Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Why non-Christians and even non-believers should fight to preserve Hagia Sophia

Help us send a strong message that Hagia Sophia should not be converted into a mosque. We’ll deliver this petition directly to UNESCO and other interested parties to make clear that the world needs Hagia Sophia to continue to be accessible and appreciated by all.
On November 24, 1934, the Turkish Council of Ministers decreed that Hagia Sophia, formerly a Christian church and at that time a mosque, would thereafter operate as a museum for all. Nearly 79 years to the day of that proclamation, there is a serious movement in Turkey to undue that decree. When the decree was made, the decision to shed Hagia Sophia’s mosque status and convert it into a museum was rooted in an appreciation for the building’s history and architecture. As the Turkish Council of Ministers declared at that time:

“[D]ue to its historical significance, the conversion of the (Hagia Sophia) mosque, a unique architectural monument of art located in Istanbul, into a museum will please the entire Eastern world and its conversion into a museum will cause humanity to gain a new institution of knowledge.” [source]
Since then, millions have visited Hagia Sophia, basking in the glorious Byzantine architecture and honoring the site’s history. What most across the world view as a bustling hub of historical appreciation, some in Turkey view as an affront to the building itself. A bill was introduced earlier this month in Turkish parliament to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. Lest there be any doubt that this is just some fringe move, Turkey’s own deputy prime minister had this to say a few weeks later:
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has expressed his hope to see Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum be used as a mosque, while already calling it the “Hagia Sophia Mosque” while speaking to reporters. “We currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque … we are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon,” Arınç said in a speech during the opening ceremony of a new Carpet Museum, located adjacent to the ancient Hagia Sophia complex. He cited two other complexes with the same name in Turkey that have recently been converted into mosques.
What does a potential mosque conversion mean for Hagia Sophia, and why should everyone care? Christians obviously have a deep interest in preserving the history of their faith, but even non-Christians and non-believers should be appalled the attempts to cast off Hagia Sophia’s museum status.
Restoration of mosaics at Hagia Sophia.
Restoration of mosaics at Hagia Sophia.
History has well-documented what happened the first time Turkey turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque: many of the icons and mosaics were whitewashed or plastered over over the years. The painstaking restoration of Hagia Sophia by experts over decades has revealed awe-inspiring works of craftsmanship and faith. Indeed, the work to undue the covering of Hagia’s Sophia’s Christian symbols continues to this day. Just two years ago, the world caught a glimpse of a long-covered Seraphim.
Hagia Sophia’s museum status has allowed millions of visitors across faiths and demographics to enter and appreciate the masterpiece mosaics, iconography and architecture. It’s history is a history that belongs to the entire world, not just to Christians. The magnificent building stands as a testament to man’s ability to channel faith into art, to create from ordinary, human hands, something so extraordinary as to be considered by some to be divinely inspired. It’s a work of art that should inspire awe across faiths and demographics.
In 563, Paul the Silentiary described the awesome nature of the building:
Thus, as you direct your gaze towards the eastern arches, you behold a never-ceasing wonder. And upon all of them, above this covering of many curves, there rises, as it were, another arch borne on air, spreading out its swelling fold, and it rises to the top, to that high rim upon whose back is planted the base of the divine head-piece of the center of the church. Thus the deep-bosomed conch springs up into the air: at the summit it rises single, while underneath it rests on triple folds; and through fivefold openings pierced in its back it provides sources of light, sheathed in thin glass, through which, brilliantly gleaming, enters rosy-ankled Dawn.
Procopious would describe the building this way:
[The Church] is distinguished by indescribable beauty, excelling both in its size, and in the harmony of its measures, having no part excessive and none deficient; being more magnificent than ordinary buildings, and much more elegant than those which are not of so just a proportion. The church is singularly full of light and sunshine; you would declare that the place is not lighted by the sun from without, but that the rays are produced within itself, such an abundance of light is poured into this church….
Hagia Sophia is a treasure that should continue to be accessible to people of all faiths. For those who believe that the threats against Hagia Sophia’s status are benign, learn about what happened last year to the church-turned-museum of Hagia Sophia of Iznik. That Hagia Sophia was of great historical significance to Christians around the world — it’s where the Nicene Creed was developed. Despite the tourist dollars that flowed into the local town by virtue of its status as a museum, the Turkish government has converted it into a mosque. And as for the 13th-century Church of Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, one of the most complete sites of Byzantine architecture? It too recently met the same fate.
Help us send a strong message that Hagia Sophia should not be converted into a mosque. We’ll deliver this petition directly to UNESCO and other interested parties to make clear that the world needs Hagia Sophia to continue to be accessible and appreciated by all.

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