The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Tuesday that July 24 “is a Day of Mourning” for Hagia Sophia. The former church and museum in Istanbul will that day be inaugurated as a mosque.
In a July 21 tweet, the USCCB said that it joins the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America “in offering our prayers for the restoration of Hagia Sophia as a place of prayer and reflection for all peoples.”
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a decree July 10 converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The decree followed closely on a ruling by the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, which declared unlawful an 80-year old government decree which converted the building from a mosque into a museum.
Hagia Sophia was built in 537 under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I as the cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. After the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was converted into a mosque. Under the Ottomans, architects added minarets and buttresses to preserve the building, but the mosaics showing Christian imagery were whitewashed and covered.
In 1934, under a secularist Turkish government, the mosque was turned into a museum. Some mosaics were uncovered, including depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Justinian I, and Zoe Porhyrogenita. It was declared a World Heritage Site under UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in 1985.
As a mosque, the mosaics in Hagia Sophia will have to be covered during prayers, as will as the seraph figures located in the dome.
The members of the eparchial synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America wrote July 19 that considering the inauguration of Hagia Sophia as a mosque, which they called a “program of cultural and spiritual misappropriation and a violation of all standards of religious harmony and mutual respect, we call upon all the beloved faithful of our Holy Archdiocese to observe this day as a day of mourning and of manifest grief. We urge you to invite your fellow Orthodox Christians and indeed all Christians and people of goodwill to share in the following observances.”
The observances are “that every Church toll its bells in lamentation on this day. We call for every flag of every kind that is raised on the Church property be lowered to half-mast on this day. And we enjoin every Church in our Holy Archdiocese to chant the Akathist Hymn in the evening of this day, just as we chant it on the Fifth Friday of the Great and Holy Fast….”
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, the US bishops’ president and ecumenical chair, respectively, said July 14 that “we join Pope Francis and our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in expressing deep sadness over the decree by Turkey’s president to open Hagia Sophia as a mosque…”
The above comes from a July 21 story on Catholic News Agency.