*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 15th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
As a kid, I loved Cap’n Crunch “oops, all berries.” Apparently, and according to about 5 minutes of internet research, it wasn’t a mistake- but I thought it was, and they turned that mistake into something brilliant. Welcome to a very rare “oops, all berries” episode. At the beginning of January, I was plotting out the topics for the month, so I could start reading. For the 15th of January, something got into my notes that did not happen on this day. Consider this an “oops, all berries” episode where my mistake becomes… delicious?
Let me ask you a question- you can pause playback to have a debate in the car if you’re listening with friends. What is the most significant church building in church history? We could go back to churches on holy sites in Jerusalem and around the Levant. Ok… they seem to be pilgrimage/tourist sites. What about St. Peter’s Basilica? OOh- that’s got some Reformation history, and the church of the Bishop of Rome has traditionally had some juice. I might suggest the Angelus Temple in partial jest or the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove in complete jest. What about Notre Dame?
My answer- on a date that has nothing, in particular, to do with the church? Hagia Sophia- the jewel of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantine world, a hot spot for Crusaders, a victim of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, a Mosque for 500 years, then it fell to Turkish secularization after the fall of the Ottoman Empire post-WWI and just recently it has become a pawn in the politicking of Turkish dictator Erdogan.
Let’s break it down:
The location was chosen by Constantine, of course. But can you picture where Constantinople is on a map? It is on the edge of a strait known as the Bosphorus on a skinny land bridge that unites Asia to Europe. The strait connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Constantine himself planned the Basilica, but the project was undertaken by the next Emperor called “the Great”: Justinian (we just talked about him a few days ago!) Justinian rebuilt the church after the riots he caused (remember the riots for which he had to repent to Ambrose)
The building burned down twice before taking on the basic structure it has today. Think of Gothic Europe’s magnificent churches and Italy and the Renaissance- this predates those by 700 to 1000 years.
Given its location central to Asia and the Middle East, you can imagine it became an object of desire during the Crusades. And it was taken by the enemy: the enemy, in this case, was the Western Roman church. About 200 years after the East-West schism, the Crusaders and Venetians looted the church during the 4th Crusade.
And, of course, 1453. It is a date like 1776 or 1517 in the Muslim world. Constantinople became Istanbul, and the church became a Mosque under Mehmed II. The iconography was plastered over (this was good news as it could be recovered later), Minarets were added, as were traditional Islamic pulpits and Mihrab, which pointed towards Mecca.
It stood like that until the end of World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire. Are you familiar with the name “Ataturk?” Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the President of the Turkish Republic, and he undertook the task of secularizing Turkey. A few wealthy and influential Americans who worked under the name of “the Byzantine Institute of America” promised Ataturk that turning the Mosque into a Museum would engender solidarity with America and the West. And so it was done.
Until recently- President Erdogan began toying with the idea of turning it back into a Mosque in 2018. Erdogan envisioned a kind of Pan Muslim nationalism with Turkey at its center- the Mosque being a new hub of Global Islam.
This caused, as you can imagine, a kerfuffle with Christians, UNESCO, and others who helped create the Museum as a place for both Christians and Muslims to experience their historical roots in the region.
You might look at the recent history of Erdogan as to why he chose now to do this- and then 2020 happened. And in the midst of… well, all of that, Muslim prayers were offered for the first time in 86 years in July of 2020. It may be of interest to watch this space. After all, it is the location of what is perhaps the most significant church in all of church history: the Hagia Sophia
The last word for today comes from Matthew 18:
18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who goes either Count Chocula or Cookie Crisp. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who doesn’t mind Special K with Red Berries, but I really want Fruity Pebbles. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.