Monday, August 08, 2005

I signed it

I don't usually sign Internet petitions. I don't believe they can make a difference.

On the other hand, I don't seriously believe this one will make a difference anyway, but I signed it anyway.

The Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was built in 532-37 by the Emperor Justinian. Its massive dome of 33 meters diamater seems to float 62 meters above the floor. In a feat of 6th-century engineering, the architects hung the weight of the dome on four pillars each 100 meters square at the base, and the church is constructed to give the illusion that the dome hangs from above, rather than being rooted below.

At the height of its use as the preeminent church of Byzantine Christianity -- indeed, at the time, of the entire world -- 600 people served liturgical functions: 80 priests, 150 deacons, 40 deaconesses, 60 subdeacons, 160 readers, 25 chanters and 75 doorkeepers.

Its beauty is what so impressed the emissaries of Prince Vladimir of Kiev that he chose Eastern Christianity for his kingdom, engendering 1,000 years of Russian Christianity and the spiritual and cultural legacy that has entailed.

After the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks in 1453, the Church of the Holy Wisdom became a mosque. The iconoclastic Muslims either smashed or plastered over the stunning mosaics, put up the four minarets around the outside, replaced the cross with the crescent and pulled out the altar for the furnishings of Islamic worship.

In 1935, the Great Cathedral became a museum.

But now Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union. Europeans, by and large, don't seem to care much about Christianity any more, not even enough to show up for church on Sunday, but some of them seem uncomfortable with Turkey joining their little European club. There's the whole Armenian genocide thing, and the closing of the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary in Constantinople (OK, Istanbul), and the strictures that remain in place on the Patriarch of Constantinople, and a troubling strain of Islamic fanaticism even though the government is officially secular, and then there's the Church of Hagia Sophia. I wonder how much of the Europeans' squeamishness is really about race and geography, but it's a long way off, and I don't have any basis to understand why anybody would want to join the European Union, much less why anybody would care who else joins or doesn't.

My ignorance about Europe aside, there's a petition to Turkey to allow Hagia Sophia to be used as a church again. I recommend taking a look at the Dhimmi Watch post, because the commenters point out some of the complications of the issue.

I also recommend a tour of the petition site, whether you decide to sign or not, because the photographs give a glimpse of what an awesome (literally) building it still is.

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