Friday prayers will be held for the first time at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia since President Tayyip Erdogan declared the building once again a mosque after a top Turkish court ruled in favour of annulling its museum status.
It 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.
Outside Turkey, the change has raised alarm and despair, but Turkey has said what Turkish people want is of most importance.
– Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians, said altering the status of Hagia Sophia would fracture Eastern and Western worlds.
– In neighbouring Greece, an overwhelmingly Orthodox country, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “This is a choice which offends all those who also recognise the monument as a World Heritage Site.”
– A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the United States was disappointed by the decision but looked forward to hearing Turkey’s plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible to all.