Monday, being the anniversary of the Fall, as well as my name day (my patron saint is the Emperor Constantine XI), Edward, Anthony, Ernest, Norman and I went out to commemorate the occasion. We dined at Philia, one of the few Greek restaurants in this country. The staff, being ethnically Greek, agreed to play a music CD, Songs from the Fall of the City, that Edward had brought.
An icon of my patron saint was placed by the table
Starters: Feta cheese, tzatziki - a yoghurt dip with cucumber and garlic puree, and wholemeal bread
I had souvlaki - grilled pork, marinated in oil, salt, pepper, oregano and lemon, on skewers. Edward had the same, Norman had moussaka (eggplant casserole) and I can't remember what the rest had.
We had loukoumades for dessert, which are similar to donuts, essentially fried balls of dough drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon
Norman enjoying his dessert
The Holy Virgin was distressed, the very icons wept.
Be calm, beloved Lady, be calm and do not weep for them.
Though years, though centuries shall pass, they shall be yours again.