Friday, March 14, 2008

Haghia Sophia

The Haghia Sophia in Istanbul. An ancient architectural treasure. It sent shivers up my spine. And not just because there's a noticable temperature drop inside its doors. Or because it's enormous. Or beautiful. Or in-laid with gold and ancient tile. No, its cold fingers walk up and down your spine because your feet are walking the very floor that emporers and kings and princes have walked for 1,500 years. That doorway you just passed through? So did Constantius. That door knocker you just gripped in your palm? It was made by Vikings during the Ottoman Empire.

This most extraordinary building (pronounced EYE-uh Sophia) was a cathedral for more than a thousand years. After the Turkish conquest, it spent the next five centuries as a Muslim mosque. It was completed in 558 A.D., and although parts of it have been damaged by earthquakes, fires and wars, it's still there. We can still walk its halls and examine its rooms.

Come on. I'll sneak you in. Let's check it out.

The seven churches mentioned in the New Testament - Ephesus, Smyrna, Antioch, etc. - were all in Turkey. So was Tarsus. Paul was from Tarsus. So are these doors. They are made of solid bronze and were brought to Istanbul in the 2nd century from a temple in Tarsus.

The Haghia Sophia as we see it today is the third church to stand on this site. The first was built in 360 A.D. but burnt down in 404. It was built and rebuilt until it became the structure we're seeing now. And it remained a Christian church until the Turks overtook the city after the fall of Constantinople. On the afternoon of May 29, 1453, Mahmet II strolled into the building and announced that Christianity was over and ordered the Haghia Sophia converted to a mosque. The Turks set about, right away, covering over all the Christians' art - including mosaics, paintings and crosses, and punched out all their stain-glass windows. Then they added their own Muslim touches - like the "pulpit" above. And this - a place for Muslims to wash before they pray. I never knew, until I went to a mosque this week, that Muslims pray five times a day, and must wash their hands, face, and feet before praying. That explains the fountains and faucets everwhere.

Not only do you have to be clean before entering a mosque, you can't wear your shoes inside, either. You have to take them off and walk the marble floor in your socks, carrying your shoes in a crumpled plastic bag over your shoulder. I try to imagine what would happen at my place of worship at home if we all suddenly decided to take off our shoes and walk around barefoot during church.

It's hilarious to me.

Since the Haghia Sophia is now museum and not a mosque, we can keep our shoes on. And speaking of it serving as a museum, sometime after the 1920s, excavations began to uncover the original Christian artwork that was covered or buried by centuries of Muslims.



This mosaic, completed in the 500s A.D., was altered several times throughout history, but now shows Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus....



That's gold, folks. Real gold tiles. And so are some of these, which also depict Jesus:


As does that one, which beams Mary and baby Jesus down at you from the ceiling of a golden dome.

There's so much I want to tell you and show you about this spectacular place. But I'm not a history or religious scholar - Christian, Muslim or otherwise. If you're interested, you can read a cursory introduction to what you're viewing by clicking here. If you're interested.


All I can tell you for sure is that the Haghia Sophia is an important symbol in Christian history. It was built to glorify and worship God in thanks for the price Jesus paid for us on the cross.
Oh, the cross. Centuries of enemies have tried to destroy its message. To erase its significance. To squelch its power. Here they even tried to fill it with plaster and hide it from the world:

It didn't work. And it won't. The cross lives on. I think that's the silent, powerful message of the Haghia Sophia. I think that's the reason it affected me so deeply. I think that's the reason why this building may be one of my favorite on earth....

The Haghia Sophia. From Constantine to me, it's still a glowing testament to the fact that the message of the cross continues to change lives. I never anticipated such a powerful reminder of that in Turkey....

13 comments:

Life According to Me! said...

What a beautiful place! Now I want to stop in Turkey and pay a visit to these beautiful places you are showing us!
May I ask what inspired you to go to Turkey in the first place? It's not the typical vacation spot, but it seems to be a lovely place. Have a wonderful rest of your vacation! I love your blog! And I agree, it is amazing that nothing can stop the message of the cross!

betty r said...

What a very interesting place and all the stories it can tell! So much to learn in one place..amazing! So glad you snuck me in..

Jenny said...

Thank you for the sneak, Brin! The outside is gorgeous, but to think the inside is even more amazing! What a beautiful surprise.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Brin, for the beautiful pics and the history lesson!
Ruthie

minnesota kathi said...

Breathtaking, simply breathtaking...pictures never do justice do they Brin, thanks to your narration along with the pictures I'm almost in tears. You are standing on holy ground where men sacrificed their lives for the name of Christ...priceless.

Sherry said...

There's only one thing I can say Brin, wow.....

Sherry

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Thank you for sneaking me in! What an amazing place! How wonderful that you were able to glean so much meaning from it and then to share it with all of us. Keep on with the history lessons (the spiritual ones, too) I'll be an avid reader. (And I'll be back to follow the link at some point, as well.)

Jillian said...

WOW. Another great post. Thank you so much for showing us inside and all the reasons it still stands true. AWESOME! How amazing for you to be there. And even more amazing how technology brings it all the way to my little house.

Rox said...

I have said it everyday I think...but that is just amazing. Thank you A-gain for sharing. This is somewhere I will most likely never go... But now I have been there... : ) I am on my way to wikipedia now...
Be safe..
Roxanne

Beverly said...

A very important blog entry for the beginning of Holy Week. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Brin.

fairmaiden said...

To be in AWE of Him, even in Istanbul...you are in the right place.

So glad to hear you safe. And enjoying all that He is revealing to you.

I love hidden treasures, especially when they are treasures involving Christ. Thanks for sharing them with us.

kacey said...

I am SO enjoying your pictures and your posts! Such a different place to visit. I'm loving the pics.

Elena said...

I love the pictures and your words. Keep them coming.

Elena