In his attempt to appear within the country as the restorer of the past greatness of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish head of state, not content with having made Hagia Sophia a mosque, could subject in the same way an ancient Istanbul church converted into a museum: the Holy Saviour in Chora.
According to information relayed by several orthodox media, and which La Croix echoed on August 6, 2020, the Turkish Council of State decided, in November 2019, to entrust what is today the Kariye Museum, to the General Directorate of Religious Institutions of Public Utility.
“We must expect that the Kariye museum, a Byzantine church formerly transformed into a mosque, will experience a fate similar to that of Hagia Sophia,” writes Fabrice Monnier, specialist in the Ottoman Empire, on July 24, in the pages of Figaro.
This is one way for Recep Tayyip Erdogan to unite the country around the idealized era of the great sultans, failing being able to impose himself on the international scene in Syria or Libya.
The Kariye Museum is housed within the walls of the ancient Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora: the building derives from the ancient Greek Khora which means countryside, because the church and the adjoining monastery—built under Justinian in the 5th century—were built outside the walls of Constantinople.
It was not until 1511—nearly 60 years after the fall of Constantinople—that the Church of the Holy Saviour was transformed into a mosque by Atik Ali Pasha, Grand Vizier of Bajazet II. In 1945, the mosque became a museum.
The church is famous for its frescoes and mosaics, made in the 14th century under the leadership of Theodoros Metokhites, Minister of the Treasury during the reign of Andronicus II. The exterior narthex is decorated with mosaics depicting the life of Christ, while the interior narthex evokes the life of the Virgin Mary. They are considered to be the most beautiful works of the end of the Byzantine period.
Will the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora follow the destiny of Hagia Sophia? What is certain is that the policy of the Turkish head of state brings Christians back to the harsh reality of a conquering Islam, far from the sugary utopias of the Abu Dhabi declaration on a religious pluralism that would be desired by divine wisdom. Hasn’t the time finally come to dispel the mirages of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue?