A senior Turkish minister’s call to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque is stoking a dispute between Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government and the country’s Orthodox Christian community.
“We do hope that the Turkish government will reconsider and have to think very seriously,” warned Metropolitan Genadios of Sassima, a senior official in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, one of the world’s 14 autocephalous Orthodox Christian communities.
For over 900 years, Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom” in Greek), built in 537, was Christendom’s most important church. But when Constantinople (as Istanbul was then called), fell to the Ottomans in 1453, it became a mosque, and for nearly 500 years it ranked among the Ottoman Empire’s grandest places of worship. In 1935, the founders of Turkey’s secular republic transformed Hagia Sophia into a museum.
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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.