Presentation Istanbul

The church dedicated to Saint Anthony in the bustling center of the megalopolis of Istanbul has inherited an uninterrupted presence of Franciscans that dates back to the first missionary expedition of the Order in the Orient. The friars arrived in Constantinople around the year 1220 and established themselves in the Venetian quarter at an Orthodox church dedicated to the Madonna (Theotokos Kyriotissa) abandoned by the Greeks after the Fourth Crusade (1204).

In this period the Friars Minor participated in various Papal diplomatic missions seeking reconciliation between the Churches of the Orient and the West. After Constantinople was retaken by the Byzantines in 1261, the friars were forced to leave the friary, transferring residence to Galata on the opposite side of the Golden Horn. Around 1307 they took up stable quarters in the church dedicated to Saint Francis, that, once it was expanded and decorated, became the principal church for the Latin colony. The importance of the Friary of Saint Francis was verified when, during the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Sultan, Mehmet II, spent his first night in the city after the conquest within its walls.

In 1469 the friary became the seat for the Province of the Orient and a center for Franciscan missions. Provincials of the Friars Minor often assumed the role of Vicar to the Patriarch and also Apostolic Prefect. The Galata Church of Saint Francis’ celebrated history finally came to an end because of a terrible fire in 1696. The sultan no longer granted permission for the reconstruction of the church and it was eventually converted into a mosque. The friars were left homeless. Some received hospitality from the Jesuits of St. Benedict and the Observants at St. Maria Draperis, while others settled down in a simple house that was at the time outside the walls of Galata. There, a small domestic chapel dedicated to St. Anthony became the nucleus for a new church, completed in 1724. The wooden structure was later expanded and replaced with a church of stone.

However, with the growth of the Catholic population in the European quarter of Beyoğlu towards the end of the 1800’s, the need was felt to reconstruct and further expand the church. A favorable moment presented itself when the municipality began a project to expand the area’s main road and to a demolish a large part of the Church of St. Anthony.

In order to carry out the idea of building a new church, the Conventual Friars were removed from the French protectorate and placed under that of Italy. With the help of the Italian state, land was purchased from the Concordia Theater and in 1906 work was begun as part of a project by architect Giulio Mongeri. The construction concluded in 1913 with the solemn consecration of the new church of St. Anthony. In 1932 it was elevated to the title of minor Basilica and to this present day it remains not only the principal church for Istanbul’s Catholics but is also heavily visited by Muslims and tourists.

In 2010 the friary of St. Anthony became the seat of the newly formed Custody of the Orient and Holy Land.