While I was exploring the back alleys of downtown Trabzon, Black Sea region of Turkey, I stumbled upon a small Catholic church. Santa Maria Church was the first Latin Cathoilc church built in the Black Sea region.
What you’ll find in this article
- Santa Maria Catholic Church
- The missing painting of Virgin Mary
- The assassination of Priest Santoro
- When can you visit the church?
- Useful tourist information
- Where is Santa Maria Catholic Church?
I paid a quick visit to this small but well-built Catholic church and learned about its tragic history. Santa Maria Church is one of the lesser-known Christian heritage sites in the Black Sea region. However, this site has quite an intriguing story.
Santa Maria Catholic Church
In 1845, group of Capuchin priests were banished from Tbilisi by the order of the Russian Tzar. The priests, who had been of the Franciscan order, sought refuge in Trabzon and founded an association there.
With the help of the Clairambault, French Consul of Trabzon to Ottoman Empire, the priests managed to purchase a small land and built a house on it. The “church” was symbolically founded when the priests hung a painting depiting Virgin Mary gazing at the Christ during his sleep. In 1846, the Russian Consulate donated a bell to this humble religious complex.
From 1862 to 1864, the priests constructed a few structures which became part of the later church complex.
In 1866, the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid I, gave the permission for there to be a church for the Christian tourists visiting Trabzon. Construction of the church was halted for various reasons over time, such as bad weather conditions, shortage of money and resistance of the Orthodox Greek congregation against the Catholic presence.
Santa Maria Catholic Church was officially opened in 2 February 1874.
The complex comprises of 3 main parts: the church building, the guest house and 2 administrative buildings. Today, it serves as an active church with a small congregation.
The missing painting of Virgin Mary
The holy painting depicting Virgin Mary looking at Christ was brought to Trabzon by Father Filippo Mazzoni in his mantle from Tbilisi. The painting was presumed to have been made in the 17th or 18th century. However, in 1888 it was stolen from the church, and today, it is still not known where it is.
The assasination of Priest Andrea Santoro
This small and tranquil religious complex is primarily infamous for a tragic event – the assasination of Father Andrea Santoro. In 2006, he was shot dead while knealing in prayer. Today, you can still see the bullethole and the exact spot he was murdered. Ask the church staff and they will show you.
Andrea Santoro was an Italian priest, who had been serving as the bishop of Santa Maria Catholic Church of Trabzon.
The killer was a 16-year-old high school student who later confessed that he committed the murder because he was enraged by the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.
This murder is one of the most high-profile cases of anti-Christian hate crimes in Turkey.
The killer was sentenced to 18 years in prison but in 2016, he was released 8 years early.
When can you visit the church?
The church is open to visitors from Monday to Saturday between 3.30pm – 5.30pm.
The schedule for prayers is as it follows:
- Every day at 5.30pm: Rosary and Holy Eucharist
- On Sundays at 11.30am: Sunday Mass and Eucharist Liturgy
An important reminder! Only the members of the congregation and Christians who want to pray can attend the prayers. Tourists are not allowed to enter the church during the praying hours.
Useful Tourist Information
Entrance to the church is free of charge.
Due to the hate crimes that the church had to face in the past, visitors pass through physical security check and an X-ray machine.
After I took a few photos of the church, I was warned by a nun to not photograph inside the establishment. So, taking photos is not allowed.
Since Trabzon’s back alleys are very winding, Google Maps might not work accurately. The coordinates of the church: 41.007226, 39.731920