Rorate Caeli

The Stones of Hagia Sophia will Cry Out

From Fr. Seán Connolly:

The Turkish government's decision yesterday to change the status of the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque is significant. While the media has not given too much attention to this, the fate of what was the most prominent church in Christendom for nine centuries ought to concern us deeply. I wrote an article on the history of the Hagia Sophia and the significance of its change in status I thought I'd share:

The stones of the Hagia Sophia will still cry out

Turkey’s own version of “cancel culture” has been met with outrage and concern throughout the world.

As the highly emotional and equally unreasonable “cancel culture” spreads across the globe, it is worth recalling the words of the American diplomat and historian George F. Kennan (1904-2005): “Without a generation of civilized people to study history, to preserve its records, to absorb its lessons, and relate them to its own problems, history would lose its meaning.”

Those seeking to desecrate and destroy historic monuments know that marble and stone can be just as effective as the written word in preserving history in all its messiness and glory.

The Hagia Sophia is a glorious monument in stone to the Christian faith of the Byzantine Empire, responsible for building this absolute wonder of art and architecture. Turkey, a once secular republic and Western ally, has in recent years become a bastion of Islamist-nationalism nostalgic for the days of the Ottoman Empire under its current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan’s government has its own form of the “cancel culture” that has sought to erase the Christian heritage of Turkey. This comes in the form of a continual denial of the Armenian genocide, the destruction of over 500 churches in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, and the conversion of historic Byzantine churches across the country into mosques, while at the same time destroying the irreplaceable art within them.

There has long been a worry that this trend would inevitably lead to the Hagia Sophia, which is the most prominent reminder of Turkey’s Christian heritage. The globally famous landmark and popular tourist destination was built in the sixth century as a church before being converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in the fifteenth century and then into a museum in the twentieth century by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular-minded founder of the Turkish Republic.

In a decision orchestrated by Erdoğan, Turkey’s top court revoked the Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum on Friday and then minutes later he issued a presidential decree ordering it be transformed yet again into a mosque.

Erdoğan’s move is obviously a provocative act meant to rally his Islamist-nationalist base. It is hurtful to see one of the greatest monuments of our Christian heritage used as a political ploy. It is upsetting to see any attempt made to erase the Christian heritage of a nation. Our hurt, however, should not lead to despondency. In Our Lord’s own day, the Pharisees tried to silence His disciples from singing His praises. The Lord responded to them by saying: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Lk 19:40).

Whatever happens to the Hagia Sophia no one can erase the Truth that inspired its construction. No matter what any government decree says, the stones of the Hagia Sophia will still cry out. All who gaze upon this wonder of human ingenuity will still know the motivation behind its construction—the desire to proclaim the imperishable greatness of Jesus Christ.

[Excerpts. Full article at Catholic World Report.]