Pope heartbreak: Rare public outburst after shock Turkey move – ‘Deeply pained’

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The international landmark was originally built in Istanbul as a Christian cathedral in the sixth century before being turned into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453. It was then turned into a museum in 1934. President Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia was once again a mosque on Friday, with the first Muslim prayers to begin in two weeks.

It comes after Turkey’s Highest Court ruled the ancient building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

However international politicians have condemned the decision to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument

The Pope, from his studio window overlooking St Peter’s Square at the Vatican to mark the International Day of the Sea, said: “And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: to Istanbul.

“I am thinking of St. Sophia and I am deeply pained.”


Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also condemned the decision with his office adding in a statement: “Greece condemns in the most intense manner the decision of Turkey to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

“This is a choice which offends all those who also recognise the monument as a World Heritage Site.

“And of course it does not only affect relations between Turkey and Greece, but its relations with the European Union.

Alongside this, UNESCO said on Friday its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status stressing that Turkey’s decision raised questions about the impact on its universal value as a site of importance transcending borders and generations. 

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Meanwhile, the US State Department said it was “disappointed” by the decision but looked forward to hearing the plans “to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.”

The World Council of Churches has also called for the decision to be reversed whilst Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, called it disappointing.

Those who brought the court case about the status of Hagia Sophia claimed it was the property of Sultan Mehmet II who captured the city in 1453 and turned the already 900-year-old Greek Orthodox cathedral into a mosque

It has been made clear that the Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added panels bearing the Arabic names of God, the Prophet Mohammad, and Muslim caliphs.

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The golden mosaics and Christian icons, obscured by the Ottomans, were uncovered again when Hagia Sophia became a museum.

In its ruling the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said: “It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally.

“The cabinet decision in 1934 that… defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said, referring to an edict signed by Ataturk.

Mr Erdogan said in a national address: “With this court ruling, and with the measures we took in line with the decision, Hagia Sophia became a mosque again, after 86 years, in the way Fatih the conqueror of Istanbul had wanted it to be.

“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”

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