İstanbul, the city of many civilizations, has such a place of interest to art history as well as the world of faith. It is one of the city’s most spectacular places to visit.
Therefore, the formation of lines in front of its gates does not surprise those who are familiar the situation. We’re talking about the Holy Relics (Mukaddes Emanetler). Located in the third courtyard of the Topkapı Palace, The Privy Room (Has Oda) brings together what is precious and sacred for mankind. The objects of faith that belonged to different prophets, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, take place here embracing religions.
Even a strand of hair…
The year was 628… Muhammad traveled from Medina to Mecca with three thousand companions to make a pilgrimage. However, he was not allowed to enter the city and a treaty was made in the place called Hudaybiyyah, 30 km from Mecca. There were some conditions of the treaty; that year, the pilgrimage will not be made, Muslims will return, a pilgrimage will be made the next year but they can not stay more than three days. When Muhammad signed under the treaty, he would sign as the Messenger of Allah, but the spokesman of the idolaters, Süheyl Bin Amr, did not accept this and said, “If we would accept this, we would not have been in such trouble with you.” The Prophet accepted this and instead of Allah’s Messenger, he signed as Muhammad, the son of Abdullah. Three years passed by… One year after the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad’s farewell pilgrimage took place. The following is how Abu Bakr told the story: While the Prophet is shortening his hair, a companion is hovering around the Prophet. He is lifting his thobe and trying to collect the hair that is being cut in order to keep it from falling down on the ground. Then a lock falls, he bends, he picks it up and cleans the dust off, and he hides it. This person is none other than Süheyl Bin Amr, who became a Muslim within three years of the event. Süheyl Bin Amr loved Muhammad so much that, he did not even want a strand of his hair to be harmed. That is how these relics are preserved until today with the care of the companions.
It is really unusual to see such a large collection in one place. It is possible to explain this as an Ottoman tradition. The Ottomans, who were quite sensitive in the subject, had brought relics from every place whether they went or not, and kept their most important relics in a private chamber in Topkapı Palace. The Holy Relics, which are located in the Department of the Holy Mantle of Muhammad (Hırka-ı Saadet), consist of the relics that belonged to the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the family of the Prophet, and other prophets such as Abraham, Joseph, John the Baptist, and the relics that belonged to the period of the companions, the elders of the religion who lived during the early years of Islam, and the holy places.
From all corners of Anatolia
The sacred relics were brought to the Ottoman Empire with the conquest of Egypt and the caliphate of Yavuz Sultan Selim. Since our beloved Prophet was highly treasured, throughout history, men have tried to protect his inheritance. Some of the companions chose to be buried with these relics, and therefore some relics had been under the ground. However, we know that a large majority has been preserved. For example, most of the Hilye-i Şerifs, which were called Sakal-ı Şerif (The Holy Beard) until the period of Ahmet I, are in the Topkapı Palace. Ahmet I had those to be put into individual glass tubes and distributed all over Anatolia for all mankind. Indeed, today there are many villages and towns have Sakal-ı Şerif. Especially on the eve of the religious holidays, Sakal-ı Şerif visits are made almost in all mosques.
At the bedside of the Sultan
In general, the Sultans, starting with Fatih Sultan Mehmet until Mahmud II, lived in the Enderun Courtyard of the Topkapı Palace. The Chamber of the Holy Mantle of Muhammad, where the Holy Relics were also present, was in this courtyard and was the heart of the Topkapı Palace. Next to this chamber, there was a dormitory where the seven classes of Enderun students stayed together. The senior students, known as ‘of the Privy Room’, used to walk behind the Sultan in doubles for 24 hours, trained, and even waited next to his bedside while he was sleeping. Their second mission was the maintenance of the relics, which were carefully guarded bundled up in built-in closets. They cleaned them one by one, they took their dust. The bedroom of the Sultan, where the cover of the four walls of the Kaaba was hung, was also in this chamber. While the Sultan was asleep in his room, he had both the mantle and the ensign at his bedside. When the relics were delivered to Yavuz Sultan Selim at the Egyptian Campaign, he ordered the Quran to be read after this, and for this, he chose 39 hafizes (one who has memorized the Quran). When asked who would be the 40th hafiz, he pointed to himself.
The symbol of caliphate
Today, visitors visit the relics accompanied by the Holy Quran recited live. Although there are 605 relics only about 70 of them are on display. The most important among them is the mantle of Muhammad. The existence of two Holy Mantles (Hırka-i Şerif) is known in İstanbul. The first one was given by the Prophet as a gift to poet Ka’b b. Züheyr by putting it on him the Prophet himself in 630 when the poet converted to Islam in the presence of a group consisted of the Prophet, refugees, and ensars (people from Medina who helped immigrated Muslims) upon reading a eulogy there. For this reason, this eulogy of the poet later became famous under the name of “Kasîdetü’l Bürde” in the Islamic literature. This mantle, exhibited in the Topkapı Palace, is 124 cm long, wide-sleeved, made of black wool fabric and cream colored wool lining. It is considered to be the symbol of the caliphate. The Ottomans used to take this mantle to campaigns time to time and sultans used to wear it for good luck. Although the Ottomans loved spirituality, they took their power from the wisdom and they were tied to the relics with respect, not with blind faith.
Good luck for the campaigns
The ensign of the relics is used for the first time by Muhammad during his migration from Mecca to Medina and his entrance to Medina in 622. We see this black ensign, which was an unrolled turban cloth, in history for the second time in the conquest of Khaybar. In the conquest of Khaybar, which is an insurmountable castle, the Prophet gives the ensign to Ali. Just like the mantle, which is the symbol of the caliphate, it comes to this day with care. The Umayyads and Abbasids carry this in their campaigns. Later the ensign, which is in tatters, cannot be taken to the Ottoman campaigns and is kept in a green bundle. The ensign, which could not be taken to the Ottoman campaigns, was being erected at the third gate of the Topkapı Palace in Babüssaade, the army was greeting the ensign here and after they leave for the campaign, the ensign was wrapped up again in the bundle. This ensign, also called Ukab, is made of a woolen fabric close to black and because it is worn over time, it is kept in a chest over a green piece of silk fabric.
The relic of his footprints
The footprints believed to belong to Muhammad grab the largest interest among the relics. These are known as the Kadem-i Şerif or Nakş-ı Kadem-i Saâdet. A miracle of Muhammad was the appearance of his footprints when he stepped on stones or hard objects. This story about these footprints is important: Sultan Ahmed Khan brings a stone with Muhammed’s footprint to Eyüp Mosque in İstanbul from the Mausoleum of Qaitbay in Egypt. When the Blue Mosque is completed, it is transferred there. On the night of that day of the transfer, Sultan Ahmet dreamed that he was put on trial; all the sultans were present and the Prophet was the judge. He was being judged because of the kadem-i şerif he brought from the Mausoleum of Qaitbay. As soon as Sultan Ahmed awakens, he visits Aziz (Saint) Mahmud Hüdayi and tells about the dream. Aziz Hüdayi interprets the dream as “sending the relic back immediately” and the Kadem-i Şerif is returned to the Mausoleum of Qaitbay. On this occasion, the sultan had its mold made in a smaller form and he wore it on the official days to be blessed. Later Ahmet I gives a second mold as a gift to his teacher, Azîz Mahmûd Hüdâyî. He hangs it on the wall of his convent. This mold stands there until World War I and is taken to Topkapı Palace to prevent any damage from the war. The most famous among the Kadem-i Şerif is the one that is believed that was formed when Muhammad stepped on a rock as he ascended to the heaven from Jerusalem and it is in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. One of the molds was brought to the Topkapı Palace.
The blessing of the relics
Much more than the sacred relics, collected from the 16th century to the first half of the 20th century, is in the magnificent book of “Hırka-ı Saadet ve Mukaddes Emanetler” (The Holy Mantle and the Holy Relics) by Hilmi Aydın who had worked for years at the Weapons and Holy Relics Department at the Topkapı Palace Museum. Some other relics include our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s tooth which was broken in the Battle of Uhud, his letters, his arrow, and his sword. Among other relics of the prophets and his companions are the Abraham’s pot, the sword of David, Joseph’s robe, the sword that belonged to the companions of the Prophet, Fatima’s shirt, mantle, prayer rug and chest, Moses’ wand, the cover made by the Ottoman sultans for the Kaaba, the golden gutters, the keys, the doors, the locks of the Kaaba, and the Hacerü’l-esved (stone on the wall of the Kaaba). The collection also includes the Hümeze and Tekasür surahs of the Quran which is believed to be among the first copies written by the revelation clerks, the headscarf of Veysel Karani, Joseph’s turban, the Hacerü’l Esved frames, Na’leyn-i Saadet (the shoes of the Prophet), the models of the Masjid Nebevi and the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem, zamzam water bottles made of white opal and sealed with the red seal, the soil brought from Karbala, the plates of the Holy Quran where the surahs were written, the cufic lettered Quran believed to be read by Osman when he was martyred, Quran lecterns, silver bowls, prayer rugs, incense burners used in the Privy Chamber and a silver handled broom.