Previously, it was the center of a Byzantine monastery complex, but today only the church dedicated to Jesus the Savior as it remains. After Istanbul came under Turkish rule, it was converted into a mosque for a while, then transformed into a museum in 1948, and finally converted back into a mosque in 2020. "Kariye" is the Turkish adaptation of Khora, an Ancient Greek word meaning "rural." Considering Constantine's walls, this building is located outside the city. If this theory is correct, Khora Monastery should date back to the 4th century. However, according to sources, the existence of Khora Monastery before the 8th century is vague. Several buildings with the same name were likely constructed in the exact location.
Khora Monastery, mainly due to its proximity to the Palace of Blachernae, reflects the empire's grandeur during the Paleologus period. Khora has undergone many restorations throughout its history, including the one commissioned by Theodoros Metochites, who served as the chief minister and first lord of the treasury in the Byzantine Empire in the early 14th century. The essential elements of the church, such as mosaics, the funerary chapel (Parekklesion), and the frescoes inside, date from this period.
Theodoros Metochites had the Parekklesion built for himself and was buried there. Theodoros Metochites was a highly intellectual figure, a statesman, and a scholar. He conducted state affairs during the day and pursued scientific research in the evenings. He had commentaries on Aristotelian philosophy, an introductory book on astronomy, speeches, poems, biographies, and letters. He even wrote an encyclopedic work that encompassed over seventy authors. Metochites fell out of favor and were exiled after the death of Byzantine Emperor II Andronicus. Later, he secluded himself in his beloved Khora Monastery and lived there until his death. During this time, he restored Khora. Metochites undertook such a beautiful restoration to reflect his social prestige and seek forgiveness for his sins in the afterlife. He can be described as a narcissist who tried to overcome death with his intellect and aimed for immortal fame.
The mosaics depict the lives of Jesus and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The background elements and architectural motifs are emphasized to create a sense of depth. The scenes appear realistic as if taken from everyday life, with proportionate figures. Interpretations suggest that this church's art of mosaic and frescoes served as a precursor to the Renaissance movement.
The mosaics are divided into seven sections: the mosaic panels of the nave, six central dedicatory panels in the inner and outer narthexes, the genealogy of Jesus on the two domes of the inner narthex, the life of Mary in the first three niches of the inner narthex, the childhood of Jesus in the lunettes of the outer narthex, the vault arches of the outer narthex, the preaching of Jesus in the fourth niche of the inner narthex, and finally, saint portraits on the arches and piers of the inner narthex.
Following the common trend of the Paleologus period, the public showed more interest in gaining knowledge about the Holy Family. As a result, many scenes related to the childhood of Mary, which are rarely seen elsewhere, are present. These mosaics depicting the birth and life of Mary are based on the Apocryphal Gospels of James (not included in the Biblical canon).