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Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate condemn conversion of Chora Church into a Mosque

The Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have strongly condemned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to convert the historic Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora into a mosque. This church, renowned for its Byzantine iconography and listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, holds significant religious and cultural value. Dating back to the 14th century, it boasts breathtaking examples of Byzantine art, including mosaic icons and frescoes.

The Archons express dismay at the risk of losing this invaluable artistic heritage, as similar conversions in the past have restricted access to cultural treasures. They highlight the hypocrisy of the Turkish government’s claims of religious tolerance, arguing that such actions disrespect Turkey’s Orthodox Christian heritage and threaten religious freedom.

Urgently calling upon international organisations and governments committed to religious freedom, the Archons demand the reversal of both the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia’s conversion to mosques. They advocate for the restoration of these sites’ historical significance as centres of Christian worship and prayer.

Read the full announcement:

The Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate note with dismay Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to proceed with plans, originally announced in 2020, to convert the historic and renowned Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, an emblematic monument of Byzantine iconography that is listed among the masterpieces of UNESCO’s World Heritage List, to a mosque. This is yet another contemptuous act against religious freedom perpetrated by the government of Turkey; the Archons strongly condemn this action.

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora was built in the fourteenth century on the site of churches that date back to the fourth century. It was one of the most celebrated churches in Constantinople, as it contained mosaic icons and frescoes that are some of the foremost examples anywhere in the world of Byzantine iconography.

When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, that magnificent Christian art was plastered over, but it was revealed to the world again when the Turkish government designated the building a museum in 1945.

Now that artwork, part of the creative heritage of the entire world, risks being lost forever. Contrary to assurances, the icons and frescoes of Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and vitally important site for the world’s Orthodox Christians, have become significantly less available for viewing since Erdogan converted that historic and magnificent cathedral to a mosque.

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora contains even more breathtaking examples of Byzantine iconography, as UNESCO states: “Its mosaics and frescoes, commissioned by the Byzantine humanist and poet Theodore Metochites (14th century) form one of the most complete ensembles of late Byzantine art to survive in Istanbul.” If international human rights organisations do not act now, they could never be seen again.

This ill-advised decision once again makes a mockery of the Turkish government’s commitment to religious tolerance and religious freedom. Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church have for centuries been a source of inspiration and enlightenment not only for millions of Orthodox Christians, but for people of other faith traditions all over the world.

The Turkish government’s appropriation of both as the property of one faith group not only constitutes yet another sign of that government’s contempt for Turkey’s rich Orthodox Christian heritage, but further imperils the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the remaining Christians of that land.

The Chora Church was the first to be looted when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. This must not happen again. We urgently call upon international organisations and governments of the world that are committed to religious freedom to compel the Turkish government to reverse this decision as well as the conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque, and to reestablish both with a status that respects their entire history, including their many centuries as centres of Christian prayer and worship.

In the Service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD
Archon Megas Aktouarios
National Commander