Friday, November 20, 2020

Chora Monastery: So Is It a Mosque or a Museum?


The decision of the Directorate of Religious Affairs of Turkey, DIYANET, to postpone the official first prayer for the conversion of the Monastery of Chora into a mosque, which was scheduled for Friday, October 30th, has caused concern and conflicting information. As an official reason, it was announced "that the opening of the Kariye Mosque in the Fatih district of Istanbul to worship has been postponed to a later date due to the continuity of the preparations."

However, the Turkish travel news agency "" in a post claims that the work has stopped. In fact, the relevant article, citing a tour guide in Istanbul, states that the curtains that covered the beautiful mosaics have been removed, as well as the pulpit dismantled, and the carpet that was laid out for prayer no longer exists.

It is worth noting that the decision of the Erdogan regime to transform the Monastery of Chora from a museum into a mosque had provoked a strong reaction from the tour guides in Turkey, who had even gathered outside this Christian monument: "The use of the Monastery of Chora - one of the most important works of art of the Byzantine period - as a mosque lacks religious basis and meaning. This extremely important cultural heritage has nothing to do with understanding Islam," they said in a statement, adding that "the costs, effort and time spent restoring the monument for seven years are almost gone."

Accordingly, it is also claimed that UNESCO prevented the opening of the Kariye Mosque and even the authorities of the said institution came to the Kariye Mosque and made examinations.

The central church of Chora Monastery is dedicated to Christ the Savior and is considered one of the most brilliant surviving examples of a Byzantine church. Its walls are decorated with mosaics and frescoes of extraordinary beauty, although many of them were covered with lime by the Ottomans.

The central church of the Monastery of Chora was built between 1077 and 1081 by Maria Doukaina, the mother-in-law of the emperor Alexios I Komnenos, over an older building. In 1120 it was radically repaired by Alexios's son, the emperor Isaac Komnenos. Much later, between 1316 and 1321, Theodoros Metochitis, Logothetis of the General during the reign of Andronikos II Palaiologos and a scholar with important writings, renovated the building, added the exonarthex and the southern chapel and decorated them with mosaics and frescoes.

After the fall of Constantinople the Monastery of Chora functioned as a mosque until 1945. It has been open to visitors as a museum since 1958. A Presidential decree on August 21, 2020 authorized for the museum to function as a mosque again on October 30th, but hours before these plans were cancelled. 
Questions now remain if it will continue as a museum or if it will indeed be converted to a mosque. The media and the Turkish government has been silent on this issue for a few weeks now. Last we heard, the Chora Monastery looks like a museum again, and all elements of it being converted to a mosque have been removed.