Sometimes when I have a dry spell in finding subjects to write, the rescue comes from an e-mail sent by a reader from far away. This was such a case when a friend sent me an article from Nova Scotia, Canada. The article was written in the Turkish daily Hurriyet by Sedat Kaya, with an unusual headline :
“A church in Istanbul and an automobile, the work of the satan”.
According to the article, during the Crimean war when allied forces were assembled in Istanbul, every religion had a place of worship except the Anglicans. Therefore Queen Victoria of England asked the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecit for a permission to build a church for the Anglicans In Istanbul. The Sultan granted her wish and allocated the grounds of an old Greek cemetery on the hills of Pera, on a sope declining down from Tunnel to Tophane, to build the church.. Construction of the church lasted ten years and when it was completed in 1868 Sultan Abdulmecit had already died. The Church was named The Crimean Memorial Church to commemorate the fallen Britons during the war and Queen Victoria sent Sultan Abdulaziz a brand new automobile as a token of her appreciation. This was the first automobile the istanbulites had ever seen and people soon named it the “satan’s carriage”. Seyhulislam, the highest religious advisor to the Ottoman Sultan had hard time in finding any relevant information about self moving vehicles in the Koran, in justifying to write a fatwa, stating that the car was legitimate. It is rumored that not getting the fatwa from the highest religious advisor the Sultan asked his helpers to throw the car into to the waters of the Marmara Sea.
I was more interested in the church with the different architecture I have seen in photo accompanying the article, than the satan’s automobile in Istanbul. I had never seen this church before and it was unusual because it did look nothing like the typical Greek, Armenian, and Catholic Churches of Istanbul. For some reason it reminded me of of Westminster of Abbey in London or St Paul’s Cathedral of New York, a smaller version of course, Gothic in style, but with a with a belfry resembling a minarete, as its oriental touch. The Church was designed by George E.Street, who had designed London’s Royal Courts of Justice . It was built on the steep hills of Pera on a small cobblestone street. The white cut stones of the building was brought from the Prince islands in the Marmara Sea and the softer stones used by the entrance and windows sills from the island of Malta.The marble baptism font, about five feet in depth, which was mostly used for sailor converts, was constructed locally in Istanbul. Today the church is s surrounded by high walls and an iron gate and the tall trees and bushes in its yard partially block its view from the outside. There is also a small mosque next to the church with its minaret competing with the belfry.
Three Levantens of Istanbul :Father Ian Sherwood, Lulu and Adair Mill
Reverend Sherwood receiving award from the British Ambassodor
During the 1970 ies the Church was in despair and was neglected for long years, targeted by vandals and neighborhood children. The altar was smashed, chairs stolen and valuable books and icons dating back to sixteenth century had disappeared. It was no longer a religious place, the courtyard was used as a dumping area with pigeon droppings all over the building. In 1993 the British consulate was ready to hand the church over to Istanbul Municipality when Father Ian Sherwood 35, a native of Dublin, Ireland intervened and took over the church. The young preacher settled into the church thirty Sri Lankan Tamil refugees from Kuwait, who had recently escaped to Istanbul from the Gulf war and had no place to live .He told them that they can live in the crypt of the church and he would supply them with food. In return the refugees, which included Hindus, Catholics as well as Muslims, had to help him to cleanup and re-consecrate the old Anglican church.
Today twenty three years after Father Ian Sherwood took over the church as the chaplain the old Crimean Memorial Church has a congregation of sixty, a rainbow mix of people, who regularly attend the Sunday services which is scheduled at 10 A.M. The Church is open to public and usually coffee is served to new guests attending the sermon. Most churches in Istanbul, especially the smaller ones are locked off to tourists during the weekdays. But from what I understand, this one is open to public during the weekdays too and this is how our Istanbul correspondent Selcuk Erarslan went into the church and took the photographs you see in this writing.
When I started researching the Crimean Memorial Church over the internet, as soon as I came across the name Ian Sherwood, I knew I had seen this name somewhere before. For days I tried to remember who Father Ian Sherwood was. Then one night when I went to bed ready to sleep all of a sudden it came to my mind. I got up and turned my desktop on, clicked on one of my writings from 2012 entitled “In Search of Lulu”. There it was: in a photograph, a young man with a red beard sitting next to Lulu, the lady who was born to a British mother and famous Turkish geographer and lived all her life in Istanbul between 1914 and 2003 and another Levanten British gentleman named Adair Mill. The photograph was courtesy of a lady named Tengun Sevinc, whom I had visited in Istanbul while researching Lulu’s life. In the photograph Ian Sherwood looks like he is in his late thirties sitting on the couch with Lulu and Adair with plates full of appetizers on their laps. In the paragraph under the photograph I had written the following sentence quoting Mrs. Sevinc:
“ Adair is an atheist and Lulu’s other close friend father Ian Sherwood is an Anglican priest and as you see in this picture they got along fine.
I guess that was a quality or talent both Father Ian Sherwood and Lutfiye Duran, aka Lulu possessed ; that is bringing people of different backgrounds, beliefs and ages together. It was also a small world I thought, where once again in my writings a name will pop up, which I had mentioned without knowing too much about him before, will come up this time as the main character of this article.