Eastern Orthodox Christians who follow events in the ancient homelands of the Eastern church have had May 29th marked on their calendars for several weeks now.
Why is that? Because of the following news, or potential news (this particular story is care of a mainstream news site in Finland). Note the time element at the end of this passage:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government plans to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia Basilica into a mosque in the afternoon and evening and a museum in the morning.
The historical monument, which draws millions of tourists every year, will have the Byzantine frescoes covering its walls cast into shadow by “dark light” so as to avoid offending Islam. The government would thus like to turn what is today seen as a symbol of Christianity back into a place of worship for Muslims, as it was after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Confirmation of the plan came … from the Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak, after press leaks … reported the prime minister’s intention to pray in the Byzantine basilica prior to the August presidential elections, possibly as early as May 29.
The date is a highly symbolic one, as it marks the 561st anniversary of the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Ottomans. A few days later the basilica became a mosque on the orders of Mehmet II the Conqueror ad remained so until 1934, when on the decision of the father of the modern Turkish “secular” Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk it was made into a museum.
Of course, for millions of traditional Muslims it is impossible for a building — once it has been used for Islamic worship — to cease being a mosque. This is another one of those issues that leads to debate INSIDE Islam, as can be seen by this debate in Turkey.
At the same time, however, Hagia Sophia is one of the most important Christian holy sites in the world, especially for Eastern Orthodox believers. It contains remnants of Christian frescos that are priceless and of great historical importance, over and above their importance as iconography. The building as a whole, of course, is one of the wonders of the world (click here for a YouTube overview) and for many represents the heart of what remains of Byzantine culture.
So, did Erdogan lead prayers there yesterday or not? If he didn’t carry through on that goal, why not?
I had hoped for coverage from Reuters, at the very least, after previous stories, such as this recent offering: