After Hagia Sophia, Turkey converts another former Byzantine church into a mosque

Under Erdoğan, the Turkish authorities have reverted four other Byzantine-era churches named Hagia Sophia in Edirne, Trabzon, Kırklareli, and İznik.

(Jaime Silva/Creative Commons)

Turkey’s government has turned another Byzantine-era monastery in Istanbul, known for its stunning mosaics,  into a mosque, one month after opening The Hagia Sophia for Islamic prayers.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, signed a decree on Friday morning to transfer the management of the medieval Chora Church to the Directorate of Islamic Affairs to function as a mosque.

Last year, the Council of State ruled that the Chora Church building in Istanbul was endowed as a mosque under exceptional legal circumstances during the Ottoman Empire. It was the state’s responsibility to preserve its intended status as a mosque.

The decision set a precedent and eventually convinced another branch of the Council of State to make a similar ruling about Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage site, in July. The decision was welcomed in Turkey but condemned and chastised around the world. 

Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church have a shared history since they were both initially rebuilt by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the sixth century. The internationally celebrated mosaics and frescoes, allegedly depicting the lives of Mary and Jesus, were added to the building in the 14th century after several reconstructions and expansions. 

“The mosaics and frescoes in the Chora are the most beautiful examples dating from the last period of the Byzantine painting (14th century)”, the official website for the Chora Museum says. “The characteristic stylistic elements in those mosaics and frescoes are the depth, the movements and plastic values of figures, and the elongation of figures.”

The building was turned into a mosque in 1511, multiple decades after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Both the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia were excavated by the same American philanthropist and Byzantine expert, Thomas Whittemore, in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Byzantine Institute of America has undertaken the job for more than 11 years, removing the plasters.

Reuters/Files

Under Erdoğan, the Turkish authorities have reverted four other Byzantine-era churches named Hagia Sophia in Edirne, Trabzon, Kırklareli, and İznik.

Authorities are likely to preserve the artwork, as they have done in Trabzon by creating special glass and light framework enabling the Islamic prayers, which aren’t traditionally allowed in the presence of iconography. 

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