Clouds Accumulating Over the Hagia Sophia

November 19, 2019
Mosaic of the “Trip to Bethlehem.”

For the first time, the Turkish State Council intervened to restore to the Muslim cult a Byzantine sanctuary in Istanbul. It is now up to the Turkish president to decide, at a time when the head of state is trying to remobilize the Islamist base of his electorate.

“An example to follow for Hagia Sophia,” ran the headline on November 5, 2019 of Yeni Safak, a daily Islamo-conservative newspaper. The example in question is that of the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, a Byzantine shrine built in the fourth century.

Profaned after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, then transformed into a mosque in 1511, the church became a national museum by ministerial decision on August 29, 1945. Built in the eleventh century in the shape of a Greek cross, it houses a unique decoration of frescoes and mosaics created between 1315 and 1321. These last, superb, were covered with lime by the Muslims, but not destroyed. They can be admired again, since the opening of the museum in 1958.

With the arrival in power of the AKP, the Justice and Development Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamists continue to demand the return of the Muslim cult to the former Christian sanctuary, which they renamed the “Kariye Mosque.” In vain so far.

But an unforeseen development may change the situation. The Turkish State Council has requested the repeal of the 1945 ordinance transforming Holy Savior in Chora into a museum, as well as its reappointment to the Mohammedan cult. The decision was passed on to the president’s cabinet, which must now decide on the vocation of the old Byzantine sanctuary.

This case is only a step to power for Islamists. Their purpose is to return the Basilica of St. Sophia, the emblematic place of the presence of the “Crusaders” in ancient Constantinople to the Muslim cult.

Hagia Sophia – “Ayasofya” in Turkish - became a museum in 1934, but the daily Yeni Safak is convinced that the State Council could very well act again to recover the shrine once dedicated to the Wisdom of God. The Truth, the one revealed to men by Jesus Christ our Lord.