The Hagia Sophia Mosque
Dear visitor, in this article, we will examine the Hagia Sophia Mosque from a Christian perspective. Our primary source is the Bible, the word of God.
Hagia Sophia Mosque (Hagia Sophia) is known as a magnificent architectural work with a worldwide reputation. Why is this building, which was a church for 916 years and a mosque for 482 years, so famous? What are the features of this structure, which is visited by millions of tourists every year?
Hagia Sophia Architecture and History
Before we can look at the history of the Hagia Sophia Mosque, we need to take a look at the history of Istanbul, thus the Roman Empire and the Christianization process of the Roman Empire:
As it is known, the capital of the Roman Empire is in Rome. After Jesus Christ was crucified, killed and resurrected by the Romans (33 AD), the disciples of Jesus Christ began to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in the cities of the Roman Empire.
Christianity is considered a forbidden religion because it does not fit the political and cultural structure of the Roman Empire. Because of this prohibition, Christians were persecuted for 300 years at the hands of different emperors. The peak of this persecution comes during the reign of Diocletian, who was Emperor between 284 and 305 AD. After the death of Diocletian, who ruled the Roman Empire from his summer palace, in the city of Nicomedia in today’s Izmit region, the fight for the throne begins. The four commanders go to war among themselves. Constantine wins this fight for the throne and takes the throne of the Roman Empire. Before Constantine’s final victory to make him emperor, he sees the “XP” sign in the sky in a dream. This sign comes from the Ancient Greek word ”Χριστός” (Christ). This brought him closer to Christianity, and together with Constantine, Christians were spared nearly 300 years of persecution.
Constantine then declares Byzantium the capital of the Empire instead of Rome. Byzantium is the area called Sultanahmet or Historical Peninsula today. The selection of this region is strategically important. Being a peninsula it is more strongly defensible and occupies a central position between East and West.
Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to this region in 330 AD and named it Nova Roma, that is, New Rome. After Constantine’s death, people named the city Constantinople, which means Constantine’s city.
Hagia Sophia Mosque History:
Before the Hagia Sophia was built, there were two different churches built in the same place. The first of these is the church, which was built in 360 by Constantius, the son of Constantine. This church is called Megale Ecclesia, that is, the Great Church. During the reign of Emperor Arkadius, AD. It burned down during the riots in 404. Theodosius II, who ascended the throne after Arcadios, had a new church built in place of this destroyed church. This is the second church M.S. It remains standing until 532.
M.S. In 532, during the reign of Emperor Justinian, the people of the city started a great revolt due to the unrest. This uprising, known as the Nika Uprising in history, caused great damage to almost the entire city. Justinian suppresses this rebellion, but realizes that the city must be rebuilt. This is an opportunity for Justinian and he begins preparations to rebuild the city. Just as Constantine wanted to found the New Rome, Justinian had a similar aim. However, this time he aims to establish the New Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem, instead of the New Rome.
As it is known, Jerusalem, that is, Jerusalem, was a very important and holy city for all divine religions. The most important reason for this is that it was built by Suleiman before and BC. It is the Temple of Jerusalem, which was rebuilt after it was destroyed in the 6th century. This temple was where God met his people. Therefore, it is the holiest place. So while Justinian was building New Jerusalem, he wanted to build the New Temple. Therefore, when looking at the architecture of Hagia Sophia, we will look at it in the light of the architecture of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
Justinian summons the two most important architects of the time and talks about his plan. These architects are Antemius of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletus. Antemius and Isidorus look at the plan and state their opinion that it is impossible to build this building; but Justinian is determined. This church needs to be built. Construction begins on February 23, 532, and the church opens on December 27, 537.
When Hagia Sophia was built, it was the largest building in the world excluding the pyramids and remained so for about 1000 years. Its dome was considered the widest and highest dome for 1000 years.
Architecture of Hagia Sophia:
The main feature that made the architecture of Hagia Sophia so difficult and even thought that its construction was impossible was the plan to build a dome on a rectangular building. This was very important to Justinian. So how would they do this?
First, four main arches had to be built, which would support the main dome. These four main arches would support the dome; however, the arches would form a square shape with spaces at the edges, and the dome would be round. This would have prevented the dome from being fully supported. Therefore, pendentives (pendants) in the form of inverted triangles were built on the empty arches. Thus, the dome could be supported in a balanced way.
This time, however, they would face a new challenge. With the effect of the dome’s own weight and gravity, the dome would push the arches carrying it to the east, and they would be in danger of collapsing with this effect. Therefore, the arches supporting the dome would have to be supported. For this purpose, it was focused on the idea of supporting the North and South arches with the main half-domes and each half-dome with three half-domes. However, since the main worship area (Naos) was intended to be rectangular, it was not possible to support the East and West arches with semi-domes. Instead, 90-degree arches will be built to the main arches in the corridors on the east and west sides of the building, so that the corridor will function as a support.
Why a Rectangular Building and a Dome?
At this point, we may ask: Why did Justinian insist on a rectangular structure and a dome? As we said before, Hagia Sophia contains very strong symbolism in its architecture. We can divide this symbolism into two. Political symbolism and spiritual symbolism:
1- Earthly Symbolism of Hagia Sophia:
Earthly symbolism in the construction of Hagia Sophia is very important. There is a very important political reason why the building is rectangular and has a dome on it. The reason why it is a rectangular building is that the shape of the Temple of Solomon is rectangular. In addition, the architecture of the first Christian churches were rectangular basilicas. The dome is a Roman invention. The Pantheon in Rome was the most important temple of the pagan Roman Empire. From here, we can see the Jewish foundations of Christianity in the shape of the building, and the Roman foundations in the dome. Hagia Sophia has become a kind of New Pantheon.
The Temple of Solomon had a basic plan and consisted of three main parts: the Outer Court (Courtyard of the Women), the Sanctuary, and the Most Sacred Field. The Outer Court was the place where the public could be found. The Sanctuary was where the priests made preparations for rituals, worship, sacrifice and offering. The Most Sacred Space was closed to all; because it is the place where the Holy Spirit of God resides. Only the High Priestess could enter that region once a year to ask forgiveness for the sins of his people.
In this way, Hagia Sophia consisted of three main parts. Outer Narthex, Inner Narthex and Naos (The Most Sacred Space). As you can see in the plans, the dimensions of the areas are literally opposite to each other. While the outer courtyard was the largest area in the Temple of Solomon, the architects built it as the smallest area in Hagia Sophia. In the temple, the Sanctuary creates a slightly smaller area, while the Inner Narthex, where the priests prepare, creates a slightly larger area in Hagia Sophia. In the Temple of Solomon, only the area where God’s Holy Spirit resides constitutes the smallest area; In Hagia Sophia, the Most Sacred Area, namely the Naos, constitutes the largest part.
There is only one reason for this: the works of Jesus Christ on the cross. When Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, the curtain covering the Most Holy Space of the temple was torn (Matthew 27:51) and the barrier between God and man was lifted. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is no longer a being wholly isolated from man; on the contrary, it is a being that is one piece with humans after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1 – 47). We are able to enter the Most Sacred Space, or Naos, through the Holy Spirit.
2- Spiritual Symbolism of Hagia Sophia:
When we look at the dome, we see a round shape, and the round shape symbolizes eternity and immortality. The square or rectangle also symbolizes borders. Hagia Sophia takes this spiritual symbolism from the Solomon’s Temple again. Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God’s Holy Spirit resided, where he lived with God’s people, where heaven and earth were united. With original sin there was a separation between God and Man, Heaven and Earth. In fact, there is a constant promise in the Bible: the sovereignty of heaven and earth would be united. In the New Testament, Matthew 6:10 also writes in the Lord’s Prayer: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Therefore, Hagia Sophia contains an important symbolism in terms of being the place where the sky and the earth meet.
When we look at the original dome, there is a mosaic in the center of the dome with Jesus Christ looking down from his throne. There are Seraphims on the triangular pendentives (pendants) where the dome meets the arches. In this scene, when the Prophet Isaiah (6th century BC) saw God, the creator and king of the universe, on his throne, there were four Seraphims around the throne. (Isaiah 6) Seraphim are divine creatures with six wings. Being the closest creatures to God, they covered their feet with two wings and their faces with the other four, in the face of His intolerable holiness.
The place where the altar is in the churches is called the apse and is the holiest part of the church. This region points east in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican churches. Hagia Sophia is completely different. The apse of Hagia Sophia faces south. This is because it is the New Temple of New Jerusalem, thus facing Jerusalem.
According to the records, on December 27, 537, Justinian stood at the Imperial door of the magnificent building at the inauguration of the church and said: “O Solomon! I passed you!” In this sentence, you can see Justinian’s race with King Solomon and the New Temple, Hagia Sophia, with the Old Temple, the Temple of Solomon.
When Hagia Sophia was built, it was very important for men and women to sit separately. Therefore, while men are in the main prayer area during worship; women would go up to the upper gallery. The exit to the upper gallery is not a staircase; There is a ramp. This ramp had 2 main purposes. The first is to quickly deliver materials to the upper floor with wheelbarrows during construction. The second is to move the Empress and women from important families so that they can easily go up to the upper gallery.
One of the most important areas in the upper gallery is the Synod hall. The synod is a hall where the church senior management meets and decides on religious matters.
Inside the synod hall, there is a magnificent mosaic panel on the wall. This piece is one of the most important works of mosaic art. The name of the mosaic is Deesis and consists of three people. The middle one among these three is Jesus Christ, the Lord and King. To the right of Jesus Christ is his mother, the Virgin Mary. To the left of Jesus Christ is John the Baptist. Deesis means prayer and supplication.
The theme of this mosaic is the last judgment day. Jesus Christ will judge the world on the last judgment day. In this scene, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist pray to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of people’s sins. Jesus Christ gave his wonderful sacrifice on the cross once and for all. There is no time limit in this extraordinary victory; because He is a Lord independent of time and space. The message in this mosaic also supports this idea. Those who pray to Jesus Christ on the last day of judgment were not chosen at random. The presence of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist is precisely to convey this message.
John the Baptist is the last prophet to give the good news of Jesus Christ. The Virgin Mary is also the first to hear the good news. While John the Baptist represents the Old Testament, that is, the Law and prophecies; The Virgin Mary represents the New Testament, the completion of the law and prophecies. Law and Grace are completed in Jesus Christ.
With this mosaic, he gives a deep message about the concepts of law and justification.
Constantine and Justinian Mosaic at the Exit:
There is a final mosaic at the exit of the Hagia Sophia Museum. In this mosaic made in the 10th century, you can see that Constantine, the founder of Istanbul, and Justinian, who had Hagia Sophia built, dedicated their works to Jesus Christ in the form of a model.