30 CONSTANTINOPLE AND ITS ENVIRONS ;
to swim at this day. This circumstance is said to have rendered the place as miraculous
in the eyes of the Moslems as the Christians; so they changed the name, to commemorate
the miracle, into Baloukli or "the place of the fishes," into which its former appellative
merged, and by which it is now known.
As this was a place held by the Greeks, from the earliest times, in great distinction,
and the Turks themselves partook of the impression it caused ; it was the object of
their attention, when the insurrection broke out in 1821. They rushed in a body
to this celebrated place, tore down what of the edifice had been suffered to remain, and
attacked the unfortunate persons who had presumed to venture to celebrate their primitive
festival. In this state it continued for several years, and the traveller who visited it
saw a desecrated ruin, occupied only by a poor Caloyer in his tattered blue tunic, lamenting
over the devastation of his sacred enclosure. The miraculous fishes, however, seemed to
be the only objects that did not suffer by the sacrilege. They still might be seen darting through the water, and the countenance of the poor priest lightened up with pleasure,
when he could find them out, and say, idhoo psari afthenti—look at these fishes, sir.
At length, when affairs became settled, and the revolution was completed and recognized, a firman was issued by the sultan, to repair all the Christian churches that had
been injured, and this was among the first to which attention was directed. The former
celebrity and great sanctity conferred upon it a more than usual interest; and the Russian
government, as members of the Greek church, contributed to its re-erection on a more
extended plan. It is surrounded by an area, in which is built a residence for the priests
of the well. From hence is the approach to the church, which has a certain subterranean
character, and is entered by a descent of marble steps. The interior has been finished
with much care, indicating considerable anxiety to adorn such an edifice with corresponding ornaments. The walls are covered with a light and glittering coat of gold on
white varnish, so as to resemble the finest porcelain China, and present a rich surface to
the eye, perfectly dazzling. This effect is heightened by splendid glass lustres suspended
from the ceiling, and presented by the emperor Nicholas.
Our illustration presents the church under its characteristic and usual aspect. Before
the ornamented screen which separates the nave from the sanctuary, is stretched the
sick brought here to be healed after the ablution of the water, by the panayia who
presides over it. Another trait of Greek superstition is also displayed : at the entrance
to the church is a large case, in which a number of slender tapers are deposited; every
male, on coming in, purchases at this counter a taper, which he lights, and bears in his
hand to a stand placed before the sanctuary. Here he sticks it on a point prepared for
it, and suffers it to burn out, as a necessary part of his devotion. This ceremony is particularly practised by Greek mariners, who thus propitiate the Virgin before they sail.
The Greek church, like the Latin, prescribes a formula for blessing those candles, and
believe, that whenever the benediction is said over them, they have a power conferred
upon them of chasing away demons and evil spirits when they are lighted.