The Dominican Community in Istanbul

Here is the community of Dominicans in Istanbul, Turkey. Dominicans arrived here in 1231 and built St. Paul Church at the foot of the Galata hill some time later, across the Golden Horn from Constantinople. Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453 and was renamed “Istanbul,” and in 1475 St. Paul’s Church was converted into a mosque, which is still used today (the Arap Camii). The friars retreated into another building a few hundred meters up the hill given to them by an Italian trader and used his chapel as a new church dedicated to St. Peter. A new church was made in 1603, was burned down and rebuilt in 1660 and again in 1773, and in 1841, the friars destroyed the old church in order to build a new, better one, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. This church is still run by the friars.

Perhaps the community remains in Istanbul simply because of the weight of history, having been so long in this place bucking the tide of history, but the brothers here also have their own reasons for coming—to be in dialogue with Islam or the Turkish people, or to be present in this important city that sits as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

Here are the brothers, as pictured from left to right:

Antonio Visentin, with only one year in Istanbul the newest member of the community, is a former novice master, and has now become a novice in Turkish language and culture. He also came to be simply a newer member, keeping the community new and alive.

Scott Steinkerchner (me), visiting the community for two weeks to see the work it is doing in interreligious dialogue.

 Claudio Monge, the superior of the community, Claudio has been here ten years and works in interreligious dialogue specializing in theologies of religion, comparative theology, Islam and ecumenical prayer. He is pictured to the left welcoming a group friends of the community.

Giuseppe Gandolfo has been here for 20 years, knows Turkish very well, works to restore the house, and plays the organ for the Christian community in the area and gives organ concerts.

Alberto Ambrosio has been here for ten years and is vicar of the mission to Turkey. He studies Sufism, a form of mystical Islam that had important roots in the area as well as Islam of the Ottoman Empire.

 Flavio Rocca is a friend of the Dominicans in Chieri, Italy (near Turin) and he plays the organ at the Dominican church. The Dominican community there sponsored him to come here and give a concert with Giuseppe in the church here. After each taking turns at the organ for various pieces, they played together Tchaikovsky's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 (reworked for piano and organ). It was incredible—emotional and moving, passing from one emotion to the next in the Romantic style, with a perfect synergy between the two instruments. Not that I am an expert in classical music, but it seemed to be a brilliant performance and the audience and the performers were all jubilant afterwards.

Lorenzo Piretto has been in the community for 30 years and is the vicar general of the local bishop. He is also the editor of the local Catholic review, “Présence.” He is also the parish priest of St. Peter and St. Paul.