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Among the Byzantine churches, St. Mary of the Mongols is the only one that has survived in its original status until today. This church in Balat, Istanbul; which was built in the 10th century but then rebuilt in 1282 by Princess Maria, illegitimate daughter of Byzantine Emperor Micheal VIII Palaeologus, has an interesting story behind it.

Maria was sent to Iran by her father to be married to the Mongolian Khan named Hulagu,who died before Princess Maria reached the capital of Mongolia. Instead Maria married the crown prince, Abaka. Unfortunately he was assasinated 15 years later. When her father wanted to remarry her, she refused and decided to live in a convent.

Therefore she had the church rebuilt and spent the rest of her life under the name of sister Melane. Also known as the “Red Church” due to its colour, this church tells Princess Maria’s story.

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