Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hagia Sophia

The Marvel of Hagia Sophia

Originally my term paper for Catholic Distance University

There is perhaps no other structure within the history of Christendom that shows the grandeur of the early Church and her reverence for God better than the great cathedral of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia. Ideally, Church architecture is constructed with the heavenly in mind, for “the church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where He comes towards our world.”1 It is the place where the bloodless sacrifice of the Holy Liturgy takes place, where God comes down to man and raises us up to meet him, where the “heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist”2 and where “the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar.”3 The liturgy is “the life-giving source from which everything else proceeds,”4 and “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, the font from which all her power flows” (SC 10). It is only fitting that a church building should lift our minds and hearts to God to reflect this heavenly reality. “On crossing the threshold of the sacred building, the faithful [enter] a space and time different from that of their ordinary life.”5 Hagia Sophia was constructed with all of these things in mind, forever changing every soul who has prayed there.

In the year 330, Byzantium (later named Constantinople) was made the capital of the Roman Empire. Desiring to have his new capital rival the beauty and grandeur of ancient Rome, Constantine ordered construction on many projects, including the building of a grand cathedral. Megale Ekklesia (Great Church) was built and dedicated in 360 by Constantine’s son, Constantius.6 It would be destroyed fifty years later in a large fire,7 and then rebuilt under the new name Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). Sadly, it would be destroyed once again by the Nika riots in 532.8 Emperor Justinian I ordered it rebuilt with a grand plan in mind to build the most amazing holy place in Christendom. Employing the services of architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletos,9 construction on Hagia Sophia began on 23 February 53210 and it was inaugurated five short years later on 27 December 537.11 At its dedication and probably overcome with emotion and wonder, Emperor Justinian exclaimed, "Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such work; Solomon, I have surpassed thee!"12 The new church was not without its problems, though; because it sat on a geologic fault line, earthquakes and tremors took their toll on the massive structure. The first dome collapsed in 558 and was rebuilt in 562,13 only to be replaced again in 989.14 Despite all the troubles with maintaining such a massive structure - a church built to accommodate 23,000 worshipers15 - this grand building became the site of all major Byzantine events, secular as well as spiritual. It was the place where officials crowned emperors, where citizens celebrated victories in battle, and where the Church held some of her councils.16 When one stood within its magnificent walls, it was no wonder why Hagia Sophia was the main place to be in Constantinople.

Contemporary witnesses to Hagia Sophia’s spectacular beauty leave modern man with conflicting feelings, the first being of wonder that such a structure dedicated to God could ever be built by man, as well as a feeling of sadness that we were not alive at the time when she was at her grandest. The entire ceiling was overlaid with pure gold.17 There were a total of 104 columns,18 whereupon their capitals, bound with bronze and carved, were overlaid with gold.19 The priests, acting in persona Christi (CCC 1548), “preside[d] on seats resplendent with an untold wealth of silver.”20 The church was filled with some of the greatest relics in Christendom: pieces of the True Cross, the lance that pierced Christ's side, the ram's horn with which Joshua blew down the walls of Jericho, the olive branch carried by Noah's dove, Christ's tunic, the crown of thorns, and some of Christ's blood.21 The eastern arch of the church where the Eucharist is celebrated, the wall signifying where the choir sat, and twelve columns signifying the twelve apostles were “all fenced under a cover of silver - upon them are engraved the figure of the immaculate God; elsewhere it has carved the host of winged angels bowing down their necks.”22 In fact, the entire sanctuary of Hagia Sophia was filled with an astounding forty thousand pounds of silver.23 “Jesus is the true paschal lamb who freely gave himself in sacrifice for us…[the Eucharist being] the ultimate purpose of his mission.”24 Therefore, the altar in Hagia Sophia was constructed in order to proclaim to the faithful this solemn truth, that God is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. “On columns of gold is raised the all-gold slab of the holy table, standing on gold foundations, and bright with the glitter of precious stones...Above the all-pure table of gold rises into the ample air an indescribable tower, reared on fourfold arches of silver.”25 Before the Divine Liturgy, the priests would cover the holy table with a purple silk veil adorned with a figure of Christ, as well as Peter and Paul, and along the hem sewn in gold was artwork depicting the emperors, charitable works, Mary, and miracles of Christ.26

The walls and columns of the church were covered in or constructed out of exquisite marble and granite from throughout the known world. “Marble from as far away as Egypt and Italy were cut into decorative panels that covered the walls,”27 and columns of green marble and purple porphyry filled the church.28 The capitals of these columns were carved in such an intricate manner that “they seemed as fragile as lace.”29 The columns would rise far into the heights of the sanctuary, forming great arcs that could withstand the weight of the massive dome, which was 102 feet across30 and 180 feet high,31 making the church roughly 16-stories tall and the world’s largest church until the construction of St. Peter’s in Rome. Carved into the arcs were images of fruit, baskets and leaves, as well as birds perched on boughs.32 Carved designs covered the walls33, as well as mosaics and murals, such as several with the “Mother of Christ, the vessel of eternal life, whose holy womb did nourish its own Maker.”34

The grand dome towered over the sanctuary, drawing everyone’s attention to the large icon of Christ looking down from heaven. At the base of the dome are forty arched windows through which the “rays of fair-haired Dawn are channeled.”35 The dome "does not appear to rest upon a solid foundation, but to cover the place beneath as though it were suspended from heaven by the fabled golden chain.”36 The ceiling of the church was covered with four acres of golden, glass cubes; millions of them.37 In the narthex throughout the night "the psalms of God-fearing David are sung with alternate voice by the sacred ministers.”38 The church was lit up at night by countless lanterns and an ingenious use of glassware. The dome area was lit through fire-wrought glass threaded through silver discs suspended by twisted chains of beaten brass. Upon the backs of the discs were "luminous vessels,” and above that were two smaller circles of lights constructed in the same manner.39 On either side of the many columns were lamps of various heights, which coursed light throughout the whole length of the church,40 as well as countless other lights that hung on twisted chains.41 The beauty and majesty of Hagia Sophia allowed the worshipers to leave the secular world behind, focusing their minds and hearts instead on God and the mysteries of the faith:

“Whenever one goes to this church to pray, one understands immediately that this work has been fashioned not by human power or skill, but by the influence of God. And so the visitor's mind is lifted up to God and floats aloft, thinking that He cannot be far away, but must love to dwell in this place which He himself has chosen.”42

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Church experienced the iconoclastic controversy, where Christians debated whether or not the veneration of images constituted idolatry. The Church would later decide at the Second Council of Nicaea43 that the veneration was being given to whom the images represented and not the image or statue itself; however, in the meantime many priceless icons, mosaics, and murals were painted over, broken up, and destroyed. Hagia Sophia wasn’t spared this destruction, with its mosaics of gold, silver, glass, terra cotta, and colorful stones44 being chipped away and replaced by whitewash and plain, painted crosses. It would take roughly 116 years before artists repaired and replaced the damaged mosaics and murals.45

In 1054, the Church split between the Greek East and Latin West, with Hagia Sophia becoming the most prominent and important cathedral in the Orthodox world. Relations soured to such a horrible extent that Constantinople was invaded and sacked during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Western Europeans looted Hagia Sophia of its treasures, leaving no gold behind, and sent the relics to churches in the West. Occupying the city for 57 years, Hagia Sophia was used as a Catholic cathedral46 until the Byzantines took their city back. Financially exhausted from the Crusade, plus from all the wars with the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantine Empire was unable to restore Hagia Sophia to her former glory; by the early 1400s, it had fallen into ruin.47 In 1453, the Turks were finally able to overtake Constantinople, taking Hagia Sophia and converting it into a mosque instead of destroying it like they did with other churches.48 The Turkish leaders converted the structure because they were in awe with the beauty and size of Hagia Sophia. Ottoman historian Tursun Beg said, “What a dome that vies in rank with the nine spheres of heaven! In this work a perfect master has displayed the whole of architectural science.”49 Keeping with the iconoclasm of Islam, however, the Muslims painted over all the mosaics, murals, and icons with yellow paint except for a 13-foot tall mosaic of Mary holding the infant Jesus.50 They also hung up around the sanctuary large quotes from the Qur’an, added a mihrab (to pray towards),51 and added four 200-foot tall minarets outside the church.52 For 450 years, Hagia Sophia was a place of Muslim worship until 1934 when the modern secular Republic of Turkey was founded.53 Seeing Hagia Sophia as a historical treasure, the Turkish government decided to open it up as a museum, banning all public worship at the site.54 Because the building would be classified as a museum, the government did not see the harm in removing all the yellow paint from the ancient mosaics and murals and many of the ancient images have been partially or completely exposed for viewing. Thanks to the government opening up Hagia Sophia, archeologists are finally getting a chance to document it for the first time. In the 1990s, ancient Greek graffiti written by tenth-century repairmen was found scrawled on the dome, asking God for his protection as they worked 150 feet above the marble floor.55

Sadly, the future of Hagia Sophia is even more unknown than her past due to the lack of care being given by Turkey. Because one year there is a budget for repairs and the next there isn't, groups such as the Historical Heritage Foundation of Turkey are calling for an international effort to save the church.56 Throughout the structure there are patches of moisture and peeling paint, bricked up windows, grimy marble panels that need restoring, huge sections of ceiling that are peeling and flaking, and many areas covered in water stains.57 There are acres of stucco that need to be replaced, windows and frames that need replacing or repair, and all of the artwork needs cleaning and restoration.58 Lastly, as Turkey becomes more Islamicized there are calls to make Hagia Sophia a mosque once again.59 A parliamentary commission is considering a recent application submitted by citizens requesting this,60 even though there are at least 3,000 active mosques in Istanbul alone.61 One of the many protesters demanding this change said, “As the grandchildren of Mehmet the Conqueror, seeking the re-opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is our legitimate right.”62 Sadly, many experts from the Middle East are predicting the success of this petition and Hagia Sophia will be lost to Christianity once again.

It is hard to imagine the amazement that a person felt walking into Hagia Sophia for the first time, gazing upon the giant icon of Christ on the dome as they approached the holy altar. Who can imagine the sound of 23,000 worshipers along with a choir singing the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom while the priests and deacons filled the sanctuary with the smell of incense and the ringing of bells? And while all of this was happening, the worshipers were surrounded by murals and icons of the twelve apostles, Jesus and Mary, the choirs of angels, and many saints. Hagia Sophia embodied how architecture plays an essential role in the celebration of the Liturgy, which is literally a meeting and joining with Almighty God in the species of bread and wine, in the person of the priest, in the reading of his Word, and in the gathering of his holy people. Through Hagia Sophia’s design and the majesty with which the emperors adorned her, God’s people offered him our very best, for all things belong to God in the first place. Hagia Sophia’s slow demise through the tragedies of history, earthquakes, and warfare reminds us of our fallen nature and our need for God to heal this wound within Creation. With these sad events happening to such a grand church in the heart of the Orthodox world, there are many who wonder if St. Peter’s or other grand western churches will one day face a similar fate. Others are hoping for the day when Hagia Sophia can once again celebrate the Divine Liturgy with the Patriarch of Constantinople standing at the holy altar. Only God knows what the future will bring, but if there’s one thing that’s certain it is that all earth pales in comparison to the Heavenly Liturgy. Therefore, despite Hagia Sophia’s beauty, if “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9), then all of Hagia Sophia’s grandeur and wealth are but a tiny twinkle when compared to the glory of the Altar on High which awaits us.

Notes
1. Benedict XVI, “Excerpt from the Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at a Eucharistic concelebration with the twenty-two new cardinals created in a consistory”, (18 February 2012, accessed 4 July 2013); available from http://www.sacredarchitecture.org/features/quotes_on_architecture_by_pope_benedict_xvi/
2. St. Gregory the Great, “Power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”, (n.d., accessed 3 July 2013); available from http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/liturgy/masspower.htm
3. St. John Chrysostom, “Power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”, (n.d., accessed 4 July 2013); available from http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/liturgy/masspower.htm
4. Met. Ware, “A quote from Met. Kallistos Ware”, (n.d., accessed on 2 July 2013); available from http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/8211459832
5. Benedict XVI, “The Cathedral, from the Romanesque to the Gothic,” (18 November 2009, accessed 5 July 2013); available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20091118_en.html
6. Emma Wegner, “Hagia Sophia, 532-37,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/haso/hd_haso.htm
7. Virginia Ann Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2008/Feature2.asp
8. Virginia Ann Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2008/Feature2.asp
9. Emma Wegner, “Hagia Sophia, 532-37,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/haso/hd_haso.htm
10. Hagia Sophia Museum, “History”, (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en/tarihce.aspx
11. Wegner, “Hagia Sophia, 532-37”
12. Greek News, “International Campaign for Free Saint Sophia,” (5 June 2006, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.greeknewsonline.com/?p=5028
13. Wegner, “Hagia Sophia, 532-37”
14. Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History”
15. Greek News, “International Campaign for Free Saint Sophia”
16. Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History”
17. Prokopios, “Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople,” (544, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_proko.htm
18. Hagia Sophia Museum, “History”
19. Paulus Silentiarius, “A Description of Hagia Sophia,” (563, accessed 1 July 2013); available from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_essay_paul.htm
20. Ibid.
21. Fergus Bordewich, “A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia,” (December 2008, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/Fading-Glory.html
22. Prokopios, “Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople,” (544, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_proko.htm
23. Ibid.
24. Benedict XVI, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” (22 February 2007, accessed 4 July 2013); available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html
25. Paulus Silentiarius, “A Description of Hagia Sophia”
26. Ibid.
27. Fergus Bordewich, “A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia,” (December 2008, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/Fading-Glory.html
28. Ibid.
29. Ibid.
30. Virginia Ann Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2008/Feature2.asp
31. Fergus Bordewich, “A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia”
32. Prokopios, “Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople,” (544, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_proko.htm
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid.
35. Ibid.
36. Prokopios, “Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople”
37. Fergus Bordewich, “A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia”
38. Prokopios, “Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople”
39. Prokopios, “Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople,” (544, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_proko.htm
40. Ibid.
41. Ibid.
42. Paulus Silentiarius, “A Description of Hagia Sophia,” (563, accessed 1 July 2013); available from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_essay_paul.htm
43. Second Council of Nicaea, “Council Documents,” (787, accessed 6 July 2013); available from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3819.htm
44. Hagia Sophia Museum, “History”, (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en/tarihce.aspx
45. Virginia Ann Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2008/Feature2.asp
46. Virginia Ann Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History,” (n.d., accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2008/Feature2.asp
47. Ibid.
48. Ibid.
49. Owen Jarus, “Hagia Sophia: Facts, History, & Architecture”, (1 March 2013, accessed 3 July 2013); available from http://www.livescience.com/27574-hagia-sophia.html
50. Ibid.
51. Virginia Ann Froehle, “Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History”
52. Owen Jarus, “Hagia Sophia: Facts, History, & Architecture”
53. Ibid.
54. Ibid.
55. Fergus Bordewich, “A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia,” (December 2008, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/Fading-Glory.html
56. Ibid.
57. Fergus Bordewich, “A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia”
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Hurriyet Daily News, “Parliament to Discuss Return to Prayers at Hagia Sophia”, (4 February 2013, accessed 3 July 2013); available from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/parliament-to-discuss-return-to-prayers-at-hagia-sophia.aspx?pageID=238&nID=40412&NewsCatID=341
61. Istanbul Municipality, “Istanbul in Numbers,” (2010, accessed 4 July 2013); accessed from http://www.ibb.gov.tr/sites/ks/en-US/0-Exploring-The-City/Location/Pages/IstanbulinNumbers.aspx
62. Raymond Ibrahim, “Christendom’s Greatest Cathedral to Become a Mosque”, (18 June 2013, accessed 2 July 2013); available from http://pjmedia.com/blog/hagia-sophia-to-become-mosque/

References
Benedict XVI. (2007). Sacramentum Caritatis. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html
Benedict XVI. (2009). The Cathedral, From the Romanesque to the Gothic. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20091118_en.html
Benedict XVI. (2012). Excerpt from the Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at a Eucharistic concelebration with the twenty-two new cardinals created in a consistory. Retrieved from http://www.sacredarchitecture.org/features/quotes_on_architecture_by_pope_benedict_xvi/
Bordewich, F. (2008). A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/Fading-Glory.html
Froehle, V. (2008). Hagia Sophia: A Rich and Holy History. Retrieved from http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan2008/Feature2.asp
Greek News. (2006). International Campaign For Free Saint Sophia. Retrieved from http://www.greeknewsonline.com/?p=5028
Hagia Sophia Museum. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from http://www.ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en/tarihce.aspx
Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1966).
Hurriyet Daily News. (2013). Parliament to Discuss Return to Prayers at Hagia Sophia. Retrieved from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/parliament-to-discuss-return-to-prayers-at-hagia-sophia.aspx?pageID=238&nID=40412&NewsCatID=341
Ibrahim, R. (2013). Christendom’s Greatest Cathedral to Become a Mosque. Retrieved from http://pjmedia.com/blog/hagia-sophia-to-become-mosque/
Istanbul Municipality (2010). Istanbul in Numbers. Retrieved from http://www.ibb.gov.tr/sites/ks/en-US/0-Exploring-The-City/Location/Pages/IstanbulinNumbers.aspx
Jarus, O. (2013). Hagia Sophia: Facts, History, & Architecture. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/27574-hagia-sophia.html
Our Lady’s Warriors. (n.d.). The Power of the Mass. Retrieved from http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/liturgy/masspower.htm
Prokopios. (544). Description of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Retrieved from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_proko.htm
Second Vatican Council (1963). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium). Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html
Silentiarius, P. (563). A Description of Hagia Sophia. Retrieved from http://www.learn.columbia.edu/ma/htm/or/ma_or_gloss_essay_paul.htm
Ware, K. (nd). A quote from Met. Kallistos Ware. Retrieved from http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/8211459832
Wegner, E. (nd). Hagia Sophia, 532-37. Retrieved from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/haso/hd_haso.htm