Patriarch Kirill, the leader of Russia’s Orthodox Church, said on Monday that calls to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque posed a threat to Christianity.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, an old building in the middle of the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now among Turkey’s most visited monuments.
The proposal has been criticised by several religious and political leaders, such as the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Greece, France, and the United States.
READ: Orthodox Patriarch says turning Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into mosque will be divisive
“A threat against Hagia Sophia is a threat to all of Christian civilisation, meaning (a threat to) our spirituality and history,” Patriarch Kirill said in a statement.
“What could happen to Hagia Sophia will cause deep pain among the Russian people.”
The Kremlin said on Monday it hoped Turkish authorities would just take into account Hagia Sophia’s status as a World Heritage Site.
This is really a beloved world masterpiece for tourists from all countries who visit Turkey, including for tourists from Russia, for whom Hagia Sophia, in addition to its tourism value, includes a very deep sacred spiritual value,
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Erdogan said last week that criticism within the possible conversion of the monument – known in Turkish as Ayasofya – was an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty. Many Turks argue that mosque status would better reflect the identity of Turkey being an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and polls show most Turks support a change
Hagia Sophia was a significant place of worship for Orthodox Christians for years and years until Istanbul, then called Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. They turned the building into a mosque but after the creation of the current secular Turkish Republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it became a museum in 1934.
Many Christians were comfortable with Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum because this effortlessly created a neutral space that respected both the Christian and Muslim heritage of the ancient building, which dates back to the sixth century.
A Turkish court last week heard a case targeted at converting the building straight back into a mosque and certainly will announce its verdict later this month.
The court case, brought by an NGO for preserving historic monuments, disputes the legality of the 1934 decision.
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