Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an order on Friday morning formally converting the Byzantine-era Chora Church in Istanbul into a mosque, several weeks after declaring the Hagia Sofia a mosque and leading Muslim prayers at the site.
The Chora Church was originally commissioned by Byzantine emperor Justinian in the sixth century, and boasts pristinely-preserved mosaics built in the 14th century. The church was converted to a mosque after Sultan Mehmet II conquered Istanbul, but has served as a museum since 1945. Turkey’s supreme court, the Council of State, ruled in 2019 that the building should be used as a mosque.
The church “represents one of the oldest and most important religious foundations of Byzantine Constantinople,” according to the Chora Museum’s website. “The mosaics and frescoes in the Chora are the most beautiful examples dating from the last period of the Byzantine painting [14th century].”
Muslim religious law forbids the display of iconography in mosques, so the frescoes in the museum, several of which depict Jesus, will likely be covered up during prayer times.
Erdogan’s push to turn the Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most-recognized landmarks, into a mosque was met with condemnation from the U.S. as well as from the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Any attempt to humiliate or defy the thousand-year legacy of the Constantinople Church is received by the Russian people — then and now — with grief and indignation,” Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow said in early July. “The threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the Christian civilization and, by extension, to our spirituality and history.”