After Hagia Sophia, Turkey converts historic Chora church into mosque

A church was first built at the site in the 4th century, but most of the existing building dates to an 11th century church that was partly rebuilt 200 years later following an earthquake.

Turkish police officers stand guard on the top of the Kariye (Chora) museum in Istanbul (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish police officers stand guard on the top of the Kariye (Chora) museum in Istanbul
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday that the historic Church of the Holy Savior in Chora - initially erected as a church, later turned into a mosque and then into a museum - will be converted back into a mosque following a court ruling that said the building’s conversion into a museum in 1945 was unlawful. 
The 11th century church, which originally stood in ancient Constantinople - now Instanbul - was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of the storied city in the 15th century - a conquest that rode the coattails of a 53-day siege on the orders of Mehmed II. It was renamed the Kariye Camii after its conversion into a mosque.
A church was first built at the site in the 4th century, but most of the existing building dates to an 11th century church that was partly rebuilt 200 years later following an earthquake.
“The management of the Kariye Mosque be transferred to the Religious Affairs Directorate, and opened to worship," Erdogan said, according to Middle East watchdog Al-Monitor.
The move follows another that sparked international criticism and concern, after Erdoğan declared Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship earlier this month following a similar court ruling. The ancient structure was first built as a Byzantine church around 537 AD. It was then converted to a mosque in 1453. The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added panels bearing the Arabic names of God, the Prophet Mohammad and Muslim caliphs.
In an attempt to recognize the structure’s dual heritage and to make a statement about Turkey’s secular nature, former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934. The golden mosaics and Christian icons, obscured by the Ottomans, were uncovered again when Hagia Sophia became a museum.
The site was inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985 under Historic Areas of Istanbul, along with other points of significance in the city.
A few weeks back, Erdogan led the first prayers at Hagia Sophia in nine decades, sealing his ambition to restore Muslim worship at an ancient site long revered in both Christianity and Islam - an ambition he intends to do extend once again with the Church of the Holy Savior. At Hagia Sophia, curtains have been drawn in front of an image facing worshipers of Mary and the infant Jesus.
Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah noted that religious authorities intend to cover up the Byzantine-era art during worship within the walls of the Church of the Holy Savior - it is not clear when said worship will begin to take place within the structure.
Reuters contributed to this report.


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