by Giles Fraser
Friday, 10
July 2020
Reaction
07:00

The Hagia Sophia is for prayer, not pictures

Recep Erdogan is right: the faithful must return to this holy space
by Giles Fraser
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Credit: Getty

When it was built in 537, Hagia Sophia — Greek for Holy Wisdom — was the largest building in the world, not just the largest church. For roughly the first thousand years of its life it was a place of Christian worship, sending prayers upwards to the living God. In 1453, after the city fell to the Ottoman invaders, it became a Mosque, and was so for nearly five hundred years, again sending prayers to the Almighty. In 1935, the secular Turkish state turned it into a museum, and the prayers stopped.

Now I am no particular fan of Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but when it comes to his desire to return this once holy place back to a mosque, I cannot but applaud. There will be those — Greek Orthodox Christians especially — who would prefer it to return to being a Cathedral. Of course, that would be wonderful. But it is never going to happen in a country where Christianity represents a vanishingly small percentage of the population. And so that aspect of the argument is something of a distraction.


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The Hagia Sophia was profaned by secularity in 1935. For secularism is not a way for all religions to share the public space peacefully; it is a systematic and deliberate attempt to drive God out of the public square. And if the choice is between a mosque and a museum, then it is no choice at all: the faithful must return to that space and fill it once again with worship.

And to those Christians who believe that Muslims and Christians worship something different, I offer no less an authority than the Pope himself. Ahead of his trip to Morocco last year, the Pope tweeted:

I am coming as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity. We Christians and Muslims believe in God, the Creator and the Merciful, who created people to live like brothers and sisters, respecting each other in their diversity, and helping one another in their needs
- Pope Francis
.

This view goes back to the Second Vatican Council, where it was affirmed that Muslims, “together with us adore the one, merciful God”. And from the Muslim side, the Quran makes it clear that Muslims worship the same God as the Jews. Jacob, for instance, asks his sons what they will worship once he is dead. And they answer: “We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, one single God: we devote ourselves to Him.”

I am not trying to underestimate the huge theological differences or the violent history that has come between Christians and Muslims. In fact, I think it is precisely because of all this that Christians should remind themselves that Muslims are our brothers and sisters with whom we share a faith in the living God. And this is why Christians should be delighted if, as I hope and expect he will, the Turkish president announces later today that Hagia Sophia will return to being a Mosque. The curse of secularism will be lifted and this holy space will return once again to the praise of Almighty God. Allahu Akbar.

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Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago

I see where the Revd Mr Fraser is coming from, but as Mr Corby writes below, this really is a political gesture designed to sustain President Erdogan’s overriding project of erasing or minimising the non-Muslim elements of Turkey’s history. These include both the Christian past, and the secularising and modernising project of the last century, set in motion by Ataturk. Ataturk’s secularism was scarcely an effort “to drive religion from the public square”, though he did seek to marginalise and regulate Islam, and certain religious orders were closed. Nevertheless, throughout the period of secularism, mosques remained open for worship in Turkey. Imams were (as they still are) paid by the state and classified as civil servants.

Istanbul is not short of Muslim places of worship – including the Blue Mosque right next door to the Hagia Sophia (actually, Istanbul is not short of Christian places of worship either, as a stroll along the Ä°stiklal Caddesi will make clear). Many of the city’s mosques were the product of the confidence of early Ottoman rule, when Mimar Sinan devised his many masterpieces of Islamic architecture, purpose built for Muslim worship; others are converted Byzantine churches, most of them still in active use as mosques to this day.

Mr Fraser says that the status of a museum profanes the Hagia Sophia. In the literal sense, I suppose that is the case. But in the broader sense, the status of a museum is the only one that acknowledges the diverse aspects of the nation’s history, that it has been Christian, Muslim, and secular.

Incidentally, the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same god, while useful occasionally as ecumenical rhetoric, is surely a sentimentalisation of a complex theological reality. Trinitarian Christians worship Christ as God, a position rejected as straightforwardly blasphemous by Muslims.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Admiring that tremendous dome, only bested by the Pantheon and Brunelleschi, will also no doubt, be impinged by
the return of the Mosque?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Well, I don’t suppose it will, in all fairness. All mosques in Turkey are routinely open to non-Muslims for sightseeing outside prayer times – it’s still the most hospitable of all Muslim countries in that sense. And Turkey had pledged to maintain the Christian icons in the building (which, as I recall, are upstairs and out of sight from the main hall, so presumably wouldn’t disturb the sensibility of worshippers).

“That tremendous dome, only bested by the Pantheon and Brunelleschi”: for my money, the very finest dome in Turkey is the one Sinan crafted for his masterpiece, the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne just beside the borders with Bulgaria and Greece. Comparative few people visit it since it’s not in Istanbul, but it is, many claim, the finest mosque in Islam; it’s certainly the finest I’ve ever seen.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

The relatively open access to Mosques is surely the legacy of Ataturk, and I can foresee a time when this may cease. Morocco currently has an absurd policy of banning non Muslims, and things can be quite tricky in parts of Iran.
Yes, I agree completely about the Selimiye Mosque, (SM) a truly stupendous sight, and well worth the one hundred and fifty mile drive!
However, at the risk of sounding heretical, Sinan does seem to have produced a near replica of Hagia Sophia, (HS) albeit over one thousand years after the ‘original’. I seem to recall that he even boasted he had surpassed the dimensions of HS, but is that really true?
Off course, splendid though it is, its dimensions are certainly exceeded by both the Pantheon and Santa Maria del Fiore.

opn
opn
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Surely Sinan produced an improvement on Hagia Sophia as he conceived of Hagia Sophia – that is to say as a vast abstract aniconic space covered by a dome with walls receding outwards, so that they presented no barrier to a world which ought to be focussed on the worship of God. Paradoxically this is closely related to the way Procopius saw Hagia Sophia when it was first built – though his abstractions were rooted in classical philosophy rather than in Islam. But the Great Church was something more than all this. Paul the Silentiary saw it as an interplay of Mathematics, Nature and Light. But it was designed for Orthodox Liturgy, with all the complexity and movement that entails – something which the classicizing Procopius chose not to see and Sinan could not see because the evidence had all been destroyed.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  opn

That is a subjective judgement is it not?
Externally I would agree with you, but internally I think Hagia Sophia is, by a mere fraction, more impressive, although that may be due to ‘Classical’ bias.
Either way, for my money, neither can compete with the Pantheon, even in its current, appalling, disfigured condition.

opn
opn
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Sorry, what I meant was that Sinan’s conception of Hagia Sophia was that of the rather empty building we see now, and that is what he (to his mind) improved upon. I have never, alas, seen the Selimiye at Edirne/ Adrianople, but I know (and like) the Süleymaniye. The antithesis of all of them – Sinan’s mosques, Ss. Sergius and Bacchus, Hagia Sophia – seems to me to be the Blue Mosque, built in the generation after Sinan,
where the solution to his architectural ‘problem’ (getting the biggest possible circular dome onto a rectangular base) is four elephantine pillars – a leg at each corner. Speaking for myself (not Sinan) I love the Hagia Sophia with a passion and find it rather hard to agree with Fr. Giles, though I see where he is coming from.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  opn

Thanks, I get your drift. The Blue Mosque off course also noticeably fails to produce the “biggest possible circular dome”, only 77 feet, compared to the Pantheon at a staggering 142 feet.

I still think that Fr Giles has been duped here. This whole affair has nothing to do with God, and everyone to do with Politics. I can quite clearly see those magnificent mosaics being destroyed within the foreseeable future, as militant Islam gets into its stride. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have shown us the path of destruction that it is likely to follow.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Strange to think that the Pantheon is actually so large. I was in Rome longer ago than I was in Istanbul, but I don’t remember being struck by the sheer volume of space there as one is in the Hagia Sophia.

As for the fate of those mosaics, we can only keep our fingers crossed. Our heritage is always at the mercy of history. The Bulgarians shelled the Selimiye Mosque when they besieged Adrianople in 1913, and considered converting it into a Christian church. And I wonder what would have happened to all the Sinan mosques in Istanbul if the Greeks had won the Greek-Turkish War; some, one assumes, would have been preserved, but I suspect we would have lost many of them.

I must confess to a degree of frustration that so few people seem to grasp that the best and finest museum we have is the world!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Yes, I’m afraid it was ever thus.

On a happier note if you visit the Pantheon, try attending the Sunday morning service, when the crowds are excluded. I always try to ‘look the part’ and carry a Prayer Book or something. You will find only about thirty ‘attendees’, and you are free to wander around in silent ‘contemplation’

Years ago the British School in Rome could arrange for private visits, which sometimes included (for the intrepid) an outside climb to the top of the dome and chance to peer down through the oculus, Sadly H&S has probably put a stop to that.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I was in Rome in the winter – weather was drab, but it did mean I got to see the sights without the crowds. I had the Sistine Chapel practically to myself first thing in the morning – well, I guess there were two dozen other people, but compared to most people’s experience I count myself lucky. Pantheon similarly was pretty quiet when I was there. The downside was that heavy snow cancelled my outward flight, so I lost two days… which means I’ve not walked down the Appian Way. Ah well. Time for that one day I hope. Life’s too short for all the glories of our heritage!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

It is always pays to leave something unseen, in order to justify a joyful return!

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

The frustrating cases are the places which are so remote or so troublesome to get to that you suspect you never will return. I still intermittently wince when I think of Polotsk in Belarus, with its twelfth-century frescoes all under scaffolding. The chances of my getting back there are, I suspect, quite small.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Well, actually it happened before Ataturk; non-Muslims seem to have been able to visit mosques in Turkey from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, as a consequence of the modernising Tanzimat reforms. As I recall, in Morocco, General Lyautey thought it best for intercommunal relations during the French colonial period that non-Muslims should not enter mosques, and that rule has simply remained in force.

I had some tricky experiences in Lebanon last year (so glad I made it there last year!). The two main mosques in central Beirut (one old, one new) are clearly set up for, and expect tourists, with posted guidelines regarding etiquette obviously aimed at non-believers; and I was welcomed into the only mosque in the old town of Byblos (a mostly Christian town, of course). Things were less open in Sidon and Tripoli, where most mosques tended to be locked up about twenty minutes after prayer times – although the wonderful Mamluk Taynal Mosque in the latter city was open throughout the day and an Italian tour group came in just after I did. The Grand Mosque in Tripoli (a converted Lombard church) was mostly locked, and I was surprised in the afternoon to find it open; the caretaker, it turned out, had accidentally left the door open. He found me wandering around, and at first told me I would have to leave so he could lock up again, but then he changed his mind and let me stay until the next prayer time (locking me in for the intervening twenty minutes). In the al-Omari Mosque in Sidon (also a converted church), the verger (or whatever is the Muslim equivalent) was almost hostile and turned me away because a single worshipper was informally praying, but I went back after he’d gone home, and the imam seemed happy for me to stroll around! In Jordan, too, it often depends on the attitude of the individual guardian.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Interesting, I hadn’t realised the Tanzimat Reforms were so ‘liberal’.

You are correct about Lyautey, some act of sacrilege by French troops was the cause. It is rather odd, and very inconvenient that the Moroccans still enforce the diktat of their French conquerors, over a century after it was enacted, don’t you think?

Having seen the Mosques of Iran, Samarkand and Cairo, I must disagree with those who regard the Selimiye at Edirne, Sinan’s jewel,
“as the finest Mosque in Islam”. Magnificent as it is, it is clearly a facsimile of Hagia Sophia, and therefore lacks real originality. I well remember hearing the late John Julius Norwich waxing lyrically about it, but I was not. and am not convinced.

Incidentally the Iranians also possess the astonishing 11th century, tower tomb, the Gonbad-
e Qabus, located about 240 miles NE of Tehran and about 65 miles inland from the Caspian Sea. It is a cylindrical, buttressed, brick, tower that rises about 150 feet to the apex of its conical roof. An astonishing sight, like some colossal missile about to be launched into eternity. It is well worth a detour, if you happen to be ‘nearby’.
,

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Now I still haven’t made it to Iran or Uzbekistan. They are both high on my list – but it looks like I was right to opt for Lebanon last year; Islamic heritage aside, I won’t forget Palm Sunday mass in Beirut or the pilgrim trail through the Wadi Qadisha – nor the ruins of Baalbek, Anjar, Byblos and Tyre; and even forgetting the coronavirus situation, it looks like 2019 might have been the last time that will be a feasible trip for quite some while.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

You seem to have made good use of your time. Baalbek and Anjar are a real joy.

Off course much has recently been destroyed well before C-19 reared its ugly head. Just think of Syria, Iraq and Libya for example.

However don’t despair, when I was your age, nobody thought the USSR would collapse, but it did thus allowing us to wallow in the treasures of Eastern Europe. Not many years ago the Beqaa Valley was very definitely “out of bounds”,
as was Iran. So as one door closes another will open!

Europe off course, still offers a wonderful kaleidoscope of goodies, from the abandoned Mendicant Friaries of the west of Ireland to the painted churches of Romania, via the Gothic masterpieces of Isle de France.

Finally, India, three lifetimes would be totally insufficient to absorb its myriad treasures.

In your other post you mentioned somewhat poignantly, that the “finest museum we have is the world” Precisely, but as you may recall, Bertram Russell once said “most people would rather die than think, and most do”.

,

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Well, indeed, Syria was top of my list before the war; I’d have gone, I suspect, in 2010 if I’d had a permanent job, but I was still on a temporary and insecure contract and felt I couldn’t afford a big trip. India I’ve only touched – Goa and wonderful Hampi, a Christmas trip courtesy of my mum some years back. And Europe – well, “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

I wish sometimes I’d been of a generation just slightly older than I am, to have been able to take full advantage of that halcyon moment in the 1990s when (with a couple of obvious painful exceptions) the whole world seemed to be open. I think if I could wave a magic wand, though, my travel wish would be to explore Europe and Asia in the twenty years between the wars. To have explored the Eastern Europe that Patrick Leigh Fermor saw, to have seen old Dresden, Warsaw and Narva, to have mounted the walls of Beijing and strolled the wooden streets of Japan…

I was in Albania last autumn – my last big trip before COVID; and I found myself thinking that in a sense it’s the ultimate country – it’s had everything, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Turks, paganism and Christianity and Islam and Communism – but alas, those varied influences haven’t always rubbed against each other in quite the most mutually supportive way! Gjirokaster before the war was practically a little Istanbul in itself, with fifteen historic mosques. Now just one remains, though happily we still have the fabulous hillside domestic architecture.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

The problem I gather of travelling between 1919-39 was the speed. Little or no air travel until say 1936, otherwise 50 mph by train and 30 mph by road. Accommodation was very limited, even in rather forgotten
Spain, it needed the fabulous Paradores to get things really going.
Patrick Leigh Fermor also had plenty of time, whist he was reading his Horace, as he ambled south and east towards Hellas.

By 1990, however we were up to 500mph and the world was, as you intimated “our oyster”. You are very unlucky with Syria, a truly fantastic place and like Albania, ‘everybody’ had left some major monument(s) behind.

Also it worth remembering that thanks to ‘ Anastylosis’ many ancient buildings have been restored to magnificence, and will continue to be so. Look at the Library of Celsus, at Ephesus, restored by the Austrians in 1978, or Sagalassos in Turkey, currently being restored by the Belgiums or the Frauenkirche in Dresden.

The golden rule is never to pass up and opportunity and you will be very pleasantly surprised by what turns up. That splendid ‘Google Earth is also an invaluable tool, that we could never have dreamed of back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and it has saved me hours of reconnaissance time and effort.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I suppose if I can imagine one impossible thing (time travel) then I can imagine one unlikely thing – being a man of means and leisure in the 1920s and 1930s. But yes, the hotel issue obviously was restrictive.

I also envy those who were able to travel among the generation that was born about fifty years before I was, in the late 1920s – young enough not to have to serve in the war, too young of course to see the treasures of Central and Eastern Europe before much was destroyed – but old enough to visit, say, Stockholm before the demolition of key parts of its historic centre (I envy those who saw Kyoto before about 1960 most of all!) I think overall that must have been a very satisfying generational experience for a traveller, since, in the early 1950s, you might have counted yourself lucky to be able to jump on a ferry and reach Brittany or Belgium; by the 1980s, you might have been in China or Peru – the opposite of what’s happened to my generations of travellers, with so many doors closed in the last twenty years.

But nevertheless, you’re right – new doors have opened as well – I didn’t realise, although I’ve been there, that the restoration of the Library at Ephesus was quite that recent. And though I am saddened not to have reached Syria in time of peace, I take comfort in the ones that worked out: that trip to Lebanon last year; having made it to the Crimea on a slow trip through Ukraine in September 2013, a mere two months before the troubles started and six months before Russian annexation (one can still go, in that case, but it’s a lot harder!). And we each have our time, with its various frustrations and opportunities.

Funnily enough, I never use Google Earth. I’m an old-fashioned traveller, and for the most I go guide book in hand; one of the pleasures of travel is being liberated from the internet, at least as much as is humanly possible!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Interesting that you mention Norrmalm/Klara and Kyoto, both destroyed without the ‘excuse’ of previous bombing. Particularly regrettable with Koyoto, which it is said, Henry Stimson specifically prevented from being ‘nuked’ in 1945.

One of the joys of travelling in the 50′ and 60’s was Hitchhiking. It made the whole experience much more of an adventure, as you never really new where you might end up!
Also being a young Englishman, particularly in Europe, was a great bonus, as everybody seemed so welcoming and hospitable, that you almost believed ‘you’ had won the War yourself!

Modern Guidebooks I find very unsatisfactory, far too shallow. The old Blue Guides, particularly those by say Ian Robertson were absolute nectar, but are now long gone.

Google Earth does slightly diminish that sense of excitement, when visiting some remote gem, but when you are on the ‘final furlong’ as I am, it really is a case of “time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted”.

opn
opn
2 years ago

Not all the surviving mosaics are “upstairs”. There is the small matter of the image of the Theotokos in the apse, dedicated by the Patriarch Photius in 867 and, one would have thought, impossible to cover up without difficulty and exceedingly skilful conservation. The Deiisis mosaic in the gallery has surely been a means of grace to many visitors.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Are you not being a little naive, this an overtly provocative, political act?
It has nothing to do with “god bothering”, as we used to say, but is intended to destroy the legacy of Mustafa Kemal.

danielserotsky
danielserotsky
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Exactly. Religion is hardly out of the public square in Istanbul with nigh on three thousand mosques to go at in the city. Not to mention the Blue Mosque, literally on the same public square as the Hagia Sophia.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

And why should we think destroying that legacy is bad?

David Probert
David Probert
2 years ago

Simply because it is.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Don’t you? If not, why not?

Graeme Caldwell
Graeme Caldwell
2 years ago

If Christians and Muslims worship the same God, perhaps the Hagia Sophia could be repurposed as a space for combined worship and celebration of both its Christian and Muslim history. Of course, that cannot and will not happen because, as has been pointed out by other commenters, no one really believes it, least of all Erdogan. This is nakedly populist move designed to appeal to religious nationalism.

Chris Martin
Chris Martin
2 years ago

Muslims don’t even believe that Christians are monotheists. They consider the Trinity to be polytheistic. They are not at all the same religion.

David Probert
David Probert
2 years ago

This is a ridiculous article

The writer is happy to have any religion as a vehicle for worship as long as it believes in God. That is exactly where Christianity currently finds itself under its current semi- secular woke leadership and explains why it will disappear under the challenge of an all conquering intolerant militant Islam.
Religion follows the sword – Hagia Sophia was taken by the sword and desecrated as a church and remains as example of triumphalist Islamic conquest – its principal function as a Mosque ( no shortage in Istanbul) in the Islamist Erdogan’s eyes is as a powerful symbol of this conquest, as he attempts to reconstruct the Ottoman Empire with himself as ‘sultan’.

Constantinople was a Cosmopolitan City -Greeks Turks “Venetians” and Jews lived together with all their religions before 1922 and the war with Greece. Ataturk made it secular and neutralised religious conflict. Erdogan seeks to ‘purify’ it for his own glory.
As he waves the sword in Syria, the Aegean and Libya not to see the obvious politics of Turkish expansionism behind this stunt is naive in the extreme.

juanplewis
juanplewis
2 years ago

There is no issue on which Fraser will not take the most reactionary backward authoritarian side.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  juanplewis

With one notable exception, sodomy.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

What will happen to the beautiful Byzantine mosaics, representing Christ, saints and other Christian subjects, which have been uncovered and restored under secularisation? It’s a World Heritage Site. How will Unesco respond to the demands that will inevitably come to cover over, or destroy, these?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Actually, in fairness, the presidential spokesman this morning said that Turkey would continue to preserve the Christian heritage at the site.

David Probert
David Probert
2 years ago

So how can Muslims worship in the presence of images of Christ when they don’t believe in the representation of even the human form never mind the divine?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

Probably the icons will be covered during prayer times. My understanding is that this has been the compromise arrived at in the other Hagia Sophia (in Trabzon), which was a museum until 2013 and re-opened as a mosque thereafter. Initially, murals were covered up; however, the recent restoration has tried to make them visible to visitors outside prayer times:

https://www.hurriyetdailyne

“As part of the restoration, a shielding system which is used to cover mural paintings will be removed but an electronic system will be placed in front of the walls to cover Byzantine-era Christian paintings at worship times.

The provincial director of foundations in Trabzon, Ä°smet Çalık, said […]: “When we push the button, all mural paintings will become opaque “¦ Thus, people will be able to worship without any influence from paintings.””

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

Let’s see. Current mood in militant Islam (increasingly vocal in Turkey) is not well disposed towards Christian iconography, or indeed towards Christians in general

cosmicviolence
cosmicviolence
2 years ago

They say one thing to the “vile kuffar”, they do something else.

Jon Luisada
Jon Luisada
2 years ago

Is this guy talking about the same islam that the rest of us are familiar with?
or is there another , heretofore unknown one that is described, that lives in perfect harmony with others?

cosmicviolence
cosmicviolence
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Luisada

It’s the one with the unicorns handing out chocolate on crescent rainbows.
Not the ACTUAL islam that we’ve known for 1,400 bloody and shitty years

williamritchie2001
williamritchie2001
2 years ago

Vatican II was a modernist disaster, nothing it introduced should be applauded.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

Hear, hear!

Alex
Alex
2 years ago

And they wonder why Anglicanism is withering away…

John Alyson
John Alyson
2 years ago

The Hagia Sophia was profaned well before 1935. It was built for the worship of Jesus Christ – a worship that Islamic worship categorically denies.

I do understand the Gile’s view that secularising a sacred space is a form of profanity. I do not disagree, he is bang on the money here – however, Christians make a mistake if they assume that any form of worship of God is somehow a better alternative. After all, it was only by turning it over to being a museum that Christians regained any access to this holy site and the marvel of the mosaics depicting Jesus were uncovered. How could a Christian not prefer this?

As for Francis’ view going back to Vatican II…sure, as a form of platitude then yes, it goes back to Vatican II. However, let us also recall that Medieval Christians regarded Islam as a form of Christian schism and heresy (read Dante as an example) rather than an entirely different religion. Christianity has also always regarded there to be a Christian duty towards all humans. However, what is new is the form of indifferentism that does somehow permeate this article. Christianity has never considered Islam to be a path towards salvation. In this sense, an orthodox Christian should prefer a secular space that might at least allow a visitor to glimpse the ancient faith of the Byzantines rather than an Islamic space that reinforces error.

And I hear today that Pope Francis has expressed sadness about this change. So there goes the argument from authority that Giles was hanging this article upon.

Chris Martin
Chris Martin
2 years ago

Since decolonisation is all the rage, surely the Turks, a Central Asiatic people, should return Asia Minor to the Greeks.

hisword
hisword
2 years ago

You failed to associate Christianity with secularism in Turkey. Many would say that the secular freedoms most of us enjoy today have been built upon Christian foundations. Many of us would argue that Christians should be defending secularism rather than supporting another faith hell bent on destroying secularism. For that reason my preference as a so called Christian would be museum before mosque. You are entitled to your opinion but I trust you are humble enough not to think that you have all the correct answers.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

‘Allahu Akbar’

I hope your Israeli friends and relations are happy to see you write this.

chajwaltandla
chajwaltandla
2 years ago

Right decision of court.

mzeemartin8
mzeemartin8
2 years ago

You quote from a major Christian leader but from Islamic foundational literature. Does this mean the foundational Christian text doesn’t support the Pope or that modern Islamic leaders don’t support the Quran?

Olivier Lefevre
Olivier Lefevre
2 years ago

I am irritated that the Revd. Fraser was identified only as Giles Fraser. His screech makes no sense unless you know he is a priest, so why is Unherd trying to conceal that fact?

V. M. I.
V. M. I.
2 years ago

It saddens me to see this appalling piece published in British media. Did you really have to do it, UnHerd?

The Wall Street Journal published a much better article about the fate of Ναός της Αγίας του Θεού Σοφίας (Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God).

Turkey’s Decision to Turn Hagia Sophia Into a Mosque Dismays Christians, Neighbors, Historians
By David Gauthier-Villars
June 10, 2020

cosmicviolence
cosmicviolence
2 years ago

The world is for prayer. One can pray in a sewer or a palace, what matters is purity of heart and intent. Converting this CHURCH into a mosque is simply a gesture of supremacism, domination and spiteful, petty triumphalism for a spiritually redundant credo that feeds on pain, provocation, blood and violence. It was done to hurt, not to heal.

Samuel Turner
Samuel Turner
2 years ago

Giles, in this article and others, puts far too much importance on religious buildings, when as religious believers we can pray and worship God anywhere. Historic buildings of such great beauty such as Hagia Sophia, Notre Dame, and St Peter’s Cathedral should of course be museums that are open to everyone to visit. Especially with the Hagia Sophia, reopening it as a Mosque completely denies the Christian heritage of the building. Complaining about secularism from a Western perspective really is privilege. In countries like Turkey where fundamentalist Islam is ascendant and religious minorities are persecuted liberal secularism is crucial to the protection of their human rights.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago
Reply to  Samuel Turner

It’s St Peter’s basilica, not cathedral; the Bishop of Rome’s cathedral is St John Lateran. Of course those great churches should continue to be used for Christian worship, just as ancient mosques and temples should continue to be used for worship by Moslems and Buddhists. As a rule, historic buildings are best looked after when they are put to their intended use. Churches and mosques are not the same, whatever Giles suggests, so ideally Hagia Sophia should revert to being an Orthodox church. If that’s not currently possible (as realistically we much concede it isn’t), it should remain a secular monument. Turning it into a mosque is nothing less than cultural appropriation.

antoon van coillie
antoon van coillie
2 years ago

Christopher Hitchens would have had a field day !

Bob Olde
Bob Olde
2 years ago

Interesting argument but naive. Erdogan is keeping his voters happy with religious nationalism . It’s got nothing to do with spirituality, it’s about nationalism and an arid version of state sanctioned Islam. And another slap in the teeth to the Orthodox faith, and, of course to Greece. How brilliant was Kemal Ataturk, secularist, reformer, creator of modern Turkey, he will be turning in his grave.

Ali Alaca
Ali Alaca
2 years ago

<<<the status of a museum is the only one that acknowledges the diverse aspects of the nation’s history>>>
<<<Istanbul is not short of Muslim places of worship – including the Blue Mosque right next door to the Hagia Sophia>>>
These two phrases are(and there are many) exactly what -mustafa kemal and his party backed-new bourgeois class say as an exuse for hundreds years. It is shocking and surprising to hear the same discourse here.
New secular state: Ignoring muslim people’s requests(most part of turk’s), even confiscating the christian’s glebe’s(foundation land), for a bunch of new-secular privileged minority. And still same excuses from 1800’s(~turkish french revolution). What a handly cave of thought for tyranny.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ali Alaca