Church bells in Cyprus will toll at noon on Friday to mourn the altering of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque, the Archbishopric of Cyprus has announced.
“The bells will toll sadly for five minutes in view of the arbitrary, unacceptable and criminal altering of Hagia Sophia into a mosque by the Turks,” the announcement also said.
Turkey, which still occupies territory of Cyprus since a 1974 invasion in full violation of international law, has altered many Orthodox churches into mosques and also destroyed much of the island’s cultural heritage.
Outside Turkey, the Hagia Sophia altering has raised alarm and despair while Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians, said this would fracture Eastern and Western worlds.
Hagia Sophia served as a Christian Byzantine cathedral for 900 years before it was seized by Ottoman conquerors and converted to a mosque. Muslims prayed there until 1934 when it was turned into a museum.
Hagia Sophia is nearly 1,500 years old and was one of the most exalted seats of Christian and then Muslim worship in the world, meaning that the change to its status has profound repercussions for followers of both faiths. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.