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Hagia Sophia - to restore as a church before addmited to EU?

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 PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 12:00 pm    Post subject: Hagia Sophia - to restore as a church before addmited to EU? Reply with quote Back to top


If you believe in the just case that Hagia Sophia should be restored to its proper religious role as a church, for which it was built in the first place, then we ask you to support our petition to the EU Parliament that Turkey should not be admitted as a member of the European Community until it restores Hagia Sophia to its original purpose as a church and not a museum.

We need a minimum of 1.000.000 signatures in order to force the European Union to consider this proposal seriously and debate it immediately as one of the conditions to allow Turkey to be admitted as a new member of the EU.

As you know, Turkey is doing everything it can today to convince the European Union that it is a worthy country to join it. If you agree with us that Turkey should not be admitted to the EU before restoring justice to Hagia Sophia, please click on "Your Signature" and send us your message.

We would be grateful if you could also tell your friends about this site and its purpose.

Angeliki Papagika and partners
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is not a public building that changed ownership with the conquest of a war. Hagia Sophia is a place of god, Christendom’s grandest place of worship for over 900 years, and arguably the most perfect and beautiful church that has been erected by any Christian people. The splendour of its overall effect, its “paradise-like” beauty and architectural brilliance were often comprehensible only in terms of repeated divine intervention.

The magnificence, spirituality and prestige of the Great Church led to its being appropriated as an imperial and religious symbol by the Ottoman sultans. The church of Christ was possessed and converted into a mosque, until it was decreed a museum. During this long time, it has been subjected to more than its fair share of abuse and denigration.

Hagia Sophia, an essential element of Christianity, a second Jerusalem, the most revolutionary and daring church conceived in Christendom, has been turned into a museum considerably impaired by the loss of all its Christian furnishings and much of its original setting and atmosphere. At present it is part of an increasingly elaborate area of monuments, museums, and rug and souvenir shops. The Great Church, transformed into a monument/museum without life…The conquest of war does not and cannot change its spiritual nature into a civil-cultural-secular institution. For as long as the injustice done to the soul of Hagia Sophia is ignored and forgotten Christianity cannot be whole. Hagia Sophia’s reason for existing is vitally important to restoring religious integrity.

It is a disgrace and disrespect to a religion and god when holy places are unwillingly turned purely into tourist attractions. How would the Muslims feel if one of their holiest places was turned into a museum for tourists by a conquering power?

With its conversion into a museum in 1934, Hagia Sophia was frozen in some past age, vaguely Byzantine. Directed by the then historicist paradigm that saw the past as unchanging, Hagia Sophia was also understood through the aesthetic of the great museum, that is, aloof and imposing. Both traits were useful to a Turkish government that wanted to break with the Ottoman era that lasted until after World War I. The church of Heavenly Wisdom became thus what the official Turkish act of secularisation called a “unique architectural monument of art” and hence was valued more for its age, art and historical value than for its practical and religious use.

Times have changed. Turkey has long severed its ties with the darker aspects of its Ottoman past. It aspires to join the European Union. The time has come to restore Hagia Sophia’s spirituality as a place of Christian worship. Turkey has to remember that old wisdom that says, “Do not do to others what you don’t wish them to do unto you”. Justice must prevail so that religious integrity might be restored. Turkey has to face up to its history and address this vital issue.

In 1847, a progressive sultan, Abdülmecid I(r. 1839-61), commissioned the Swiss architect Gaspare Fossati to restore the structure of Hagia Sophia, then Ayasofya Camii. When Fossati and his team began work on Hagia Sophia in 1847, after more than a century of neglect, they found the building in a dilapidated state with a leaking roof and “clouds of pigeons” despoiling the interior. They repaired cracks in the domes and vaults, and placed an iron chain around its base to contain its outward thrust. However they removed four flying buttresses that seemed to serve no purpose. They replaced the leaking lead covering of the roofs and carried out a complete cleaning inside and out. As the deteriorated plaster was chipped off walls and vaults, decorative Byzantine mosaics, shimmering with gold, were revealed. The sultan, astonished by their beauty, ordered Fossati and his team to uncover all the mosaics. When those in the galleries were uncovered and repaired, Fossati beseeched Abdülmecid to relax the rigid principles that demanded their obliteration. “They are beautiful,” Abdülmecid said. “Hide them because our religion forbids them. Hide them well, but do not destroy them: For who knows what might happen.”

Sultan Abdülmecid was intent on modernizing his kingdom and strengthening its ties with Western Europe at a moment when the great gulf between Turkey and Europe was beginning to narrow, a process that continues in our day. For him Hagia Sophia was part of a policy of progressive reform. Abdülmecid, whose reign had started with the proclamation of the Tanzimat, the most important milestone in the Westernisation of the Ottoman state and culture, encouraged uncovering the mosaics for repair and criticized his predecessors for having obscured these beautiful ornaments. He took advantage of the hajj (pilgrimage) to send the most fanatical imams of the (then) mosque to Mecca, before he undertook the restoration.

If Turkey aspires to join the community of Europe, the first step would be to show a spirit of understanding and a sense of justice, mutual respect and willingness to cooperate, as is the culture of the European Union. The time to restore the spirituality of Hagia Sophia as a place of Christian worship is now. The spiritual “redemption” of the Holy Wisdom church might be realized with the same care and respect with which Abdülmecid, that progressive, proeuropean reformer of the Ottoman Empire, commissioned the last major Ottoman restoration of Hagia Sophia.

History might neglect but it never forgets. Historic mistakes can be reversed and corrected. By taking the big and noble step of redeeming Hagia Sophia, the Turkish state would prove its genuine respect for the Christians of Europe and the world. Restoring Hagia Sophia to Christian worship would be THE revolutionary gesture of wisdom, progress and civility. Such an act would offer Istanbul the rare privilege of hosting not only a great monument of world art, but also one of Christianity’s most important places of worship, a truly rare diamond.

Selected historical sources

1. Kleinbauer, W.E., White, A. and Matthews, H. Hagia Sophia –Scala Publishers Ltd, London; Archaeology and Art Publications, Istanbul
2. Mainstone, R.J. Hagia Sophia –Thames and Hudson
3. Nelson, R.S. Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950 –The University of Chicago Press

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