Russian Orthodox Church concerned about Hagia Sophia mosque plans

Hagia Sophia is one of Turkey's most visited sites, attracting over 30 million visitors since 2007. It has been a museum since 1935.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/NSERRANO)
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/NSERRANO)
Russian Orthodox authorities are worried about the preservation of historic Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia if Turkish plans to convert the museum back into a mosque are carried through.
"If the decision is made, it will cause huge grief among Orthodox Christians all over the world. Hagia Sophia is a pan-Christian holy site," Russian news agency TASS quoted Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York as saying.
"Those mosaics were preserved by miracle because plaster was put on them. They were discovered only recently. What will the fate of those mosaics be, if the building is once again turned into a mosque? Why does the Turkish government have no respect for the feelings of millions of Christians: millions of Orthodox believers?" the cleric added.
The Comnenus mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul  (Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MYRABELLA)The Comnenus mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MYRABELLA)
Last week, a Turkish court heard the case aimed at converting the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul back into a mosque with the intention of announcing a verdict within 15 days.
"We think they (the court) will see that Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), being a museum for 86 years, has hurt and saddened the Turkish people," Selami Karaman, a lawyer for the association which brought the case, told reporters after the short hearing, Reuters reported.
"This mosque... is the personal property of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror," he said, referring to the Ottoman leader who in 1453 captured the city, then known as Byzantinium, bringing about the end of the 1000-year-old Byzantine Empire and establishing Muslim rule over Anatolia.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan originally proposed re-titling Hagia Sophia as a mosque instead of a museum in March, and last month proposed restoring mosque status to the 6th century landmark.
Hagia Sophia is one of Turkey's most visited sites, attracting over 30 million visitors since 2007. It has been a museum since 1935 when modern, secular Turkey made the decision to convert the historic landmark from a mosque into a museum.
Most of the mosaics that are currently in Hagia Sophia date from the 10th-11th centuries, after the period known as Byzantine Iconoclasm, when the use of religious imagery returned to Christian Orthodoxy. Many of the mosaics were covered with plaster due to Islam's ban on representational imagery after 1453, and were left that way until they were uncovered in the 1930s by a team from the Byzantine Institute of America led by American scholar and archaeologist Thomas Whittemore.