Dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church in Büyükdere, along the shores of the Bosphorus not far from the Black Sea, is the oldest in the entire Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land.
The presence of the Friars Minor Conventual in this suburb of Constantinople dates back to the beginning of the 1700’s, when it was founded as a missionary station for the Catholic population of Italian, Maltese and Austrian origin. In 1807 a parish was canonically erected, covering territory that included, in addition to the village of Büyükdere, two sections of the Bosphorus’ Asian coastline: Beykoz and Paşabahçe.
By 1815 the small wooden church no longer met the parish’s needs and the friars constructed a new stone church that was consecrated in 1866. A boy’s school run by the friars and a girls school run by the sisters of Ivrea were also built to serve the large Catholic colony. During World War I the church was transformed into a Turkish Bath. Eventually reopened for worship, it was heavily visited, especially during the summer as Büyükdere served as a holiday destination. Following the exodus of the foreign population, the number of Christians greatly diminished and the two schools had to be closed. The presence and pastoral responsibility of the friars was therefore reduced.
In 1985 the church and the friary were entrusted to the Focolari movement. In 2008 the friars returned to Büyükdere and in 2011 the friary was officially established.