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Church of St. Mary of the Mongols or Panagia Muhliotissa

Church of St. Mary of the Mongols or Panagia Muhliotissa
From before the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul , this is the only church to have constantly remained under Greek control and is linked to a story of Princess Maria Paleologina, who was an illegitimate daughter of Emperor Michael VIII Paleologos, although there is evidence that it was built by Michael’s uncle, Isaac Du Kas in 1261. 

The story goes that poor Maria was used as a pawn in a diplomatic game and was sent far away in 1265 to marry Hulagu, the Great Khan of the Mongols.  Hulagu died before she arrived there and she married his son Abagu instead.  Maria stayed at the Mongol court for 15 years but rebelled after her husband was murdered and it was suggested she marry yet another Mongol.  It is not known whether she founded the church or only named it but she retired to its attached convent where she stayed for the remainder of her life. 

The church has also been known as Theotokos Panagiotissa and is the only Byzantine church to have been preserved in its original form. In 1453 the Greek architect, Atik Sinan (Christodoulos), who had been responsible for the Fatih Mosque , convinced Sultan Mehmed II to allow St. Mary’s to remain a church rather than converting it into a mosque; there is a facsimile of this decree guaranteeing its survival  that has been preserved within the building.  The church has undergone some unfortunate crude restoration work inside the dome that diminishes its visual appeal and unfortunately it always appears to be closed to visitors.

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