A Brief History of Aya Yorgi Church
According to the information on the Patriarchate records
, Aya Yorgi Church was constructed in 1751. The small two-story building covered with tiles is known as the old church and has a small church, chapel and a prayer place. Aya Yorgi Church, on the other hand, is the new building on the hill that was built of face stone in 1905 and opened for use in 1909.
The church got its name from Aya Yorgos (Saint George), who started being referred to as Aya Yorgi
by the Greeks over time. He was a soldier in Cappadocia that lived in the 3rd
century. He is one of the most known and loved saints and martyrs in Christianity. According to the legend, the people in the city were troubled by a murderous dragon. They gave the dragon sheep, but the dragon wasn’t satisfied. They started choosing people from the city randomly to be sacrificed to the dragon. One time, the king’s daughter was chosen. Despite the king’s offerings, no one accepted to take his daughter’s place. As she was about to be eaten by the dragon, Saint George arrived and gravely wounded the dragon. He put a girdle around the dragon’s head and led it back to the city. The king and the townspeople were amazed. He offered to kill the dragon if they all became Christians. More than 15,000 people and the king became Christians, and Saint George killed the dragon.
Every year on April 23 and September 24, huge crowds of Christians come to Aya Yorgi Church. It is accepted as one of the two pilgrimage points of Christians, besides the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus
But why the 23 April and 24 September dates? In the Orthodox sect, April 23 is the St. George’s day. September 24 is the commemoration day of Aya Thekla, who devoted herself to the new religion of Jesus' apostle Paulus.
Those who come to Aya Yorgi Church come to pray and make a wish. They take off their shoes at the start of the road that leads to the church, grab a bell and never speak during the entire road. It is also believed that the wishes of those who tie ropes to the bushes and walk the road with a reel rope will come true. This uphill road is also known as the “path of torment”. This tradition is based on a religious story. According to this story, during the Byzantine era
, the island was under the siege of the Greeks. The priests wanted to save the icons and sacred objects in the church of Aya Yorgi, so they buried the objects in the ground. After many years, a shepherd in the island saw Aya Yorgi in his dream. In his dream, Aya Yorgi told the shepherd to climb the road that leads to the church and stop and dig when he hears bell sounds. After this dream repeated itself for a couple of days, the shepherd climbed the road to the church barefoot and never spoke along the way. When he got to the church, he heard bell sounds like Aya Yorgi said in his dream. He began digging and found the unscathed icons and the sacred objects buried in the ground. It is believed that those who manage to climb the “path of torment” barefoot without speaking are half-pilgrims.
Inside the Aya Yorgi Church
You will meet a lot of different people along the way, especially if you visit the church on 23 April or 24 September. People from different religions and nationalities come together to pray, meet each other and spend a good time. Even if you are not religious, it is hard to not get lost in the atmosphere of this place.
After a 15-minute long walk, you will arrive at the Buyukada Aya Yorgi Church
. A sign on the front door reminds you to be silent and dress appropriately. Even though the church is not that big, there are many amazing icons, motifs, paintings and religious monuments to be seen. The one that draws the most attention is the icon that shows Aya Yorgi killing the monster that’s coming out of the sea with his spear. Aya Yorgi’s own icon also attracts a lot of attention. People leave many different gifts like flowers in front of this icon to thank Aya Yorgi.
Outside of the church, you will be mesmerized by the gorgeous view of the Marmara Sea. The main attraction here is the café that is next to the church, Yucetepe Kır Gazinosu. It is run by a local Turkish family and serves great food, along with one of the best views you can have in Istanbul.
How to Go to the Aya Yogi Church
You first have to go to Buyukada. Since the island is a pretty popular place, there are ferries that go there from many different stations across Istanbul, such as Besiktas, Bostancı, Sirkeci, Kartal, Buyuk Cekmece, Bakırkoy, Eminonu, Kadıkoy, Kabatas, Yalova, Avcılar, Karakoy and Yesilkoy.
After you get to Buyukada, you will have to hire a bicycle to get to the church. Since it is on the highest hill on the island, almost every local knows its location, so you can ask around to find your way, if you don’t have an princes islands tour guide
You can visit the Aya Yogi Church every day of the week between 8.30 AM and 4 PM, except for Sundays between 9 AM and 12.15 PM, since it is the time of worship. The entrance to the church is also free for everyone.